Many singers at the dawn of their careers make it a point to determine their voice type. Knowing your voice type is important because you get to know your vocal range. You are comfortable with and who you should be looking up to for inspiration.
Voice types were originally proposed for opera singers. The array of auditions was smooth once you were well acquainted with your voice type. So if you were a Soprano, naturally you would audition for the Soprano part. This would save a lot of time and trouble on your part.
Before we dive into detailed criteria for finding your voice type, let’s address its operational definition for a more coherent understanding: A voice type can be thought of as a singing voice that belongs to a group having a similar voice range and some other characteristics that we will get to later.
A voice range is the range of pitch that a singer can cover. So the range of a singer will be from the lowest to the absolute highest note that is within their ability. Voice range often constitutes the predominant parameter that voice types are designed upon, but there is much more to it than just this. Here are a few elements that make a vocal type:
Tessitura: The tessitura of a singer lies within their vocal range. It is the range of voice where a singer is most comfortable and at rest. A singer can hit any of the highest or lowest notes if they try but are they comfortable doing it? Does their voice sound strained and unnatural? Chances are they are singing outside their tessitura.
Tessitura is more important than your vocal range while determining your voice type. Anyone can sing a couple of extra higher notes or deepen their voice in to expand their range but it will never sound as good as when they will stick within their tessitura because that’s when they sound effortless and authentic. So, one surefire way of making out your voice type would be to determine your tessitura and then going from there.
Timbre: The timbre of your voice is just as important in helping you arrive at the voice type that suits you best. The texture of your voice is called the timbre. It is the quality of your voice that will distinguish you from others as it is unique to each singer. Two characteristics that change a timbre are frequency and envelope.
Timbre can be described with words like bright, clear, deep, croaky etc. When we chart sound against its visual representation, timbre is the quality that will correspond to the shapes of images.
Vocal Weight: The vocal weight is the perceived lightness or heaviness that your singing voice has. The voices lying on the lighter spectrum are often called “lyrical”, and they tend to be more bright and breezy. They have flexibility in their singing voice that a “heavy” vocal weighted singer might not. Terms like dramatic, powerful, dark and rich are often associated when the voice of a singer is perceived to have more heaviness to it.
Passagio: This is an Italian term that translates to ‘passage’. The passagio is the pitch where you transition from one vocal register into another.
The broad division of vocal registers is:
- Middle or mixed
This classification of vocal registers is largely based on the part of a singer’s body where they feel most resonant while singing. An experienced singer maintains the same timbre throughout a passagio. So that’s what your goal should be if you aim to be a big deal.
Dangers of misclassification
The significance of accurate classification of a singer’s voice is reinforced by the ill effects that follow misclassification. It can have catastrophic consequences on your vocal cords if you are comfortable in the tessitura of say, a tenor and you constantly try to hit the lower tones to mimic a bass singer.
This will lead to the undesired outcome of your singing career being shortened. Constant straining to sing in a voice type that is not your forte will lead to a decline in the quality of your singing.
This is why a singer should always be aware of their voice type and should only sing the parts that fall in that category. A fail-safe method to train your voice and find its type is approaching a teacher. They can walk you through the ups and downs of this art.
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