Camille van Niekerk
In this article, you’ll learn what the common vocal ranges are, how to find your range, and why it matters!
What are the common vocal ranges?
From highest to lowest, the 6 “standard” solo vocal ranges are:
The exact pitches may vary slightly, but these general ranges are widely accepted.
Can’t a soprano sing lower than C4? And can’t a baritone sing higher than Ab4?
Yes! These ranges refer to a vocal part, not a specific singer. You may have a wide range that covers more than one of the “standard” ranges. Let’s say, for example, that you can sing from E3-A5. Does that make you an alto, or a mezzo-soprano? Answering that question has less to do with range and more to do with tessitura.
What is tessitura?
Tessitura is the range in which you feel most comfortable and sound your best. (Tessitura can also refer to the range of a melody within a specific piece of music).
When you see vocal ranges listed, understand them as the tessitura for a given vocal part, not the overall range. So while most sopranos can (and do) sing lower than C4, their comfort and tone quality may begin to diminish in that range. For that reason, they may choose to sing soprano repertoire, because that’s where they feel and sound their best. But that doesn’t mean they can’t sing lower songs, or work on their low range.
How do I find my vocal range?
You can find your vocal range in a few easy steps. All you'll need is a chromatic tuner that can pick up the notes you sing. Firstly, find your lowest comfortable note to sing. Starting in chest-voice, sing a 'hum' and lower it in pitch as much as you comfortably can without loosing a pure tone. Sing that 'hum' into your chromatic tuner and write down what note the tuner shows. Next, we'll do the same process to find your highest comfortable note to sing. Starting in head-voice, sing a 'hum' and gradually go up in pitch. Make sure you can sing your highest note comfortably, no cracking or straining! Sing that 'hum' into your chromatic tuner and write down that note as well. There you have it, your vocal range! For a bit more detail as to how exactly to find your vocal range, follow the steps in this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArVkyaMQiSI.
How do I determine my vocal part?
Ask yourself: where do I feel most comfortable singing? In what range do I sound my best? Is there a specific range in which my voice “opens up”, sounding stronger and more brilliant? These are questions you can’t answer in a few minutes, and you probably can’t answer fully at the very beginning of your training.
When should I choose a part?
If you’re singing contemporary music or learning to sing for fun, you don’t need to choose a part, at least not right away. Most contemporary music isn’t written for specific vocal parts; rather, songs are written by (and for) individual artists, who often don’t fall neatly into one vocal part.
Some circumstances in which you may need to choose a voice part include:
- Singing in a choir
- Looking for range-specific warm-ups
- Finding repertoire for auditions
If you find yourself in one of the above situations, choose the part whose range corresponds most closely with your tessitura (the most comfortable, beautiful part of your range).
What if my range (or tessitura) is very narrow?
That’s normal, especially if you’re untrained or new to voice lessons! The majority of untrained singers are most comfortable in their chest voice (speaking voice) range, since that’s the “mode” they use the most. But that range is limited! One of the first steps in vocal training is learning to access the other “modes” or “registers” of the voice, including your head voice or falsetto function, which is useful for accessing your highest pitches (much higher than chest or speaking function can produce).
Thankfully, there are plenty of songs you can sing with a limited range! See below for some suggestions:
Remember that most voices won’t fall neatly into one vocal range, and your range (along with your tessitura) is likely to change as you age and train your voice. Understand where you’re comfortable today, but be open to change!