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Vocal Ranges

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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A typical choral arrangement divides women into higher and lower voices and men into higher or lower voices. Most voices can be assigned one of these four ranges, and this gives the composer four vocal lines to work with, which is usually enough. The four main vocal ranges are:

  • Soprano -- A high female (or boy's) voice
  • Alto -- A low female (or boy's) voice
  • Tenor -- A high (adult) male voice
  • Bass -- A low (adult) male voice

Arrangements for these four voices are labelled SATB (for Soprano Alto Tenor Bass). The ranges of the four voices overlap, but singers may find themselves straining or getting an unpleasant sound at the top or a weak sound at the bottom of their ranges. So although the full ranges of an alto and a soprano may look quite similar, the soprano gets a strong, clear sound on the higher notes, and the alto a strong, clear sound in the lower part of the range. But there are vocalists whose strong, best-sounding range falls in a distinctly different place from any of these four voices. The names for some of these ranges are:

  • Coloratura Soprano - This is not really a different range from the soprano, but a coloratura
  • soprano has a voice that is unusually high, light, and agile, even for a soprano.
  • Mezzo-soprano - In between soprano and alto
  • Contralto - Contralto and alto originally referred to the same voice. But some people today
  • use -contraltoff to refer to a female voice that is even lower than a typical alto
  • Countertenor - A male voice that is unusually high, light, and agile, even for a tenor
  • Baritone - A male voice that falls in between tenor and bass
Figure 2.9 Vocal Ranges
Voices are as individual as faces; some altos will have a narrower or wider range, or the sweetest and most powerful part of their range in a different place than other altos. These are approximate, average ranges for each voice category.