A voice type is a style of singing voice differentiated by certain distinguishing characteristics. Every aspiring singer, who wants to learn how to sing, will sooner or later want to determine his voice type. Many beginner singers, however, believe that a voice type is determined solely by vocal range, which is the range of notes that a singer can produce. That is not true. Vocal range is only one of the factors determining one’s voice type.
Before anyone attempts to classify his voice, it is important to know that voice classification was introduced for classical (operatic) singing voices and it is used as an essential tool in determining singing roles and repertoires in opera. However, in contemporary music styles, this classification is applied loosely and is not important in determining a singer’s repertoire for two primary reasons. First, there is flexibility to transpose a song (the key signature of a song is changed) to suit the singer’s vocal abilities and to showcase his vocal strengths. In the world of opera, the classical pieces of music are almost always sung the way they were written and therefore, choosing a suitable voice type is crucial to the success of the performance and the vocal health of the performer. Second, the use of microphones permits contemporary singers to use parts of their voices that would not otherwise be used without amplification. Classical singers harness the power of classical singing techniques to be heard without amplification devices.
The standard classification system takes into consideration other voice characteristics in addition to the vocal range. These are:
Passaggio – the point where vocal quality changes from one register to another
Timbre – voice colour that can be described as bright, dark, strident, metallic, or ringing
Tessitura – a singer’s most comfortable or usable voice range
Vocal strength – a singer’s most powerful voice register (chest, middle or head voice)
This voice categorization is not strictly applied to contemporary music styles but is used more as a guideline. However, there are a few aspects to bear in mind before you try to categorize your own voice.
First, voice maturity is not defined by age but rather by the physiological changes that occur in both boys and girls going through puberty. Categorization should not take place before this maturation process is complete.
Second, previous singing experience and the use of good vocal techniques may affect the outcome of the categorization process. Inexperienced singers usually have smaller ranges than experienced singers. Voice classification can shift as singers develop a wider range and better voice quality.
Third, it is more important to develop healthy vocal habits than to strain or try to fit into a certain style. Voice types are a function of the size and structure of the larynx and the surrounding resonators: singers with larger vocal spaces have lower ranges and tessitura while singers with smaller spaces have higher ranges and tessitura. The physiology dictates voice style, and there is little we can do about it.
The classification system recognizes six basic voice types. Female voice types are the soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto (contralto). Male voice types are the tenor, baritone, and bass. Each style is characterized by vocal range, tessitura, and color. Sometimes, two voice types can possess the same voice range, but their voice quality and vocal strengths will decide the voice type.
If you want to know your voice type, find a good resource – whether it is a vocal coach, voice teacher, choir director, singing book, CD or reputable online resource – to guide you through the process.
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