How we can classify voice types into categories?
My students often ask me which Fach they have, or which voice range they have. I’m always very careful with rash “diagnoses” on vocal chords. Only when the vocal chords can be used loosely when singing and when the sound comes from the body (with support) do I dare to categorize. And even then, the voice can still develop further, become more dramatic or deeper…
The division into voice ranges (soprano alto tenor bass) is necessary to integrate a singer into the choir or to find the suitable role in musical theatre so that the voice is not only spared, but also finds its individual timbre.
In the well-known “Handbuch der Oper” by Rudolf Kloiber (Munich 2007), where most operas are listed, you can find fine gradations of which opera part can be assigned to which vocal parts. Although voice ranges can be differentiated, there is still no final scheme that could represent the enormous number of voices.
Of course, singers still need guidelines to focus on a repertoire that fits to their voices. If, for example, one sang a role that did not do fit to one’s voice, they could harm their vocal chords. Historically, composers have even composed their works for certain singers. Professional singers know which composers are particularly good for the voice. Mozart and Richard Strauss, for example, are considered beneficial to the voice. Beethoven is considered very difficult to master. Of course, it is very specific and every singer has different preferences.
For art songs there are no specific Fächer, the editions are limited only to “high/medium/low”. For example, certain songs are easier or harder for different vocal types.
Whether you sing pop or classical music, you’ve probably noticed that your piece “fits” more or less to you.
Tip: First sing in your favourite song, where you feel most comfortable. If you feel well, it is a sign that your throat is loose and the support is relieved from the body. The best thing for the voice is to slowly increase the difficulty of the repertoire. For this, voice training is essential! The vocal chords are very sensitive and react very quickly to excessive strain.
Before we now come to the fine division of the vocal Fächer, let us first consider the vocal ranges:
The Division (for Choirs) (Soprano Alto Tenor Bass)
Voices are divided into soprano, alto, tenor and bass. As you can see, neither the baritone nor the mezzo-soprano is considered here. However it makes a big difference whether you are a mezzo-soprano or an alto , just as big is the difference between baritone and bass. Fächer do not yet play a major role in the choir.
Now we can fine-tune these categories:
Which Fach do I have? Soprano alto tenor bass?
It would be too simple to define our vocal chords to how high or how low we can sing. It often happens that sopranos sing in the amateur choir with the altos because their technique is not sufficient to hit the high notes or because they can sing very deep. In fact, it depends on the timbre of the voice. In which situation is her voice the most powerful, the most voluminous? A good contralto must also be able to sing a high c”`, a soprano comes down to the e easily.
Soprano Alto Tenor Bass
(Superius, the voice above): Sopranos have very bright voices. Singing high notes is comparatively easier for them. The current repertoire includes the ambitus from a to f”`, although there are exceptions (such as with cat duet, Rossini or with Christine, Phantome of the Opera, Webber). In the choir, sopranos usually sing the melody part.
Although there are mezzo-sopranos who can reach the high f”`, their dark timbre makes their voice stand out better in lower registers. They can sing high like a soprano, but in the long run it would burden their voice. In the repertoire for a mezzo-soprano you can also find high notes, but not in the quantity as with the soprano.
(altus=high): Alto singers have particularly dark voices. In amateur choirs, they are often sing tenor and one calls them ironically “tenoresse”. There are considerably fewer alto than higher voices. A good alto with a voluminous depth are rare. Interestingly, a trained contralto also can sing up to the c”`.
(basso-low): The bass has the deepest voice; it has the largest vocal cavity and the tailpipe is the widest. Men often make great bassists. Their voice compartment is characterized above all by a deep timbre (overtone structure), forming a foundation in choirs and ensembles. For a bass it can be a challange to sing a f in such a way that their voice still sounds beautifully free and full.
The voice of the baritone is slightly slimmer than that of a bass. The timbre is a little higher and brighter and coloratura are often easier to sing. The baritone does not appear in the choir; rather, they usually sing with the bass. Baritones are closer to the tenor than to the bass since their range is usually about a third below that of a tenor.
The voice of a tenor allows them to sing full tones even over an a` with ease and healthy vocal chordclosure. You can even sing a high “c” without tilting into the falsetto voice.
Is my voice light, lyrical or dramatic?
Especially when someone still learns how to sing I would be very careful with early diagnoses. There are already physiological criteria by which a certain vocal Fach could be guessed (composition of the vocal cords, physique); however, the susceptibility to error in such diagnoses is very high. A beginner should always sing “light” pieces before moving on to a more lyrical or even dramatic subject.
To sing heavier repertoire, the voice must be completely relaxed and the connection to the body must be permanent. Even in vocal studies, students often must be gently introduced to their vocal Fach by their professor. With dramatic Wagner singers, they cannot usually sing their repertoire during their time at university (that means before or around the age of 30). I keep hearing of colleagues that sing too difficult songs too early, causing voices damages and have to abandon their profession.
All these criteria are very general and serve for general orientation. There are basses that can sing coloratura, coloratura sopranos that have a warm sounding sonorous middle register. Where are the exact boundaries? At what point can one speak of a dramatic voice? There are lyrical parts that have dramatic passages and vice versa (for example, Butterfly). So, we see that you can’t categorize normatively, but rather identify tendencies to orient yourself by. Ultimately, it’s about making you feel comfortable with your repertoire and gently developing your voice.
In Kloiber, you can see that there are roles that would be singable for several voice Fächer. The decision of the agent/conductor/director etc. also counts here.
Let us now come to the fine division for the opera singer: [Kloiber]
Lyrischer Sopran [c`-c,]:
Soft voice with beautiful melodiousness, noble sound.
Jugendlich dramatischer Sopran [c`-c,]:
Lyrical soprano voice with larger volume, which can also sing dramatic passages.
Dramatic coloratura soprano [c`-f,]:
Flexible voice with great height, dramatic power.
Dramatic soprano [g-c,]:
Voluminous, metallic voice, great power.
Dramatic mezzo-soprano [g-b, also c,]:
Flexible, metallic intermediate voice with dark coloration, which often develops to a highly dramatic voice with increasing maturity, good height.
Dramatic alto [g-b,]:
Flexible, metallic voice with well-developed height and depth, dramatic power.
Deep alto (contra-alto) [f-a,]:
Full voice with great depth.
Lyrical tenor [c-d,]:
Soft, agile voice with great height.
Dramatischer Heldentenor [c-c,]:
Metallic voice that can create both lyrical passages and dramatic climaxes, noble timbre.
Heavy, voluminous organ with good middle range and depth, often baritonal coloration.
Lyrical baritone [B-as`]:
Soft, agile voice with beautiful legato and great height.
Metallic voice that can create lyrical timbre as well as dramatic climaxes; noble baritonal sound.
Heldenbariton (sometimes also high bass) [G-fis`]:
Heavy, expansive organ that not only has a radiant height, but also a well-balanced, stable middle and low register.
Seriöser Bass (deep bass) [C-f`]:
Voluminous voice with dark timbre, great depth
Spiel and character Fächer
Lyrical coloratura soprano (c`-f,):
Very agile, soft voice with high pitch.
Spielsopran (soubrette) [c`-c,]:
Delicate, flexible voice, delicate appearance.
Intermediate voice with a fine characterization ability.
Spielalt (lyrical mezzo-soprano) [g-b,]
Smooth, characterizable voice.
Spieltenor (Tenorbuffo) [c-h`]:
Slender, characterizable voice.
Intermediate voice that has a fine characterization ability.
Slender, agile voice with great height.
Powerful organ capable of modulation, fine characterization ability.
Spielbass (Bassbuffo) [E-f`]:
Slender, agile and characterizable voice.
Characterbass (bass baritone) [E-f`]:
Large, extensive voice, fine characterization ability.
Schwerer Spielbass (Heavy Bassbuffo) [D-f`]:
Voluminous voice of large size.