How we can classify voice types into categories.
My students often ask me which voice pitch they have, which voice compartment they can assign their voice to. I’m always very careful with rash „diagnoses“ on vocal chords. Only when the vocal chords can be used loosely when singing and the sound comes from the body (with support) do I dare to categorize. And even then the voice can still develop further, become more dramatic or deeper…
The division into voice compartments (soprano alto tenor bass) is necessary in order to integrate a singer into the choir or to find the suitable role in musical theatre, so that the voice is not only spared but also comes into its own with its timbre.
In the well-known „Handbuch der Oper“ by Rudolf Kloiber (Munich 2007), where most operas are listed, you can find fine gradations of which opera part can be assigned to which vocal parts. Although voice compartments can be differentiated, there is still no final scheme that could really represent the enormous number of voices.
Of course, singers still need guidelines to focus on a repertoire that does justice to their voices. If, for example, one sang a role that did not do justice to one’s voice, one could even harm one’s voice. Historically, composers have even composed their works for certain singers. A singer-friendly composer knows his way around voices very well. In singing circles one speaks of composers who are particularly good for the voice. Mozart and Richard Strauss, for example, are considered beneficial to the voice and people like to sing their pieces to sing their way into it. Beethoven is considered very difficult to master. Of course it is very individual and every singer has different preferences.
For art songs there is no directory categorized in voice boxes, the editions are limited only to „high/medium/low“. For example, certain songs are easier or harder for different vocal subjects.
Whether you sing pop or classical music, you’ve probably noticed that your piece „lies“ more or less.
-Tip: First sing in your favourite position, where you feel most comfortable. If you feel well, it is a sign that your throat is loose and the support is relieved from the body. The best thing for the voice is to slowly increase the difficulty of the repertoire. For this voice training is essential! The vocal chords are very sensitive and react very quickly to excessive strain.
Before we now come to the fine division of the vocal compartments, let us first consider the vocal positions:
The Rough Division (for Choirs) (Soprano Alto Tenor Bass)
Voices are divided into soprano, alto, tenor and bass. As you can see, neither the baritone nor the mezzo-soprano is considered here. In the cast of roles, however, it makes a big difference whether you are a mezzo-soprano or an alto player, just as big is the difference between baritone and bass. Vocal subjects do not yet play a major role in the choir.
Now we can fine-tune these categories:
Which voice compartment do I have? Soprano alto tenor bass?
It would be too simple to pin our vocal chords to how high or how low we can sing. It often happens, for example, that sopranos sing in the amateur choir in the alto because their technique is not sufficient to hit the high notes. Or because they can sing very deep. In fact, however, it depends on the timbre of the voice. In which situation is her voice the most powerful, the most voluminous? A good contralto must also be able to sing a high c“`, a soprano comes down to the e easily.
Soprano Alto Tenor Bass
(Superius, the voice above): Sopranos have comparatively very bright voices. Singing high notes is comparatively easier for them. The current repertoire includes the ambitus from a to f“`, although there are exceptions (e.g. as with cat duet, Rossini or with Christine, Phantome often he Opera, Webber). In the choir, sopranos usually sing the melody part.
Although there are mezzo-sopranos who can reach the high f“`, their dark timbre makes their voice stand out better in lower registers. She can sing high like a soprano, but in the long run it would burden her voice. In the repertoire for a mezzo-soprano we recognize that high notes also occur time and again, but not in the quantity as with the soprano.
(altus=high): Alto girls have particularly dark voices. In amateur choirs, they are often sent into the tenor on grounds of man-lack and one calls it ironically „tenoresse. There are considerably fewer female alto players than there are higher vocal subjects; good female alto players with a voluminous depth are desperately sought after! Interesting: A trained contralto also (approx.) comes up to the c“`.
(basso-low): The bass has the deepest voice, it has the largest vocal cavity and the tailpipe is the widest. Bassists are often great men. Her voice compartment is characterized above all by a deep timbre (overtone structure) and forms a foundation in choirs and ensembles. As far as her height is concerned, it is already a good line to sing a f in such a way that her voice still sounds beautifully free and full.
The voice of the baritone is slightly slimmer than that of a bass. The timbre is a little higher and brighter. Runs and coloratura often fall somewhat easier. The term baritone does not appear in the choir movement; they usually sing along in the bass. On closer examination, however, baritones are closer to the tenor than to the bass, since their range is usually about a third below that of the tenor.
The tuning apparatus of a tenor allows them to sing full tones even over an a` with ease and healthy vocal cord closure. You can even sing a high „c“ without tilting into the falsetto voice.
Is my voice light, lyrical or dramatic?
Especially in the training phase of singing learning I would be very careful with early diagnoses. There are already physiological criteria by which a certain vocal fold could be guessed (composition of the vocal cords, physique); however, the susceptibility to error in such vocal diagnoses is very high. A beginner should always sing „light“ pieces before moving on to a more lyrical or even dramatic subject. To sing heavier repertoire, the voice must be completely relaxed and the connection to the body must be permanent. Even in vocal studies, students often have to be gently introduced to their vocal subject by their professor. With highly dramatic Wagner singers it usually does not happen that they can already sing their repertoire during their vocal studies (that means before or around the age of 30). I keep finding out that colleagues sing too difficult songs too early, that their voices are broken and that even their profession has to be abandoned.
All these criteria are very general and serve for general orientation. There are basses that can sing coloratura, coloratura sopranos that have a warm sounding sonorous middle register. Where are the exact boundaries? At what point can one speak of a dramatic voice? There are lyrical parts that have dramatic passages and vice versa. (Example: Butterfly) So we see that you can’t categorize normatively but rather identify tendencies to orientate yourself by. Ultimately, it’s about making you feel comfortable with your repertoire and gently developing your voice.
In the toilet you can see that there are roles that would be singable for several voice compartments. The decision of the agent/conductor/director etc. also counts here.
Let us now come to the fine division for the opera singer: [Kloiber]
1. Serious fans
Lyrical soprano [c`-c,]: Soft voice with beautiful melodiousness; noble line.
Youthful-dramatic soprano [c`-c,]: Lyrical soprano voice with larger volume, which can also create dramatic highlights.
Dramatic coloratura soprano [c`-f,]: Moving voice with great height; dramatic penetrating power.
Dramatic soprano [g-c,]: Voluminous, metallic voice; great penetrating power.
Dramatic mezzo-soprano [g-b, also c,]: Movable, metallic intermediate voice of dark coloration, which often develops to a highly dramatic voice with increasing maturity; good height.
Dramatic alto [g-b,]: Moving, metallic voice with well-developed height and depth; dramatic penetrating power.
Deep alto (contra-alto) [f-a,]: Full, pasty voice with great depth.
Lyrical tenor [c-d,]: Soft, agile voice with enamel and great height.
Youthful heroic tenor [c-c,]: Metallic voice that can create both lyrical passages and dramatic climaxes; noble tenor.
Heldentenor [c-c,]: Heavy, voluminous organ with load-bearing middle layer and depth; often baritonal coloration.
Lyrical baritone [B-as`]: Soft, agile voice with beautiful line and great height.
Kavalierbariton [A-g`]: Metallic voice that can create lyrical passages as well as dramatic climaxes; male noble baritonal colouring.
Hero baritone (sometimes also high bass) [G-fis`]: Heavy, expansive organ that not only has a radiant height, but also a well-balanced, stable middle and low register.
Serious bass (deep bass) [C-f`]: Pastose voice with dark coloration, great depth („black bass“).
2. Game and character fans
Lyrical coloratura soprano (c`-f,): Very agile, soft voice with high pitch.
Playing soprano (soubrette) [c`-c,]: Delicate, flexible voice; delicate appearance.
Character soprano [h`-c,]: Intermediate voice with a fine characterization ability.
Played (lyrical mezzo-soprano) [g-b,] Smooth, characterizable organ.
Spieltenor (Tenorbuffo) [c-h`]: Slender, characterizable voice.
Character tenor [A-b`]: Intermediate voice that has a fine characterization ability.
Play baritone [B-as`]: Slender, agile voice with great height.
Character baritone [A-g`]: Powerful organ capable of modulation; fine characterization ability.
Playing bass (Bassbuffo) [E-f`]: Slender, agile and characterizable voice.
Character bass (bass baritone) [E-f`]: Large, extensive voice; fine characterization ability.
Heavy Playing Bass (Heavy Bassbuffo) [D-f`]: Voluminous voice of large size.
Anatomy during singing lessons, for singers.
You won’t become a better singer if you study anatomy perfectly and memorize all the muscles and ligaments. I know a few examples of people who are really very educated in the subject, but unfortunately can’t sing.
Nevertheless, I have drawn the most interesting things for you, perhaps you will experience one or the other aha effect.