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Tips for Singers:
"If The Shoe Fits . . ."
(Your voice classification does not indicate size of your talent)
by Mark Baxter

Voicelesson.comAre 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 voice.

Centuries 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.

Labels have 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.

Mark Baxter is a vocal therapist who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call: (800)659-6002. Visit his website at:

(reprinted with the kind permission of Mark Baxter

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