by Camille van Niekerk
Do you know how to find your vocal range? Read on to learn how!
First, what is vocal range?
When we’re talking about a singer’s vocal range, we mean the range of musically useful pitches a singer can consistently access. You might be able to make a noise on some very low or very high pitches. But ask yourself a few questions before including them in your range:
- Can I sing this pitch every day (when I’m healthy and warmed up)?
- Can I sustain a note on this pitch (as in, hold the note for at least a few seconds)?
- Would I be confident recording a song with this pitch, or performing a song live with this pitch in the melody?
If you can’t answer “yes” to the above questions, it’s safest to exclude that pitch from your musically useful range for the time being. Can you expand your range over time? Yes! And might those slightly out of reach pitches eventually be included in your range? It’s definitely possible! There are 2 reasons it’s important to be realistic (and honest) when defining your range.
One: when you put that range on a resume or audition form, it gives the casting director a realistic idea of what you can do. We don’t want you to write down your “ideal” range, or your “only on a really good day” range if it’s something you can’t consistently deliver.
Two: defining your range helps you and your voice teacher choose suitable repertoire to work on. You can reduce your search time if you have a specific range you’re working with.
So, how do you find your range?
*Disclaimer: Make sure you’ve warmed up first! And if you’re sick or have a sore throat, please wait until you’re feeling healthy.
First, let’s find your lowest pitch. You’ll start within a comfortable range and gradually sing lower on an OO vowel (as in “shoe”). Women, start on G4. Men, start on G3.
New to music? Read this paragraph! If you’re familiar with pitch letter names, you can skip ahead.
So if you don’t have a keyboard handy and/or you’re unsure what I mean by G4 or G3: head over to https://recursivearts.com/virtual-piano/. Turn your volume on, and click around on the keys until you find the pitch G4 (women) or G3 (men). You’ll see a letter and number pair appear in the white box at the top of the keyboard. Match that pitch, singing on an OO, and then click the next key to the left (white or black, whichever is closest to the key you’re currently on). Since we’re starting on G, the next closest to the left will be a black key called F#. It’s a half-step lower from the pitch we started on. Match that new pitch with your voice, still singing on OO. We’ll continue working our way down the keyboard. On a piano (or keyboard), lower pitches are to the left, and higher pitches are to the right. The letter (like G) refers to the pitch letter name of that specific note in the musical alphabet, and the number refers to the octave.
Now keep descending, one half-step at a time, until you’ve reached the lowest note you can sing comfortably and consistently. Write that letter & number down.
How about your highest pitch? Let’s find it!
Return to the first pitch you started on: G4 or G3. Now, we’ll match pitch singing on an AH (as in “father”). Since we’re ascending in pitch, click the next key to the right. That will be G#, and it’s one half-step higher than G. Staying relaxed and letting your jaw drop for higher pitches, continue matching pitches up the keyboard. Once you’ve reached the highest note you can sing comfortably and consistently, write that letter and number down.
Congratulations! You now have determined your vocal range.
As an example, my vocal range is D#3-G#5. Although I can sing lower and higher pitches, I’ve determined this range to be my consistent, musically useful range. That means: if I receive a piece of sheet music with the melody within that range, I know I can sing it. However, in my warm-up routine and singing practice, I’m constantly stretching my voice outside of this range.
Your vocal range should not limit your practice! But it can focus your practice and help in choosing songs that will suit your voice.
Vocal range is also helpful when determining which part you should sing in a choir.
There are traditionally 6 vocal ranges, passed down from the operatic system of voice classification. The exact pitch limits are not set in stone, but they’re a good guide.
Tenor : C3-C5
Bass : E2-E4
In choral music, there are generally 4 voice parts, which are sometimes subdivided. They are Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass (divided into Soprano I & Soprano II, etc). Women with a mezzo-soprano range may sing either soprano or alto in a choral context, depending on the tessitura of their voice. Men with a baritone range might sing either Tenor II or Bass I, again depending on their tessitura.
The tessitura of a voice is the range in which a singer sounds their best and feels most comfortable. When choosing songs, tessitura is even more important than musically useful range. Determining your voice’s unique tessitura will come with time and experience, and may vary depending on the genre you’re singing.
Some final thoughts:
Do not put yourself in a box by defining your range! Be open to change, especially as you get older and refine your vocal practice.
And, as always, have fun!