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Bass Vocal Range

Posted December 16, 2022

Bass Range - What is it?


What is a Bass?


A Bass has the lowest-pitched singing voice of all the categories. The word comes from the late Latin word Bassus, meaning thick or low.


What is the Bass range?


According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from E2 to E4. This covers the entire Bass Clef on the musical staff as well as a few notes below (E2) and a few notes above, stretching all the way up to the bottom line of the Treble Clef (E4).


How do I determine if I’m a Bass?


Range: The first way to determine if you are a Bass is to see if you can sing comfortably in the middle of this range from G2 to C4. This is often referred to as your tessitura, meaning your voice has the best and most natural sound quality in a particular range, usually excluding the very extreme edge of your range on either side!


Tone: A Bass typically has a rich and full timbre, with a deep rumbling quality and so you can often check to see if your lowest notes open up into a loud bellowing chest voice sound.


Passaggio: The other way to determine if you are a Bass is to determine where your “break range” also known as you passaggio is. This is where your voice cracks or with proper training transitions smoothly from chest voice to head voice. A Bass is typically going to be transitioning out of chest voice into head voice through their passaggio around C4 or D4, which is much lower than all the other voice types.


What is a Basso Profundo?


Like all other voice types there are a number of subcategories or “Fachs” within the Bass range. These voice types are divided up by range, tessitura, tone, volume, and even based off of famous Operatic roles.


A Basso Profundo refers to the lowest Bass singer with at least a C2 on the bottom. In some cases an exceptionally deep-ranged basso profondo is called an Oktavist. You can hear some great examples of this in Russian Orthodox Choral music.


An Oktavist can extend down to A1, and sometimes even to F1. This is an entire octave below the bass staff, hence the famous name Oktavist. Some famous Oktavists such as Mikhail Zlatopolsky or Alexander Ort have reached extreme lows down to C1. If you are feeling a little jealous, just know that now any singer can use an octave doubler to get the same effect!


A Bass-Baritone on the other hand can sing in a higher tessitura, but still has the warm chesty quality of a Bass.


There is also Comic Bass (Basso Buffo), which refers to a lighter sounding Bass with lots of agility. It gets its name from the clownish characters that a Comic Bass often plays in Opera.


A Lyric Bass sort of like the Italian Basso Cantabile often refers to a lighter or higher singing Bass similar to the Bass-Baritone. While a Dramatic Bass refers to a louder and more full sounding Bass as a sort of opposite to this. Lyric and Dramatic can often be added to the above types of Bass voice types for a more specific description.  For example: A Dramatic Basso Profundo would be characterized as a very low AND loud often booming sounding Bass with a VERY full tone.


Who are some famous Basses?


Many Basses are more famously known for singing in Classical music. Some examples are Borsi Cristoff, Nicolaï Ghiaurov, Jerom A. Hines, Kurt Moll, and Cesare Siepi.


However, there are some notable Bass singers in contemporary music as well including Johnny Cash, Barry White, and Leonard Cohen as higher Bass-Baritones.


Tim Storms is a great example of a contemporary Basso Profundo or Oktavist. I would recommend using nice headphones to listen to this exceptionally low singer!



Technique Tips for Basses


Working on hitting lower notes can be a challenge since many people lose their lowest notes the more active their body gets throughout the day. Trying to push down to sing lower causes tension just like reaching for high notes. While it may not be the most typical way a singer can damage their voice, it can certainly fatigue the voice almost just as much when we try to press too much beyond our lowest notes.


A singer trying to sing super low should watch for tongue tension, making sure their tongue doesn't retract back into their throat creating a characteristic froggy sound like a very back placed “L” sound. They should also watch for locking or pressing the larynx too far down to reach for these notes. Many Bass singers use brighter vowels to help maintain these lowest pitches and I would encourage any Bass to look into this technique to maximize your lower range with ease. Just remember there is a bottom to every range!


The most important aspect of finding your range as well as selecting material for repertoire and auditions to fit this range is to make sure that you are singing in a comfortable Tessitura. It's always about what both feels and sounds the most authentic!