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From bass to soprano, find your voice type

For some, words like soprano, mezzo-soprano or contralto, are quite possibly the names of TV series, kinds of Italian pasta or a super fancy gymnastic move. For others, the musicians amongst us, you've certainly recognized the different vocal types by which singers are classified. Many believe that these terms are reserved solely for choirs and operas, but the reality is, these categories can be applied to any singer. So, where do you fall? Soprano, mezzo-soprano or other? Here's a guide to tell what songs best fits your voice.

When categorizing a voice, several factors come into play: tone, intensity, vocal registers, timbre, physical attributes, and tessitura.

But what is tessitura?
It all began with the system Fach, a method of classifying tessitura. Developed in German opera houses at the end of the 19th century, it was a developed as a means to easily determine the roles of each singer. Tessitura represents the range of notes that a singer can comfortably and easily cover and the volume of sound that can be produced when switching from lowest to highest note. This measurement doesn't mean that the singer is incapable of reaching certain notes, rather tessiture refers specifically to the notes that can be hit without strain.

In order to find where you fit along the scale and what type of voice you have, here are the different categories, from lowest to highest:

Bass

From D2 to E4
The deepest of all voice types and a rarity, it is divided into two categories:
  • The counter bass or the singing bass, sharper and more lyrical.
  • The noble bass or low bass, broader at ease with a deeper notes.
Some famous bass singers: Ivan Rebroff, Jules Bastin, Tom Krause, René Pape

Baritone

From G2 to G4
The most common of male voice types, the baritone falls between tenor and bass and has a powerful masculine presence distinguashed by two variables:
  • Lyric Bariton flexible, warm and melodic, chaleureuse et mélodieuse.
  • Dramatic Bariton characterized by its elasticity, it's solemness and it's generous voice.
Some famous baritones: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley, Gabriel Bacquier, Tito Gobbi

Tenor

From C3 to B4
The highest, and also the most powerful of voice types for men, Tenors can be categorized by the same distinctions as that of sopranos :
  • Dramatic Tenor , strong and powerful, full, but with less agility.
  • Spinto-lyric tenor , characterized by a strong loudness and timbre presence, while still reaching high notes.
  • Lyric Tenor, demonstrates skill in treble, with full timbre.
  • Light Tenor, showing a certain fluidity in high notes.
  • Counter-tenor, measured by the ease and mastery of a very shrill note.

Some famous tenors: Freddy Mercury, Luciano Pavarotti, Michael Jackson, Roberto Alagna, Enrico Caruso

Countertenor

From G3 to C6
The rarest voice type amongst men, a countertenor is the male equivalent of the mezzo-sopranos and sopranos with an extended vocal range.
Some famous countertenors: Philippe Jaroussky, Farinelli, Klaus Nomi, Carlos

Alto (or contralto)

From E3 to F5
As the deepest of female voices, as well as the rarest, altos are characterized by a slightly dull timbre. This type of voice is intense and rare.
  • Dramatic Alto, deep, powerful and with a heavy tone
  • Coloratura Alto, light, flexible and holds notes
  • Lyric Alto bas, lighter in timbre and less flexible
Some famous altos: Adele, Amy Winehouse, Annie Lennox, Marian Anderson, Janet Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Maureen Forrester

Mezzo-Soprano

From G3 to A5
The second highest register for more classical female voices, mezzo-soprano is distinguished by a lower range and a deeper, warmer timbre. This voice type is different from sopranos as it has a tessitura that is lower with a more profound and warm timbre. A majority of secondary operatic repetoire are written for this voice type, composed of the following three variants:
  • Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano, rich, powerful and with a medium to warm high register
  • Coluratura Mezzo-Soprano, flexible, rich and with low to high register
  • Lyric Mezzo-Soprano, smooth and versatile
Some famous mezzo-sopranos: Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Madonna, Leona Lewis, Cecilia Bartoli, Cathy Berberian, Nadine Denize.

Soprano

From B3 to G6 This is the highest of vocal ranges, normally reached only by females and children. It is divided into five categories :
  • Coloratura Soprano
  • Light Soprano léger
  • Lyric Soprano
  • Spinto Soprano
  • Dramatic Soprano

Some famous sopranos: Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Sarah Brightman, Maria Callas, Nathalie Dessay, Montserrat Caballé, Barbara Hendricks.

So you've found your voice type? Now it's time to find the perfect song!

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27 comments
  • 4 years ago
      Hi I've been told I'm an alto. I do have a lower speaking voice. But I can sing Anne Murray to Dolly Parton. Granted I may need to adjust the key but not always. Depends on the song. I've had to bring the key higher as well as lower. I've also been called a mezzo-soprano. I sound a bit like Judy Collins. What is she? The explanations in this presentation don't quite reach me but thanks for the info. Guess it's hard to understand without hearing it.
    • 7 years ago
        I didn't find this article very helpful as a newer singer. It's easy to read about your vocal range, but so much better to hear an audible comparison. I've been told I fall in both the tenor and countertenor range, but it seems to vary by opinion.
      • 7 years ago
          Thank you for this nice article. I hope it helps me get my 'new tone' (?). I used to be a tenor and now that I am old, some maestro told me I was now a bass! I wonder if this can be so. Anyhow, the songs I used to sing in what was my tone C, D, sound too low now...
        • 7 years ago
            When people write songs, they don't think range at all, they think melody. You might be a soprano one minute, and even fall to alto or lower the next. Mariah change everything, and she wasn't the only one. Jazz is really the classical music of America and they broke all the rules. People that think range automatically limit themselves. Singing in the shower can prove alot of thinking.
          • 7 years ago
              What voice type is Rod Stewart am an impersonator but have trouble with "Baby Jane"
            • 7 years ago
                Brilliant! Thanks a ton!
              • 7 years ago
                  is the b4 for tenors in head voice? I really doubt it's possible for an untrained tenor to be able to use a full chest to hit a b4. maybe mixed. I mean, I'm a tenor, but I need head voice After a G4. I feel these range things can be really unclear because when it says c3-b4, some people can be unsure if they are supposed to drag their chest voice to b4. I can do f2-g5, with a comfortable range from g2-d5. However, I break to falsetto around G4. And I do have a high voice
                • 7 years ago
                    I FIND THAT I AM HAPPY WITH G 2 - G 4 BARITONE DEPENDING ON THE SONG OF CHOICE WHERE I WOULD LIKE THE KEY COME DOWN A TONE CAN I CHANGE THE KEY BEFORE I PURCHASE THE SONG (MP4) BECAUSE IF I CHANGE THE KEY AFTER IT COMES BACK AS(MP3)
                  • 7 years ago
                      I am a baritone what is some good rand b songs for me
                    • 7 years ago
                        Elvis could sing awesome in many keys!!!!!
                      • 7 years ago
                          Don't forget to mention countertenor Jon Anderson
                        • 7 years ago
                            VERY GOOD AND RIGHT ON...THIS LITTLE GUIDE IS GONNA HELP A LOT OF PEOPLE R. LENZ - OMAHA
                          • 7 years ago
                              Once one finds the range best suited for them, it's equally important to utilize inflection, feeling and interpretation. We've all heard songs sung in the proper key but are put to sleep by the presentation.
                            • 7 years ago
                                Very good thanx guys
                              • 7 years ago
                                  This was very informative and much appreciated. Now I Know what Alan Jackson meant when he said "Where I Come From We Like The Girls Who Sing Soprano" in his song "Where I Come From".
                                • 7 years ago
                                    This is a good basic guide but shouldn't be emphasised as the boundary for voices. I use your tracks as a singer & voice coach. I am female and a baritone!!! I sing Elvis,Johnny Cash,Annie Lennox, Adele, Eva Cassidy and Madonna. Male and female ranges are unique to the individual and I find the 2 note adjustment on tracks very limiting most of the time. I have to get some tracks adjusted in the studio to get the right key to sing the songs I want. A good intro but not set in stone. Thanks
                                  • 7 years ago
                                      Lovely Data . Thanks Karaoke version.
                                    • 7 years ago
                                        I am definitely a baritone. However, there are characteristics within my voice that fits both aspects of the baritone listed.
                                      • 7 years ago
                                          You'd be surprised at what really sounds good by just changing the key to a song whether it be traditionally guy or girl song or whatever. I've played and sung in a band for 13 years now and I sing whatever inspires me. There are very few songs I can't sing if I just change the key. I wouldn't limit myself to what this is telling me.
                                        • 7 years ago
                                            I so very much appreciate this clarity!
                                          • 7 years ago
                                              Excellent info....Thanks Karaoke Version for being on top of issues related to the musical plateau...salud
                                            • 7 years ago
                                                @Mr_Ada- Counter Tenor lends itself very well to artists such as Billy Joel, Elton John and many of the modern bands such as One Direction and Train. More classic groups such as Queen, Four Seasons, Stevie Wonder and Neil Sedaka also go well with the range.
                                              • 7 years ago
                                                  Excellent thank you this helps!
                                                • 7 years ago
                                                    Thankyou KVersion, I am an alto, please enlighten me someone, what is E3 to F5? Thanks karen.
                                                  • 7 years ago
                                                      I'm six of the options listed.
                                                    • 7 years ago
                                                        Now that you have established that I am a countertenor, that seriously limits me to what I can sing, unless I sing girl songs. Which by the way is what I tend to sing anyway. There isn't much written for this voice type except baroque music and music designed for the castrati.
                                                      • 7 years ago
                                                          Great information, I find many Karaoke singers trying to emulate singers way out of their range. My tip for them: Don't be upset, just use the key change arrow (before you download) and take the pitch down at least 2 semitones - works wonders, Most people in the audience will not realize the pitch is lower.