The Shoe Fits . . ."
(Your voice classification does not indicate
size of your talent)
you a size 8 or 13 when it comes to footwear? Do your feet create
narrow little deer prints or do you leave triple-E, bear-sized
craters in your path? Whatever your answers, there's no
sense in complaining; your shoe size was determined the day you
were conceived. Voices also come in a variety of sizes. Just like
the foot, the size of your larynx was determined by a genetic
code. And like every other musical instrument, size determines
range. If you have a small larynx, then your voice will be high-pitched.
That's why male and female children alike can sing into the stratosphere.
As we age, the genetic code begins to unfold. Some people experience
tremendous growth spurts during their teens. If you wind up with
a super-sized larynx, your voice will be able to produce pitches
much lower than the average bear can bellow. Most of us, though,
grow to average proportions and wind up with average vocal ranges.
Don't fret. Just as your shoe size does not determine where you
will go in life, an ordinary larynx does not mean an ordinary
ago, when western music was evolving, a system emerged to classify
singers by range. This allowed composers to specify the type
of voice for a particular part and get a result as consistent
as with a violin, cello or bass. The highest female voice is
called soprano, followed by the middle range of a mezzo-soprano
and the lowest for women, a contralto. A male who has a high
voice is called a tenor, a guy with an average range is classified
as a baritone and those who can sing super low are basses. If
you are familiar with music notation, the normal span of these
voices is one octave above and below the notes B, G, and E for
the females and A, F and D for the males. Experienced singers,
though, routinely sing beyond these limits. The operatic world
goes into further detail by adding character descriptions to
a singer's label. If you have a powerful voice, then you are
classified as dramatic or robust. Sing with a light tonal quality
and you will be dubbed a lyric-soprano, tenor, baritone, etc.
If the descriptive add-ons don't quite capture you, there are
combinations of categories, like bass/baritone, that can stretch
the boundaries even further. In the end, everyone gets a tag.
a funny effect on people; the profile always feels limiting.
Yet, some singers are empowered when informed they are a soprano
or tenor. They forget the classification is based on genetics,
not how well they sing. Others become discouraged when told
their vocal ranges are average, also forgetting that middle
does not mean mediocre. What's important to note is that these
classical voice categories, formed so many years ago, have no
significance in popular music. With few exceptions, the admired
singers of today are mostly baritones and mezzo-sopranos (middle
range singers) that push their voices into tenor and soprano
ranges. The sound of their high notes is appreciated by their
fans but not acceptable by classical standards. Remember the
categories were formed so composers could control the quality
of what is sung in their music. So often in pop music, the composer
is the singer. Those that don't perform their own songs have
the luxury of changing the key until the fit is as comfortable
as an old shoe. While it is necessary for pop singers to know
their range, it's not necessary to label their voice. Popular
music is all about personality; simply hitting the notes is
not enough. So, don't stress over whether you're a coloratura
or lyric soprano, a heroic tenor or a basso buffo. The potential
is there for every singer to receive a standing ovation. And
that, my friends, is no ordinary feat.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
(800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark