If you are a singer or hope to become one, then you need to understand what you can do with your voice. For example, what notes can you reach comfortably? How high or low can you go if you push it a bit? Likewise, what voice type do you have? And what can you reasonably expect from your voice? Therefore, you might need to have the voice types explained.
Lots of Variables
There are plenty of variables that affect how you sing and what you can do with your voice. Being variables, they differ from person to person. And with the correct training, you can even make small adjustments to your vocal persona.
1 – Your Physical Characteristics
The natural anatomy of your body has a significant effect on your voice. And this is one way we are all different. And by your natural anatomy, I am referring to everything from your vocal fold size and vocal tract to your overall body size.
When you are singing, your voice is amplified and, at times, modified by parts of your vocal tract resonators. These resonators include the mouth, the nose, and nasal passages, and throat. The resonators are responsible for producing the actual sound we make. Words are then created by using the tongue, lips, and soft palate.
Your vocal folds, or as they are sometimes known, vocal cords, are situated in your larynx. The larynx is also known as your “voice box.”
They are elasticated strips of muscle that are flexible and provide the vibrations required to be able to make various sounds. They work with the vocal resonators, which allows you to change the tone of your voice and even create emotion.
Overall Body Size
The size of your body may affect the sound you make. Larger-boned people tend to have more resonating space in their bodies than smaller people. That will add a bit of weight and power to the voice that smaller people won’t have.
However, let us dispel a commonly held belief. Operas singers all seem to be rather large. This is not necessarily what gives them their voice. They tend to gain weight more by the lifestyle they lead. High anxiety, stressful performances coupled with constant traveling. Hours and hours of rehearsals, performances, and recordings. It takes its toll on overall fitness.
Yes, as I have said, larger-boned singers create more resonance, and you won’t find tiny opera singers. But being overweight is not part of the job description. Some great voices come from what we might call, standard size people. Take Katherine Jenkins as an example, who is a mezzo-soprano. More on her and that later.
2 – Your Range
Your range is best described as the notes that you can reach from highest to lowest. Knowing what that range of notes is will help decide your voice type. Keep in mind that these are the notes that you can reach even if it takes a little strain.
Possibly best described as the range that is the absolute maximum you can reach irrespective of whether it is comfortable or not. The term “tessitura” refers to a range that includes all the notes you can comfortably reach. Let’s look at that next.
3 – Your Tessitura range
This is a section of your range where the notes you sing you can reach comfortably. In other words, the low notes and the high notes you can sing without straining your voice at all.
The Tessitura range is a good starting point for deciding where your voice will sound at its best. When choosing a song to sing, the notes of that song should all fit within your tessitura range. Providing you want it to sound relaxed and comfortable, that is.
Stepping outside the Tessitura…
Depending on the genre of music and song you sing, there may be occasions when you step outside your tessitura. The emotion and the balance of the song may demand that. That is when you may go to the limit of your range. That is not something you would want to happen too often.
Practice and voice exercises may help to widen your range and also your tessitura. But unless there is a marked difference, you should always try and stay in your tessitura range.
4 – Vocal Registers
Everyone has four vocal registers, both large and small. Some sounds are produced by your vocal folds when they vibrate. They will vibrate in different ways depending on a variety of things. And the quality of your tone will almost certainly vary between lower and higher registers.
Feel the differences…
As you sing, you may notice that different parts of your body become involved in producing the sound. That is a physical manifestation of which vocal register is producing the sound.
Changing from one vocal register to another is a skill that must be learned. It is essential to ensure you are using the correct part of your body to create your best sound. With correct training and plenty of practice, you will learn how to move from one vocal register to the next.
Let’s have a quick look at each of the four vocal registers. They are essential to have voice types explained accurately:
- Chest Voice – This is where the lower registers are produced and any powerful notes you may need. This is an area and a register that will give you volume.
- Head Voice – This creates the higher, lighter, and often softer registers. Singing with a “head voice” makes the vocal folds, or vocal cords, become longer and then tighter. These folds vibrate faster as the pitch, or notes, get higher. The head voice is more common amongst younger boys and females. Some adult men have trouble creating it.
- Modal – This is a register that sits between the chest voice and the head voice. This is the register that is the transition if you like. Providing a seamless change from chest through to head, or from low to high notes.
- Falsetto – Sometimes referred to as the “false voice.” For most males, it is just about the limit of their range. It is not a smooth transition from one register to the next and can be rather abrupt. Some singers have used that to their advantage. Some women can sing falsetto, but most don’t need to.
5 – Your Timbre
An often misunderstood description. It applies to the texture and the quality of your voice. Of course, there are similarities between singers, but they are just similarities. Your timbre is unique to you.
There is a certain amount of opinion linked to how you describe a voice and its timbre. But it plays a very important role in deciding your voice type.
Let the Timbre decide…
Let us use an example to explain how timbre will affect the placement of your vocal type. We mentioned a little earlier the Welsh opera-cum-pop singer Katherine Jenkins. In her field, one of the great voices in the world. But what is she? Soprano or Mezzo-Soprano?
Both Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano can reach and sing the same notes. Their range is almost identical. However, Katherine has a darker aspect to her timbre, or to the sound she makes.
She also has a lower tessitura than is normally found with a Soprano. Therefore, she is a Mezzo-Soprano. That is how timbre can affect your vocal placement.
6 – The Weight of your Voice
The weight refers to deciding if it is a light or heavy voice. Perhaps a better description might be power than weight. If you liken it to some instruments, they can play the same notes. But one has more power or weight. This is shown by a Cello and a Violin. They can play some of the same notes. But the Cello sound carries more “weight.”
Likewise, you can hear singers hit the same notes. Some do it with power; with others, it is a much gentler voice production. This happens naturally. Knowing the weight or your power will help you to decide what type of song is best for you.
7 – Your Speaking Range
You can learn a lot from your speaking voice. For most people, the speaking voice is the same or very similar to their chest voice. Your singing voice and speaking voice come from the same place. If you come to know your speaking voice, it may help you to understand your singing voice. Especially where it is used in transitions.
8 – Transitions
The place where your voice moves from one vocal register to the next we call the Bridge. There is a similarity in the location of this bridge, irrespective of your vocal type. Moving from your chest voice to your head voice through the modal change is called the “Passagio” or the Bridge.
This is an area that often causes problems for singers. It is when you get near to singing at the end of your transition notes that there can be problems. This is probably where exercising your voice and adopting proper voice training will pay dividends. Your voice teacher will be able to help.
Voice Types Explained for Men and Women
There are eight vocal types, four for male voices and four for females. These are bass, baritone, tenor, and countertenor for males. Alto, contralto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano for female voices.
- Bass – The lowest type of male voice. Characterized by being deep and having plenty of weight. You tend not to find too many Bass singers.
- Baritone – Much more common with a slightly lower than average range. Some trained baritone singers may also cross over into the Tenor range.
- Tenor – Popular in modern music today and can sometimes sound like a female in the higher registers.
- Countertenor – The highest range for males. Singers of this type will find lower registers hard to sing.
- Contralto – This is the lowest range for females. It will sometimes sound like men when hitting the bottom of the range. Just like with the Bass for the males, there are very few real Contralto female singers.
- Alto – Typified by a rich timbre with plenty of weight.
- Mezzo-Soprano – Might be described as the female Baritone. It has a great timbre and can often reach high notes. Tends to have a lighter weight than Altos.
- Soprano – The highest type for females. Sopranos are often able to hit the high notes with plenty of power.
There will be Overlaps
Not all singers fall neatly into these groupings, of course. There have been many that encompass more than one with ease. One I am familiar with is the British Jazz singer and wife of saxophonist Johnny Dankworth, Cleo Laine.
Her natural voice type was Contralto, and at times she was right down there. But she was able to hit a “G above High C.” That means that she had a vocal range that covered over three octaves.
Assigning her a vocal type might have been an interesting experiment. There aren’t many like that that can hit those notes and maintain such quality of tone.
Ascertaining Your Voice Type
This will allow you to select songs and keys that most suit your voice. That means a good performance. That is why it is vital to discover where you sit in the scale of things. No pun intended.
Some materials that may help you are Voice Training – Learn To Sing and Beginning Singing: Expand Your Range. And to help you grasp the process of how you produce your voice, Anatomy of the Voice: An Illustrated Guide for Singers can be a big help.
Want to Become a Better Singer?
Our experts can help show you the way. Have a look at our handy guides on Choose the Perfect Key to Sing In, 6 Definite Signs That You Were Born to Sing, Types of Vocal Timbre, Best Daily Vocal Exercises for Singers, Fantastic Singing Schools for Aspiring Vocalists, and the 6 Best Vocal Range Test Apps and Websites for more useful information.
As a singer, you need to hear yourself. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Live Vocal Mics, the Best Karaoke Microphones, the Best USB Microphones, the Best Microphones For Recording Vocals, the Best Dynamic Microphones, and the Best Condenser Mics Under $200 you can buy in 2023.
Voice Types Explained – Final Thoughts
Once you know your voice type, you will ensure that you can be comfortable with whatever you sing. You will have chosen the range and the key wisely, based on what you know about your voice and its capabilities. And with practice, you may be able to extend those capabilities.
Until next time, let your voice be heard.