How to find your voice type or voice classification. Voice Range and Voice tessitura

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Singers come in a variety of ranges and qualities and can be described in so many ways (called a “fach“), but the 6 most common voice classifications (aka voice types) are Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. 

These are the ranges (the lowest and highest notes of the voice) and tessituras (where your voice is most comfortable) for these adult classical voice types in general.  Obviously, people are individuals and may fall within or outside of these ranges.

When determining your voice classification, there are two main things that you need to know: 

  1. Your Range
  2. Your Tessitura

Difference Between Range and Tessitura

Range 

Range is defined by the lowest note you can sing and the highest note you can sing.

I like to think of your range as being comprised of what Dr. Trisha Budlong, retired professor of voice at Moravian College, call “public notes” and “private notes.” 

“Public notes” refer to the notes that sound the best. Meaning you would be comfortable singing in front of other people (stage fright notwithstanding).

“Private notes” refer to the outlying notes of your range all the way at the top and all the way at the bottom that don’t necessarily sound good all the time.  You generally wouldn’t feel confident singing them in a performance.

So, your range is every note that you can physically sing, regardless of whether it is comfortable or sounds good. Got it?

 

Tessitura 

Tessitura is defined by the notes that feel and sound good in your voice.

Tessitura is comprised of only your “public notes.”

There are two important facets of tessitura:

    • The subset of notes that should you spend the most time singing.

The first facet of tessitura is the smaller set of notes. Specifically, it is comprised only of those notes which feel good in your voice- regardless of vowel (with or without modification) or melodic trajectory.

The reason I say this is because sometimes a note may sound good, but if it doesn’t feel good in your voice, it is not a note that you want to sing frequently. Doing so can lead to vocal fatigue.

    • The subset of notes that sound good enough to perform.

The second facet of tessitura is a larger set of notes. It is made up of all the notes that feel good and sound good in your voice.  These notes are fine to sing occasionally, as in at the climax of a piece, or even a few times in a piece of music.  

These notes usually take extra practice in rehearsal of a piece to perfect, whereas notes in the first subset usually do not.

 

Generally speaking, you will have notes in your range that are high or lower than your tessitura.

How to Use Tessitura to Choose Repertoire

When choosing a piece of music to perform, you need to take into account the range and tessitura of the piece.

The range of the song is from its lowest note to its highest note.  The tessitura of of the song is the subset of notes that appear most frequently. 

When matching your voice to a song, the range of the piece should not exceed your tessitura.. 

Take, for example, “Caro mio ben” by Giuseppe Giorani (can be found in 24 Italian Art Songs and Arias).  In the Medium Low Voice edition, the range is C4 to D5.  The tessitura is approximately E4 to C5.

The singer who would choose the song in this key should feel comfortable singing all the notes in the tessitura of the song (1st subset of tessitura notes), even if the range of the song has some uncomfortable notes that will require extra rehearsal (second subset of tessitura notes).

Classical Voice Classifications

For the sake of clarity, when used, the terms “male” and “female” refer to the genetic expression of a human, not their gender, which may not be the same.

Notice that the tables below refer to adult voices. 

When your voice is untrained, your tessitura may be smaller than what is listed below.

Biologically Female Adult Voices:

Voice Classification
Range
Tessitura
Soprano C4 (middle C)- C6 E4-Bb5
Mezzo-Soprano G3 (below middle C)- A5 C4-G5
Alto (Contralto) F3-E5 A3-D5

Biologically Male Adult Voices:

Voice Classification
Range
Tessitura
Tenor C3 (C below middle C)- A4 F3-G4
Baritone A2 (A below C3)-F4 C3-E4
Bass F2-E4 A2-D4

A singer’s range is predetermined, so it’s largely outside your control. Longer, thinner vocal folds produce higher, lighter sounds, whereas shorter and thicker vocal folds produce lower, deeper sounds.

Although, singers of the voice types I’ve defined above can reach notes above or below those ranges, the quality is what determines the classification.

A Note About Vocal Fry, Whistle Tones, and Falsetto

The lowest notes that a voice can produce, called the “vocal fry,” are not used in classical singing (nor is it popular to use them in most other genres). 

The high notes outside of this range, for females “whistle tones” and falsetto for males, are also not used in classical singing. 

Remember, the falsetto and the head voice in males are not the same.

Contrary to Popular Belief, You Cannot Train to Become Another Voice Type

Your voice does not remain the same for your whole life. As a very small child, you have a small range of only a few notes.  

As you grow into an adult, the vocal folds change in size and thickness, altering your range so that by the time you are 25 or 30 you have somewhere between an octave and a half and 2 octaves (on average).

At this point, your voice classification is pretty much set. Although the voice will continue to change slightly with age, it won’t be so much so that your classification will change. 

One Exception to the Rule

There is one exception to this- if you are a long-time smoker, the likelihood of your voice dropping in pitch, sometimes dramatically, over time is fairly high. 

Someone who sang soprano in high school could end up being a baritone by the time they are 40 or 50 years old if they smoke for a long time. In that case you are not so much training to be a different voice type as you are destroying your voice.

An Exercise to Find Your Voice Classification

In order to find your voice type, you will need some way of determining the pitch you are singing.  You could use a piano or keyboard, a pitch pipe, or various smartphone apps.

For Female Voices

Finding the Bottom of Your Range

  1. Start with middle C.
  2. Sing a descending 5-note scale (So-Fa-Mi-Re-Do) on the vowel [a] which is “ah” as in “father.”
    Take note of whether or not you can start in your head voice, or if you need to use your chest voice.
  3. Write down whatever note you stop at.  This is the lowest note of your range. Take note of when your voice drops to chest voice (if you began in head voice). This is your first passagio.
    If you can sing lower than “Do” of this scale, you can sing another descending 5-note scale, this time starting a half-step lower, on B3.
  4. Continue until you find your lowest note. 

This is the bottom of your range.

 

Finding the Bottom of Your Tessitura

  1. To find the bottom of your tessitura, do the same exercise beginning on G4 (G above middle C) in head voice, and try to crescendo (gradually get louder) on your way down the scale- without dropping into chest voice.
  2. Whichever note you can no longer project at is the bottom of your tessitura.

Finding the Top of Your Range

  1. Start with A4 (A above middle C). Sing an ascending 5-note scale (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So) on the vowel [a] which is “ah” as in “father.”
  2. Write down whatever note you stop at.  This is the highest note of your range.
    If you can sing higher than “So” of this scale, you can sing another ascending 5-note scale, this time starting a half-step higher, on Bb4.
  3. Continue until you find your highest note. 

This is the top of your range.

Finding the Top of Your Tessitura

  1. To find the top of your tessitura, do the same exercise beginning on C4 (middle C), in your chest voice and try to decrescendo (gradually get softer) on your way up the scale. 
  2. You may notice that you have to modify your vowels as you ascend. Notice where this is- this is your second passagio.
  3. Whichever note you can no longer get softer at (without feeling or sounding strangled) is the top of your tessitura.

For Male Voices

Finding the Bottom of Your Range

  1. Start with E3 (E below middle C).
  2. Sing a descending 5-note scale (So-Fa-Mi-Re-Do) on the vowel [a] which is “ah” as in “father.”
  3. Write down whatever note you stop at.  This is the lowest note of your range. 
    If you can sing lower than “Do” of this scale, you can sing another descending 5-note scale, this time starting a half-step lower, on B3.
  4. Continue until you find your lowest note. 

This is the bottom of your range.

Finding the Bottom of Your Tessitura

  1. To find the bottom of your tessitura, do the same exercise beginning on A3 (A below middle C) and try to crescendo (gradually get louder) on your way down the scale.
  2. Whichever note you can no longer project at is the bottom of your tessitura.

Finding the Top of Your Range

  1. Start with E3 (C below middle C). Sing an ascending 5-note scale (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So) on the vowel [a] which is “ah” as in “father.”
  2. Write down whatever note you stop at.  This is the highest note of your range.
    If you can sing higher than “So” of this scale, you can sing another ascending 5-note scale, this time starting a half-step higher, on F3.
  3. Continue until you find your highest note. 

This is the top of your range.

Finding the Top of Your Tessitura

  1. To find the top of your tessitura, do the same exercise beginning on C3, in your chest voice and try to decrescendo (gradually get softer) on your way up the scale. 
  2. If you can decrescendo at the highest note of the scale, start the exercise again, but a half-step higher. Repeat until you no longer can.
  3. Notice when your voice changes from chest to head voice. This is your first passagio.
  4. You may notice that you have to modify your vowels as you ascend beyond the first passagio. This is your second passagio.
  5. The note at which you can no longer get softer (without feeling or sounding strangled) is the top of your tessitura.

What You Can Change About Your Voice's Range and Tessitura

While you cannot change what your voice type is, you can stretch your voice. 

Much like you can increase the flexibility of your hamstrings, you can increase the flexibility of your voice muscles (remember the Thyroarytenoid and Cricoarytenoid muscles are what control the pitches you sing). 

You can slightly increase your range and tessitura through careful practice. But most importantly, you can work with the range your body was designed with, improving the quality of your highest and lowest notes with good technique.

Disclosure: some of the links on my blog may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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