I have had a lot to do with singing in choirs and singing groups, where I am often assigned the higher harmonies because of my higher vocal range. This is because, early on, my music teacher helped me discover my vocal range to assign me to one of six possibilities.
The six types of vocal ranges are:
- Bass (E2-E4)
- Baritone (A2-A4)
- Tenor (C3-C5)
- Alto (F3-F5)
- Mezzo soprano (A3-A5
- Soprano (C4-C6)
You can determine which range you fall into by identifying the highest and lowest notes you can sing, and finding which of the six typical vocal ranges is most similar.
These letters and numbers may not mean much to you, so I will go into more detail. I have also looked into why it is important to know your vocal range and how you can increase your range.
What is Vocal Range?
Vocal range is determined by the musical notes that you are comfortably able to sing. Your vocal range is made up of the lowest and highest notes that you can sing, as well as every note in-between.
You are born with your own unique range, but people are able to increase their range through training and vocal exercises, which I will talk about later. This means that they can train themselves to sing higher or lower than their voice can normally achieve.
Although everyone has a unique range, there are six common vocal ranges. Men usually fit into the bass, baritone or tenor ranges, while women usually fit into the alto, mezzo soprano or soprano ranges. Each of these ranges span over two octaves.
Before I talk about each of these ranges, you should first understand the notation used. When I say ‘C4’, the letter represents the note you are singing (C) and the number represents which C this is on the keyboard(the 4th C from the bottom). C4 is an important note to remember. This is called ‘middle C‘, which sit in the middle of the keyboard.
Male Vocal Ranges
Bass is the lowest of the male vocal ranges. This range is between E2 and E4 on the keyboard.
Baritone is the middle of the male vocal ranges. This range is between A2 and A4 on the keyboard.
Tenor is the highest typical male vocal range. This range is between C3 and C5 on the keyboard. It is also the most common range for men.
Female Vocal Ranges
The lowest of the female vocal ranges. This range is between F3 and F5 on the keyboard. This is the most common range for women.
Mezzo Soprano Range
The middle vocal range for women. This range is between A3 and A5 on the keyboard.
This is the highest typical vocal range for women. This range is between C4 (middle C) and C6. The high end of this range (C6) is also known as ‘high C‘ or ‘soprano C‘, which you may have heard of before.
How to Find Your Vocal Range
Now that you know about the typical vocal ranges, you should be able to identify your own vocal range.
This is done by identifying the highest and lowest notes you can sing. When you are doing this, these notes will seem difficult to reach, but shouldn’t be strained. All notes within your vocal range should be reasonably comfortable to sing.
You can find these two notes by using a piano or a tuner. If you use a piano, start by playing middle C. Try singing each note lower and higher than this until you reach your (comfortable) limits.
A tuner is a tool that will listen to the sound you are singing, and tell you which note it is. If you can’t get hold of an actual tuner, there are plenty of tuning apps that will do the same. If using a tuner, start singing any note that is comfortable and go lower and higher than this to find your limits. the tuner will tell you which note you are singing at these limits.
More often than not, your range will be slightly different to the typical vocal ranges. Your range might span more or less than the typical two octaves (25 semitones/notes), and your limits may be different notes to those of your typical vocal range. This makes it more difficult to find where you fit in with these ranges.
One easy way to overcome this is to look at the central note of your range. If your range consists of 25 semitones, then the middle of your range will be the 13th note. This can be likened to taking the ‘average’ of the range.
The middle notes of the standard 6 vocal ranges are below:
- Bass: E3
- Baritone: A3
- Tenor: C4 (middle C)
- Alto: F4
- Mezzo Soprano: A4
- Soprano: C5
Once you have identified the middle note of your vocal range, you will be able to work out which vocal range is closest to yours on the keyboard.
The Benefits of Knowing Your Vocal Range
- You can choose songs to perform that fit within your range. This will allow you to sing them comfortably.
- You will be able to tell your vocal teacher.
- Have a baseline for future improvements. If you know the highest and lowest note you can sing, then you can work on reaching higher and lower notes.
- You can sing in a group and know which harmony you will be able to sing.
- You will know your limits. Singing outside your range can strain your voice, so knowing these limits will keep your voice safe and healthy.
How to Increase Your Vocal Range
If you’ve found your vocal range, you now have a baseline for improving your vocal range. This means singing lower and higher than you could before.
The key to increasing your vocal range is consistency. It’s a slow process. You are essentially training the muscles surrounding your vocal cords to stretch beyond where they have stretched before. Similar to a dancer training their muscles to stretch into the splits.
This is done mainly through regular voice exercises. Approximately 30 minutes each day will successfully increase your vocal range. It is important to attempt increasing your range by only one semitone at a time until you are comfortable with each new note. You can find a number of basic exercises in this article to get you started.
There are many vocal exercises you could choose from, but some are more effective than others at increasing your range. These exercises mostly work on strengthening the upper and lower registers of your voice, not just the notes you want to hit.
One type of exercise that gradually increased your range is slides. This is sliding the voice up and down just beyond the limits of your range, allowing your voice to build up to the challenge of the high or low note. This could include sirens (using an ‘oh’ or ‘oo’ sound to slide up and down) or loud exaggerated yawns that bring the voice down from high to low notes.
Singing the Scales
Another very common exercise is singing scales. This is done cycling through various vowel sounds, such as ‘ga ga ga’ or ‘no no no’ as you sing through the scales. You will begin mid-range, singing up and down the scale, and then repeating with higher and higher scales (if working on the upper register). To work on the lower register, the same is done but gradually singing lower and lower scales.
Practicing resistance is also a good technique. This can be done by singing with your fist covering your mouth. Your notes will be muffled and you will notice that it’s hard to get air out around the cracks in your fist. This can be done with any normal exercise, such as the ones above.
Other than regular exercises to increase your range, it is also important to keep your voice healthy. This includes keeping yourself healthy, eating the right foods and not straining your voice by pushing too hard.
It can take months, or even years, to see any increase in your range. Some amazing singers on the world, such as Axl Rose, are able to sing up to five octaves. But being able to sing over two octaves is still an achievement. So set a goal for yourself to suit the needs of your own singing career and take it one note at a time.