The vocal range is one of several voice qualities that vocal teachers use to determine voice type. It refers to the full scope of pitches a given singer can produce, from the lowest to the highest. Other important voice qualities to consider are:
- Vocal tessitura (tehs-sih-’too-rah): the area of the vocal range most comfortable for the singer to use
- Vocal weight: a “light” voice is usually more agile and flexible, and a “heavy” voice is usually more resonant and full
- Vocal timbre (‘tam-burr): the characteristic of the voice that allows a listener to judge that it is different from another voice singing the same pitch with the same loudness.
- Vocal passaggi (pah-’sah-zhee; plural of passaggio): the areas of transition between the various registers of the range (chest voice or lower area, head voice or higher area, etc.)
It is important to determine your voice type. Practicing and performing music outside your own voice type can damage your voice. Although most voices are flexible and can recover from some damage, all voices have a limit to what they can endure. Finding songs in your vocal range is essential to maintaining your vocal health. Let’s start with how to find your vocal range!
Vocal range scale and voice types
Voice type refers to a particular type of singing voice that is identified by certain qualities, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Vocal range is the defining quality of any voice type, so learning how to find your vocal range is quite important!
There are many different voice types, but there are six that are considered most basic: Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto (Contralto), Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. The first three are specifically female voices, and the last three are male voices. There is a bit of pitch overlap between types, and specific classifications rely on the sex of the singer and how the other voice qualities contribute to identifying their voice type.
Using scientific pitch notation (with C4 being middle C), here are the average pitch ranges of the 6 basic voice types:
Soprano: C4 - C6
Mezzo Soprano: A3 - A5
Alto: F3 - G5
Tenor: C3 - A4
Baritone: A2 - G4
Bass: E2 - E4
Each extreme pitch of these ranges can move up or down a bit depending on the individual. Sometimes wider or unusual ranges are given other names (countertenor, coloratura soprano, etc.), depending on the actual sound of the individual voice (its weight, timbre, etc.).
How to find your vocal range: 3 steps
Finding your vocal range is a great first step to finding your own voice type, and it is a surprisingly easy process. Besides your voice (which you’ll always have with you!), you’ll need a pitched instrument, such as a piano (in fairly good tune) to compare the pitches you produce to identifiable pitches. If you don’t feel you can tell if you’re accurately singing the pitches being played, have someone with a good musical ear help you.
Step 1: Warm up your voice.
Take time to stretch and relax the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and face. Too much tension in any of these areas can pinch off the higher or lower ends of the voice. Notes you think you “can’t hit” are sometimes only temporarily being stopped by muscle tension.
Step 2: Start on C4 (middle C).
Play it on a pitched instrument and try to sing the pitch (called “matching the pitch”). Be sure it truly is middle C, not the C below it or the C above it. All C’s sound alike, only higher or lower. Once you do that, move up one pitch (on the piano, to the next black key, which is a half step higher) and sing that pitch. Continue this process moving up one pitch at a time until you can no longer sing the pitch at all. The final pitch you can sing comfortably is at the top of your range. If trying to match a higher pitch hurts, STOP! Singing should NEVER hurt.
Step 3: Go back to C4 and repeat Step 2 moving downward by half steps.
Eventually, the sound you make will turn into a growling rumble and will no longer be a discernible pitch. The last recognizable pitch is the bottom of your range.
The vocal range of famous singers
Now that you know how to find your vocal range, do you wonder how your range compares to the ranges of some well-known singers? Here are a few past and present performers to check out. (Please note that many of these singers have large ranges and can fit into more than one vocal type!)
- Cecilia Bartoli (born 1966): E3 - F6 (considered a coloratura mezzo soprano)
- Ariana Grande (born 1993): D#2 - C7
- Adele (born 1988): B2 - D6
- Mariah Carey (born 1970): B2 - F7
- Marian Anderson (1897-1993): D2 - C6
- Patsy Cline (1932-1963): D3 - B5
- Cher (born 1946): C3 - C6
- Tracy Chapman (born 1964): B2 - A4
- Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007): C3 - F5
- Andrea Bocelli (born 1958): C#2 - D5
- Ed Sheeran (born 1991): G2 - A5
- Freddie Mercury (1946-1991): F2 - F6
- J. D. Sumner (1924-1998): C1 - C#4 (once touched G0 and held the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s lowest vocal sound for 18 years)
- Ezio Pinza (1892-1957): A2 - D4
- Paul Robeson (1898-1976): A#2 - D#4
- Bryn Terfel (born 1965): F2 - F#4
Final thoughts on how to find your vocal range
The most important things to remember as you search for your vocal identity are:
- The vocal range is only one part of determining your voice type.
- The vocal range is as individual and personal as a fingerprint.
- The vocal range can shift up and down, depending on how warmed up a singer is, their level of technical prowess, and their age.
As you study voice and increase your technical skills, your vocal range will also increase. It’s like learning to dance. A beginning dancer is not nearly as graceful and agile as a more seasoned performer. Since the dancer and the singer both use the body to create their art, the same thing applies to both artists. An organic instrument like the voice is continually changing, depending on the condition of the singer’s body and environment.
How to find your vocal range is an important skill, and you should periodically check your range as you mature physically and technically. However, you should never sacrifice healthy vocal techniques in order to reach higher or lower pitches. A healthy voice is more important than a wide range!