The Different Voices, Registers and Ranges

Mixdown Magazine Article

What’s my range again!?

Ironically this is the name of my column. It is also a frequently asked question by most singers. What key should I be singing in and where does my voice sound its best? Your voice is a superb individual instrument, much like a fingerprint. There are are no two voices that are alike in tone, range or timbre (grading or sound of the voice with regards to how thick or thin the voice sounds).

Feel!

Before I even start with the technicalities of the different vocal registers and where the voice should  sit, you should always go with feel! Whenever you’re singing ask yourself how does this feel on my voice. Does it feel comfortable, at ease, pain-free, enjoyable, strain free, not fatigued quickly or easily and is it fun – are all questions that you want to frequently ask yourself. If the answer is no to any of the previous questions, you possibly have incorrect technique or could be singing in a key or a range that is not suitable for your voice. Finding the right key or range is imperative for all singers for vocal health, longevity and artistic expression. Do you think Mick Jagger could have sustained a fifty plus year vocal career if he was singing in the wrong key or sang unnaturally? The answer obviously is no and the same should go for yourself as a vocalist.

Freddie Mercury

Finding your voice!

The quickest and easiest way to find this out, is to have some fun and sing a bunch of different songs in different keys or registers. For a few days in a row try singing for 15 to 30 minutes in middle to lower register of your voice. See how it feels, if you enjoy it, if your voice sounds good and if you can present the song and sing it with passion and feeling. This may be the register you want to sing in. Then do exactly the same for a few days in a row using your middle to higher range. And ask yourself the same questions. If you feel more comfortable and sound better in a certain area, use that range and part of your voice predominantly for your singing in the future. Alternately and commonly you may also find that you feel comfortable in both higher and lower in your vocal registers and range. There are many singers that use their entire vocal range.

Experiment with your voice.

Have fun with it! Sing quietly, sing loud, sing in false voice, sing in true voice, sing in head voice and sing in chest voice. Stretch it, sing with air, sing with distortion, sing husky, shout it out and scream it out. Your voice is like an artist’s colour palette and the music or the chords are the canvas for you to paint over. Now go and express yourself, sing with passion, sing with feel, have fun. Let your feelings and desires be expressed through your voice.

The 3 Different Vocal Ranges

Female’s

The high female voice is called a Soprano (Mariah Carey, Christine Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Jessie J)

The middle range female voice is called an Alto (Pink, Beyonce, Lorde, Adele, Lady Gaga)

The lowest female voice is called a Contralto (Toni Braxton, Tracy Chapman, Courtney Love, Nina Simone)

There are a lot of female singers that use their entire vocal range such as Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson, Billie Holiday e.g.

Male’s

The high male voice is called a Tenor (Bruno Mars, John Farnham, early Robert Plant, Freddie Mercury, Sting)

The middle range male voice is called a Baritone (Eddie Vedder, James Hatfield, The Beatles, Bob Marley)

And the low male voice is called a Bass (Nick Cave, Elvis, Tex Perkins, Jim Morrison)

Again, there are also lots of male singers that use their entire range such as Mike Patton, Freddie Mercury, Bruce Dickinson, Kurt Cobain e.g.

The 4 Different Vocal Registers

There are 4 different vocal registers that are commonly used in contemporary singing.  You can feel all these registers when you are singing and doing scales.

Chest Register. When both males and females sing in there lower range you should be able to feel your chest cavity resonate or vibrate slightly. Place your hand on the top of your chest.

Middle Register. As you move up higher in your vocal range you will feel the chest resonation diminish and you will begin to feel more vibration around the middle section of your neck and lower chest. This resonation will continue all the way up until your voice crosses over to the falsetto register.

Falsetto Register.  The false or artificial part of your highest voice. For males you will sound like a female.

A few words that we are using like “falsetto” are Italian words. The 1st studies on the voice was done in Italy, that is why we still use a lot of Italian words today in singing. Falsetto means false or artificial voice.

The last vocal area is Head Voice. Head voice is a lighter, thinner and airier version of your middle voice. A lot of R&B singers use this sound to sound smooth and sexy.

So to recap the 4 vocal registers  there is  Chest register, Middle register, Falsetto register and Head register. You try them all now yourself.

What is my exact range?

To distinguish these ranges correctly you should try singing a simple major 5th scale on any vowel along with the piano. This should be done in full voice and not in falsetto. You can probably add another 4 to 8 notes or a half or a full octave to your range in falsetto.

Females 

The middle female Alto voice. An alto voice should be able to sing up to a high C,D or D# and down to the mid C,D or F

The high female Soprano voice. A Soprano should be to sing up to a high E,F or G and sing down to a middle E, F or G.

The low female Contralto voice. Should be able to sing up to a middle A,B or C and down to a low A B or C

Males

The middle Baritone male voice. A Baritone should be able to sing up to a middle F,G or A  and down to a low A, B or C

The high male Tenor voice. A Tenor should be able to sing up to a middle B High C or D  and down to a mid C,D or E

The low male Bass voice. A Bass should be able to sing up to a  middle C,D or E and down to a low C,D or E.

Now don’t be disappointed if you are not the range you thought you were or want to be. As I have said, everyone’s voice, body and personality is a fantastic individual creation. So some of you will be able to sing in 1 of the mentioned voice categories and some of you will be able to naturally sing in 2 of the mentioned voice categories and some will be able to sing a little in all 3 voice categories. Remember it is not a competition or a race. Lets just have fun with the voice and what you have been blessed with.

I guarantee your voice will expand both higher and lower and feel stronger and you will have more control in the very near future by singing and practising scales with the correct technique.

By Peter Vox