We are all born with our own determining features as individuals. And one of those features that can vary is our voice. Our voices have different ranges and sounds and, in some ways, are almost unique to us as individuals. Over the years, we have classified voice ranges, and we are going to compare two of them as we look at Tenor vs Baritone.
Why Classify Our Voices At All?
It is important to classify your voice for several reasons. However, the main reason is to find what might be called your voice’s “comfort zone.” Regardless of the genre you happen to be working in, being comfortable with your voice is very important.
We group certain registers and name them to help you find that zone in a song where your voice can work comfortably. They do overlap, of course, and we shall consider that a little later.
Let’s Identify The Voice Types
There are eight designated classifications, four for ladies and four for men. Although we are not necessarily interested in the ladies today, it is a good idea just to familiarize yourself with them.
- Contralto – the lowest vocal range for women. There are very few real Contralto women.
- Alto – a rich, warm, and often powerful sound.
- Mezzo-Soprano – sits between Alto and Soprano; you could call this the baritone for ladies.
- Soprano – the highest vocal range for ladies.
But, for this article, we are more interested in the male voice and two of the four classifications, which are bass, baritone, tenor, and countertenor.
Over To The Men[bl]
- Bass – the lowest male vocal range, usually typified by the powerful low notes. As with the Contralto with the ladies, there are very few real bass singers.
- Baritone – slightly lower than what might be called the average male voice, but is still quite common.
- Tenor – moving towards the higher end of the male vocal range, but can still generate good lower notes.
- Countertenor – the highest male range. Singers in this range will struggle with lower notes.
Tenor vs Baritone
The middle ranges are what we will be considering here. The difference between tenor and baritone can be confusing at times because there can be “overlap.” By that, I mean that the high notes sung by a good baritone will reach over into what we consider the Tenor range. Let’s consider it a bit further.
Whether you are a singer or not, you have probably sung along with the radio or CD or a piece of music. Have you ever struggled to hit the high notes? Has your voice disappeared with the low notes?
I am sure we all have at some time, and that is a very early stage of “discovering” your voice. You might even be a singer, but it still happens. That’s because you have never bothered or needed to “classify your vocal range.”
A Gentle Reminder
When you struggle with high notes or disappear with the lower notes, it is your voice giving you a gentle reminder you are moving out of your range. In reality, you have two ranges, but we will come back to that so I can better explain what that means.
The divisions of Tenor and Baritone, as with Bass and Countertenor, are decided and defined by a range of pitches. That is a rather simplistic way of looking at it. And, not wholly accurate either because, as I have already mentioned, there can be overlaps. But, we will use that basic definition as a general rule of thumb and a starting place.
The range of pitches that you can reach comfortably without straining will define your classification. Once again, I should mention that this is not an exact science, as some singers will overlap classifications.
A good example of this is Freddie Mercury of Queen…
Most will consider him a tenor, but he was more naturally a baritone. When he spoke, he was a baritone, but when he sang, he was often a Tenor. And, to complicate matters even more, he had a range that extended over four octaves.
How Do You Find Your Vocal Range?
The range of a tenor is usually B2 to G4, while the range of the baritone is G2 to E4. Either can extend beyond those boundaries, up or down.
One way to tell more precisely is by measuring notes. Take a comfortable warm-up exercise and identify the lowest note where you are comfortable and can project the sound. Do the same with the highest, taking care not to strain your voice.
How Do You Find B2 And The Other Notes?
You will need a piano keyboard with a standard 88 keys. Work from the left as you look. The first ‘B,’ the second white note, is B0, an octave or eight notes up is B1, and another octave is B2.
To find the G4 for the upper range of the tenor, you go to the first G, which is the seventh white note from the left. Count up 3 octaves, and that will give you G4. The same rules apply to the G2 to E4 in the Baritone range. Identifying those notes on a keyboard will give you a basic understanding of whether you are a Tenor or a Baritone.
If you find that your lowest note extends below the bottom note of the tenor, then it is likely you will be a baritone. You can apply the same logic at the other end of the scale. If your highest note goes beyond baritone and into tenor areas, then it is likely you are a tenor. That is a very simplistic view, but it gives you a place to start.
Can Your Voice Change?
Most definitely, it can, especially if you start to have professional training. A good vocal teacher will get your comfort zone notes higher and lower than they were when you started. That, of course, may have an impact on how you are classified.
The Two Ranges
Let’s go back to the two ranges I mentioned earlier and introduce you to a word you may not be familiar with, “tessitura.” The human voice can be said to have two distinct ranges. Firstly, there is the range where you are most comfortable, situated between the highest and lowest notes you can sing with ease. That is known as the tessitura.
The tessitura sits inside the boundaries of the other range, which is known as the “true” range. This is a range that takes you a little higher and lower and is what you aspire to be able to sing.
Why Is There A Difference?
As with every other part of your body, the sound of your voice is the result of the movement of muscles. And, as we know, muscles can be trained to perform better.
Professional singing teachers will give you exercises to strengthen your vocal muscles. As you practice, the muscles get stronger and work more efficiently.
After a time of practicing these exercises, the tessitura expands. It now includes notes below and above you were unable to reach before. Now, the tessitura is becoming the same notes as what you previously considered the true range.
In The Beginning
When a singer first begins to sing, they may not even be aware that there are two ranges. They will probably just about manage their tessitura range and think that is normal, and that will be all.
This is where the technical aspects of vocal training come in. They are very important for the development of any singer. Here are two publications that may help.[bl]
- Vocal Warm-Ups: 200 Exercises for Chorus and Solo Singers – includes some of the warmup exercises I already mentioned.
- Beginning Singing: Expand Your Range, Improve Your Tone, and Create a Voice You’ll Love – aimed more at your range and tone and how you can improve both.
Something you do need to be aware of is where your tessitura falls in relation to the tenor/baritone classification. If it happens to sit in what we have determined is the overlap range of tenor and baritone, it could result in problems identifying which you are. If that is the case, then you just need to choose which feels most comfortable.
Which Is It Better To Be?
The simple answer is neither. It depends on you; one classification is certainly not “better” than the other. Furthermore, there have been great singers in both classifications. Let’s look at a few.
- Bing Crosby – “White Christmas”.
- Johnny Cash – “Folsom Prison Blues”.
- Nat King Cole – “When I Fall In Love”.
- Tom Jones – “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”.
- Marvin Gaye – “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”.
- Freddie Mercury – “We Will Rock You”.
And The Tenors
You could also include Freddie Mercury, Tom Jones, and Marvin Gaye, as their ranges included both.[bl]
- Stevie Wonder – “My Cherie Amour”.
- Billy Joel – “Just the Way You Are”.
- Robert Plant – “Thank You”.
- Elton John – “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”.
- Bryan Adams – “Kids Wanna Rock”.
And, of course, maybe the most famous tenor singer of all, Luciano Pavarotti, “Nessun Dorma (Live)”. There are, of course, many missed out, but as you can see, real quality in both classifications. And some that cross both tenor and baritone.
Looking to Understand Your Vocal Range and Become a Better Singer?
If so, check out our thoughts on Types of Vocal Timbre, the Best Vocal Range Test Apps and Websites, the Best Daily Vocal Exercises for Singers, the Top Professional Vocal Coaches on YouTube, and Fantastic Singing Schools for Aspiring Vocalists for more hints, tips, and advice on singing.
Also, recording your voice can help. So, have a look at our reviews of the Best Live Vocal Mics, the Best Microphones For Recording Vocals, the Best Dynamic Microphones, the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best iPad Audio Interfaces, and the Best USB Audio Interfaces you can buy in 2023.
Tenor vs Baritone – Final Thoughts
In closing, I hope this has given you an insight into the differences, and in some cases, similarities between a Tenor and a Baritone. The real judge of what you should be classified would come from a professional vocal teacher. It would be worth taking that route as they would be able to assess where you are and give you tips on how to improve your tessitura.
There are some instructional guides included here. Don’t go charging in for practice sessions. As I have already said, you are training muscles to improve your singing. These might help, Beginning Singing: Expand Your Range and Voice Training – Learn To Sing.
Just like any other muscle in the body, the muscles you use for signing can be prone to injury if care is not taken when practicing. So, take it easy and build up slowly, but most of all, enjoy it.
Until next time, make yourself heard.