Updated: Jan 1
New students sometimes ask me to label their voices. They want me to tell them if they’re an alto or soprano, for instance. Being someone who teaches microphone-based genres, I’m reluctant to do that, for reasons I’ll explain. But sometimes somebody wants a singer to write down “what [they] are,” so it’s good to have a safe answer.
The terms alto, soprano, bass, and tenor are choral designations,
and even in the setting of your choir or acapella group you may become a different voice type if your conductor is short on tenors.
Those designations, in a decidedly more nuanced way, also apply to classical voice types. But none of my students sing classical music.
The whole “voice type” thing gets a little squishy in popular styles.
Here’s the thing to remember about singers: they are essentially Bb instruments. Generalizations assume exceptions, and it’s generally true that vocal “breaks” (the point where the voice changes from one physiological behavior to another) fall between Bb and B, and between F and F#. All genders, all ages, all voice types. Interesting, right?
Fun fact: it’s not unusual for guitar players in Nashville tune to down to Eb. The reason is that Nashville is a singer’s town, and the singer will sound better if the key you’re in doesn’t put him/her on his/her vocal breaks throughout the song.
In popular styles, it’s not about voice types. It’s about the key for a particular song and how that works for an individual singer. This blog answers a question and hopefully solves a problem. I do hope you don't get stuck in "what kind of voice" you are. If you're not in a choir, in an opera, or auditioning for a music theater role, it doesn't really apply to you.
If your voice does not fit neatly into one of the categories below, I want to empower you to dig into your unique vocal personality! Don't even play the "voice type" game! Just know your song, and your key, and show 'em what you've got.
With all that in mind, here is what you need to know about voice designations for microphone-based styles.
Soprano, or high
Ariana Grande is one of these. I call these singers Disney Princess singers. (Not at all in a bad way. Love Disney.) Their sound is a head register (M2) mix. Their natural low notes are B3 or B♭3 and they can typically blend comfortably to an F5. They tend to go to pure head tones at F♯ - and then are able to access more of their high range with relative ease. They can hit pitches down to G3 or even lower if they learn to access their pure chest (M1 or modal) register. Typically, though, they have to get the hang of smoothing out the typical (but not inevitable) “bump” that will happen when they sing lower than a B3 or B♭3.
Alto, or medium-high
There are two versions of this singer:
naturally good or appropriately trained
untrained or inappropriately trained
Naturally good or appropriately trained
This singer can sing two octaves from F#3 or G3 (G below middle C) in a chest (M1) register or chest mix. Their "Money Notes" are F5 - A6. Often this singer can also access her head (M2) register to sing even higher but with the lighter, less complex timbre of the head register.
Untrained or inappropriately trained
A singer who loves popular music and is comfortable with her chest register but who has studied classically or not taken any lessons will sometimes end up as two singers in the same body. The original, chest-register (M1) singer alongside the head-register (M2) singer. Depending on the person, and their level of training, this can be a situation that is either ideal or really frustrating.
Untrained singers can also feel very frustrated by the experience of the radically different sounding head (M2) and chest (M1) registers. Neither the untrained singer nor the kinda-classical singer has learned to blend the registers in a preferred or sustainable way.
The untrained M1-dominant singer of this voice type can sing comfortably between G3 to between A5 and C5. Most can sing slightly lower and/or higher than those pitches, but that range is safe. Higher than that cannot be assumed. Even with a pro.
Tenor, or medium-low
For tenors, the safe pop range is D3 to F4. An experienced or trained tenor can sing to an A4. A “Money Notes" for tenors in popular styles (think, Patrick Monahan or Bruno Mars) can sing to C5 or higher. Tenors can often sing lower than the D or D♭ below middle C, but it typically becomes more difficult for them once they’re warmed up. D is safe.
Baritones, or low
The owner of the baritone voice is that lucky singer who can actually sing entire songs without having to negotiate a register break! Even a safe range for an untrained singer is G2 to B♭3. That's a lot of notes! (If you can sing lower than that G2, you are probably a bass-baritone.)
An experienced or trained baritone can sing an F4. “Money Notes” for baritones are F#4 to C5. Though those seem like high pitches for this voice type, they are pretty basic for most microphone-based genres. Like the alto, or medium high voice, these low voices tend not to lose their low notes as they warm up, but do gain more high notes.
Like I said...kind of squishy definitions.
The truth is, though, that in the world of bands and singer-songwriters, these definitions rarely come up. More typically a singer is empowered by knowing what ranges they like to use for different kinds of singing, and then knowing how to advocate for having songs played in the keys that work best for them.
If you want to have a designation for yourself for your own peace of mind, or to write on audition sheets, you can use this handy-dandy guide. The better strategy, though, is to find your key for any given song. That’s the way to truly sound fabulous, which is, of course, what it’s all about.
Your Studio Mic Setup
You know you (or your singers of microphone-based genres)
should be singing on mic, right?
Practicing with a microphone is an important part of learning to SING and to PERFORM on mic! Have you been a little nervous about getting plugged in?
No worries, friend. I got you!
This free download guides you to a simple, affordable, and easy-to-use microphone setup for you or for yourr teaching studio.
(Bonus: you can also take it on your gigs!)
There are links, recommendations, and a video that walks you through how to set up your new system.
#meredithcolby blog post about the #voicetypes of #singers. This post contains #freedownload of a pdf + video of a simple studio microphone setup that can be used for practice as well as performing. Meredith is a #voicecoach, a #vocalcoach, and a #voiceteacher from #chicago. She helps #voiceteachers and #vocalcoaches teach for #popularstyles and #microphonestyles by teaching privately, supplying helpful content, and offering a #certificationclass in #neurovocalmethod.