As a singer, knowing your voice type is vital for understanding what notes you can reach and what you can realistically expect from your singing voice.
You may think you can guess what kind of sound you have, but many people are surprised to find the accurate results are much more complicated.
Your specific type is a result of the following vocal variables:
- Range – The notes you can produce, from low to high
- Weight – The lightness or heaviness of your voice
- Tessitura – Part of the range in which singing feels most comfortable to you
- Timbre – The unique quality and texture of your voice
- Transition points – Points where you change from chest to middle and then head register
- Vocal registers – How extended your register is, large or small
- Speech voice – Your speaking range
- Physical characteristics – The anatomy of your vocals and body
In this article, we’ll explain each of the voice types in more detail and show you how to determine a singer’s voice type.
Use this information to help you select songs, extend your vocal range, and overall improve your performance. Stay in your vocal range, based on your voice type, and you can even reduce the likelihood of straining your vocal cords.
The 8 Voice Types
Most voices fall into one of eight vocal categories, of which there are four male and four female types.
- male: bass, baritone, tenor, to countertenor
- female: alto, contralto, mezzo-soprano to soprano
We’ll now look at each in turn.
The lowest male voice type, bass vocals are characterized by low, rich rumble sounds with plenty of vocal weight with a tessitura of around E2-E4 (two octaves). Real bass singers are rare.
Examples of famous bass singers include:
- Johnny Cash
- Barry White
- Bing Crosby
Typical among men, baritones may also sing in the tenor register as well if they extend their vocal range into higher notes. The baritone voice has weight with a tessitura of A2-A4.
Famous baritone singers include:
- James Taylor
- John Legend
- Michael Buble
- Axl Rose
Another common one for men, tenors are slightly lighter in vocal weight than a baritone with a tessitura of C3-C5. Singers in this voice classification may sometimes sound like a lady on the phone due to the high notes they can reach, and they’re highly popular in music today.
Well-known tenors include singers like:
- Graham Nash
- Sam Smith
- Freddie Mercury
- Jason Mraz
- Stevie Wonder
- Michael Jackson
The final male type, countertenor is rare with a tessitura of E3-E5. It’s the most high-pitched voice guys can have, and you may mistake a man who sings in countertenor as a female if you only heard them.
Low notes aren’t comfortable for these singers, so you can expect these men always to sing high notes.
While there aren’t many countertenors in pop music, examples of countertenors include:
- Bruno Mars
- James Bowman
- Alfred Deller
The lowest singing voice type for women, the contralto is just as rare as male bass singers.
The ladies who sing in the range have a tessitura around E3-5 and a decent amount of vocal weight. They can sound like men when they sing or speak the lower notes they can reach.
For example, popular contraltos include:
- Annie Lennox
- Nina Simone
- Lalah Hathaway
The second-lowest for females, alto singers offer excellent vocal weight and rich tessituras of F3-5.
With training, many altos can extend their range to reach powerful high notes. However, some singers stay at the alto range throughout their performances. Over the past 30 years, there have been tons of amazing altos.
Popular singers include:
- Tracy Chapman
- Lana Del Rey
- Amy Winehouse
One of the most impressive of all, a mezzo-soprano singer is the female equivalent of the male baritone.
They fall in the middle of the voice types in their sex and have the ability to reach higher notes with practice. Mezzo-sopranos tend to have a lighter vocal weight than altos, but they can add weight to top notes to add feeling to the lyrics. They have a tessitura of around A3-A5.
Famous mezzo-soprano singers include:
- Lady Gaga
- Bette Midler
The highest for females, the soprano has the highest weight with a tessitura of C4-C6. Sopranos are known to sing in a style called ‘coloratura soprano’, incorporating dramatic runs, trills, wide leaps, or similar virtuoso-like material.
However, they don’t need weight to reach those high notes with power. Because sopranos have less vocal weight available, they gain more flexibility to hit other registers.
Soprano singers who are famous today include:
- Ariana Grande
- Whitney Houston
- Mariah Carey
Factors that Determine a Singer’s Voice Type
Finding your voice type isn’t always easy. However, understanding each of the following factors will help you determine what yours is.
Your vocal range is the notes you can sing, from the lowest to highest.
Knowing the range of notes you can sing can help find your voice type. Unlike tessitura (see below), the range of your voice includes all the notes you can sing, whether reaching them is comfortable or not.
The weight of your voice is how heavy or light it is. It’s the power behind the sound.
Like a cello and violin, bass and tenor can both reach the same low note. However, the weight of the sound each singer or instrument produces is different. There’s a noticeable difference in the sound of the notes. Understanding your vocal weight can help you select the best songs for your voice.
Tessitura is the range of your voice where you sing most comfortably. This range includes the low and high notes you can reach without straining your voice, and it’s an excellent indicator of where your singing voice will shine. You shouldn’t struggle to belt out these notes, and the voice should remain rested.
Unlike range, your tessitura is vital when choosing which song to sing. Just because you can reach all the notes in a song, doesn’t mean it will feel comfortable. Practice and singing lessons can allow you to sing all the registers of your voice type powerfully, but until then, it’s best to stay in your tessitura rather than dive bomb to low notes or squeeze yourself to death to reach high notes.
The bridge is the location where your voice transitions between different vocal registers. No matter what type you have, we all have a similar bridge location. When you move between singing with your chest to your head voice, it’s known as the passagio or bridge. For males, this transition takes place around E4, while women change at A4.
Regardless of your type, this transition area is a tricky place for singers. Most men and women have a tough time singing notes near or at the transition note, and voice training works to allow singers to move past this transition to hit higher notes without falsetto or strain on the voice. Vocal techniques can help you sing throughout your entire vocal range comfortably, including at the bridge.
This is why it’s recommended for beginners first to gain comfort singing in their entire range, moving from the chest to head voice with ease. Then, you can worry about vocal weight and tessitura in selecting the right songs for you to perform.
The texture and timbre of your voice is just as vital as the range and tessitura are to determine between voice types. Timbre is especially helpful in separating mezzo-sopranos from sopranos, as they can reach the same range of notes. A mezzo-soprano, for example, has a lower tessitura and darker timbre than a soprano singer.
Everyone has both large and small vocal registers. They are the range of tones you can sing, which are produced by vibrations in the vocal folds. The tone qualities vary with higher and lower registers, but the vocal folds vibrate differently to create each sound. Learning how to use your vocal register is essential in shifting from singing with your chest to your head voice without mixing the tone qualities uncomfortably.
When you sing, you’ll notice you feel different parts of your body working to produce the sound. This is what vocal register you’re using. The term describes the quality of the sound you sing through the changes in your vocal cords, the position of your larynx or voicebox, and what muscles you use. An alto, for example, has a lower register than a soprano singer.
With training, you will learn to move from one vocal register to another with ease. The main vocal registers include:
- Chest – The lower and heavier register, your chest voice comes with powerful sensations in your chest. It’s commonly used for talking or yelling.
- Modal (middle) – The in-between register, modal voice is a mix between the chest and head voices. Using this register helps singers transition smoothly, creating a unified sound when moving from low to high notes (or vice versa).
- Head – A light, higher, and sweeter register, the head voice sensations make the vocal folds become longer and tauter while the vocal cords vibrate faster with rising pitch. Common in choral singers, women, and young boys, many men can’t sing in a head voice.
- Falsetto – The top register for most men, falsetto takes place when the vocal cords reach the edge of their register and switch to another without a break or smooth transition. It’s commonly used with countertenors who sing at an alto range. Some women also can sing in this ‘false voice’.
The level you use to talk, or your speaking voice, can be high or low. Most people have the same speaking voice as their chest voice. Although many women speak slightly higher than their chest voices. You may wonder why your talking voice matters when singing, but they both come from the same place and are formed with the same parts of your body.
Getting to know your speaking voice can help you find your singing voice because it releases clues about your anatomy. When you’re about to sing or say a vowel and stop, for example, you can feel the vocal cords close and the breath stop as well. This combination creates the sound we call voice. Understanding your voice can also help you learn to transition from speaking to singing more fluidly in performances.
Your body’s very anatomy also affects your voice type, from the vocal tract, size of your vocal folds, and overall body size.
The sound you create when singing is amplified and modified by various parts of the vocal tract resonators, which includes the mouth, throat, and nasal passages.
These resonators are responsible for producing the sound we recognize as a person’s voice. Then, other parts of the body, like the vocal tract, are made up of the tongue, soft palate, and lips to modify the sound and create words. The vocal folds are also vital, as they’re responsible for the vibrations necessary for producing various sounds. Vocal folds work in combination with vocal resonators, and you can use them to shift the tone of your voice to suggest emotion in your performance.
The size of your overall body may also affect the sound you can produce. More abundant singers can have more weight to their voices, whereas tiny women may not have as much power.
Use the information above to help find what notes you’re most comfortable singing. Your voice type, or the notes you feel comfortable singing, is vital to enhancing your singing abilities and selecting the right songs to perform.
Once you know your voice type and understand the most critical factors that go into your specific voice, you can learn how to determine your vocal range. The notes you reach and the overall quality of your voice can be extended over time with practice.