Vocal range

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Vocal range is the measure of the breadth of pitches that a human voice can phonate. Although the study of vocal range has little practical application in terms of speech, it is a topic of study within linguistics, phonetics, and speech pathology; particularly in relation to the study of tonal languages and certain types of vocal disorders. However, the most common application of the term vocal range is within the context of singing where it is used as one of the major defining characteristics for classifying singing voices into groups known as voice types.[1]


[edit] Singing and the definition of vocal range

While the broadest definition of vocal range is simply the span from the lowest to the highest note a particular voice can produce, this broad definition is often not what is meant when "vocal range" is discussed in the context of singing. Vocal pedagogists tend to define the term vocal range as the total span of "musically useful" pitches that a singer can produce. This is because some of the notes a voice can produce may not be considered usable by the singer within performance for various reasons.[2] For example, within opera all singers must project over an orchestra without the aid of a microphone. An opera singer would therefore only be able to include the notes that they are able to adequately project over an orchestra within their vocal range. In contrast, a pop artist could include notes that could be heard with the aid of a microphone.

Another factor to consider is the use of different forms of vocal production. The human voice is capable of producing sounds using different physiological processes within the larynx. These different forms of voice production are known as vocal registers. While the exact number and definition of vocal registers is a controversial topic within the field of singing, the sciences identify only four registers: the whistle register, the falsetto register, the modal register, and the vocal fry register. Typically, only the usable range of the modal register, the register used in normal speech and most singing, is used when determining vocal range. However, there are some instances where other vocal registers are included.[1] For example, within opera, countertenors utilize falsetto often and coloratura sopranos utilize the whistle register frequently. These voice types would therefore include the notes from these other registers within their vocal range. Another example would be a male doo-wop singer who might quite regularly deploy his falsetto pitches in performance and thus include them in determining his range. However, in most cases only the usable pitches within the modal register are included when determining a singer's vocal range.[2]

[edit] Vocal range and voice classification

Vocal range plays such an important role in classifying singing voices into voice types that sometimes the two terms are confused with one another. A voice type is a particular kind of human singing voice perceived as having certain identifying qualities or characteristics; vocal range being only one of those characteristics. Other factors are vocal weight, vocal tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal transition points, physical characteristics, speech level, scientific testing, and vocal registration. All of these factors combined are used to categorize a singer's voice into a particular kind of singing voice or voice type.[3]

There are a plethora of different voice types used by vocal pedagogists today in a variety of voice classification systems. Most of these types, however, are sub-types that fall under seven different major voice categories that are for the most part acknowledged across all of the major voice classification systems. Women are typically divided into three groups: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Men are usually divided into four groups: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. When considering the pre-pubescent voices of children an eighth term, treble, can be applied. Within each of these major categories there are several sub-categories that identify specific vocal qualities like coloratura facility and vocal weight to differentiate between voices.[1]

Vocal range in and of itself can not determine a singer's voice type. While each voice type does have a general vocal range associated with it, human singing voices may possess vocal ranges that encompass more than one voice type or are in between the typical ranges of two voice types. Therefore, voice teachers only use vocal range as one factor in classifying a singer's voice.[2] More important than range in voice classification is tessitura, or where the voice is most comfortable singing, and vocal timbre, or the characteristic sound of the singing voice.[1] For example, a female singer may have a vocal range that encompasses the high notes of a soprano and the low notes of a mezzo-soprano. A voice teacher would therefore look to see whether or not the singer was more comfortable singing up higher or singing lower. If the singer was more comfortable singing higher then the teacher would probably classify them as a soprano and if the singer was more comfortable singing lower than they would probably classify them as a mezzo-soprano. The teacher would also listen to the sound of the voice. Sopranos tend to have a lighter and less rich vocal sound than a mezzo-soprano. A voice teacher, however, would never classify a singer in more than one voice type, regardless of the size of their vocal range.[2]

The following are the general vocal ranges associated with each voice type using scientific pitch notation where middle C=C4. Some singers within these voice types may be able to sing somewhat higher or lower[1]:

[edit] Vocal range in terms of frequency

In terms of frequency, human voices are roughly in the range of 80 Hz to 1100 Hz (that is, E2 to C6) for normal male and female voices together.

*This chart only displays to a C0, though the octocontrabass clarinet extends down the B♭ below that C.

The world records for high and low pitch extend well outside of this range, and extend outside the range of human hearing.

[edit] World records and extremes of vocal range

As noted above, claims of exceptionally wide vocal ranges are not uncommon among some singers. ."[4] Charles Kellogg, who claimed to have a vocal range of 12.5 octaves, could accurately imitate birdcalls, which sometimes went up into the ultrasonic range. According to Kellogg his calls could go as high as 14,000 Hz (14 080Hz is A9). Some recordings of Kellogg's birdcalls still exist. However, Kellogg's claims are very hard to verify. [5] Nicola Sedda hit an A9 (14079 Hz), broke Adam Lopez's record for highest vocal note and claims to have a vocal range spanning 8.5 octaves but has not been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records yet.[citation needed] In late 2006, Edward Morgan hit an E8, showing his range of 7 octaves from E1-E8, breaking Adam Lopez's previous record, which has yet to be verified by the Guinness Book of Records. It is claimed that the sound clip was verified by J.M.Lindeijer of the Dutch Divas Opera site.[citation needed] In 2006 the Guinness Book of Records published several categories relating to extremes of "Human vocal range." It stated the following:


  • Greatest range and Highest vocal note: Eight octaves, G2-G10, Georgia Brown, Brazil, August 18, 2004
  • Guinness lists the highest demanded note in the classical repertoire as G6 in 'Popoli di Tessaglia,' a concert aria by W. A. Mozart. However, this is not a standard repertory piece. (One should also note that the instruments used when Mozart composed were pitched a whole step lower than contemporary instruments such that a G6 as he wrote it would be produced in the same anatomical position as the contemporary F6. The fact that Mozart composed with a G6 does not, therefore, indicate that the human voice is broadly capable of producing that pitch as it is contemporarily defined. A contemporary F6 is a different matter, however; the F6 (which is the contemporary tone produced if one were to sing "Popoli di Tessaglia" with period instruments) is a commonly produced pitch for sopranos as "Der Hölle Rache," for instance, is performed as written--with an F6--on today's instruments <producing what would have for Mozart been a G6>) The highest note in the standard repertoire is F6 in Mozart's aria "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" (sometimes called "The Queen of the Night's aria," though this character actually has two arias) from the opera Die Zauberflöte. It calls for four F6's, which is often cited as the highest note in classical vocal music (she sings an additional F6 during the first Act aria, "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn"). Also the opera Esclarmonde by composer Massenet called for high F, and even high G. Several little-known works call for pitches higher than G6. For example, the soprano Mado Robin, who was known for her exceptionally high voice, sang a number of compositions created especially to exploit her highest notes, reaching C7 according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (edited by Harold Rosenthal)


  • Greatest range: Six octaves, Tim Storms, USA
  • Highest vocal note: C#8 Adam Lopez, Australia
  • Guinness lists the lowest demanded note in the classical repertoire as a "Low D" (two Ds below Middle C) in Osmin's aria in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Although Osmin's note is the lowest demanded and commonly performed in the operatic repertoire, Leonard Bernstein composed an optional low B (a minor third below the low D) in a bass aria in the opera house version of Candide. In a Russian piece combining solo and choral singing, Pavel Chesnokov directs the bass soloist in "Do not deny me in my old age" to descend even lower, to G1, depending on the arrangement. Composers have sometimes called upon the bass voice to sing extremely low pitches in choral arrangements. Mahler's second symphony contains an optional B1 in the choral section at the end of the piece: basses who cannot reach it are requested to remain silent rather than sing a B2. In Rachmaninoff's Vespers the composer actually requires the B1.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d e McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN 978-1565939400. 
  2. ^ a b c d Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253203786. 
  3. ^ Shewan, Robert (January/February 1979). "Voice Classification: An Examination of Methodology". The NATS Bulletin 35: 17–27. 
  4. ^ http://www.vh1.com/artists/news/1123487/20000828/elastica.jhtml
  5. ^ Mythbusters Episode 76: "Voice Flame Extinguisher"

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