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Voice Types

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A voice type is a particular kind of human singing voice perceived as having certain identifying qualities or characteristics. Voice classification is the process by which human voices are evaluated and are thereby designated into voice types. These qualities include but are not limited to:

  • vocal range;
  • vocal weight;
  • vocal tessitura;
  • vocal timbre; and
  • vocal transition points such as breaks and lifts within the voice.

There are four main adult voice-types in singing: soprano, alto (mezzo soprano), tenor and bass, representing the upper and lower pitch extremes of the female and male vocal ranges. Choral music is invariably set out for combinations of the SATB voice spectrum.

However, in opera and song, these pitch categories are sub-divided into voice-types which reflect not just the singer's range, but also the dramatic requirements of his or her roles.

The German term Fach (literally, 'division') is often used as shorthand for voice-type specialisation. But beware: when you look into the history of singing, you find that the trend for singers to work almost exclusively within their own Fach is a modern one. In former times, some singers - for instance Maria Callas - often sang roles across several voice-types. And operatic roles are often claimed by more than one type - Mozart's Don Giovanni, for example, is sung by baritones, bass-baritones and basses!

In his book, Voices, Singers and Critics (Duckworth 1992), the eminent writer on singing, John Steane, set out a detailed plan of the various voice types - the lists given in here are based on John Steane's plan.