The terms used by musicologists and music lovers can sometimes surprise and disorientate novices, especially when talking about voice types. Even the vocabulary in both Italian and French can make opera feel unwelcoming for younger fans of modern music. However, there are a few ways to work on your singing voice in order to make yourself a better singer.
Valour, power, volume, warmth, colour, clarity: there are so many terms to describe the different types of voices that choral singers and opera singers will be very familiar with them. Today, we’re going to have a look at tessitura and range, some of the most important aspects of the human voice.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the answer to a question that most opera divas would probably ask: “Can I increase my vocal range and, if so, how?” These are very important questions that are not just for operatic singing but also for modern music.
What is Tessitura?
When talking about music and the sounds made by the human voice, instruments and singers can be classified in terms of the range of different frequencies they can produce. Naturally, the human voice is somewhat limited and you could say that most of its abilities are innate: surgery can’t turn an aspiring singer into Luciano Pavarotti with the click of their fingers, for example.
Tessitura basically refers to the range in terms of notes and octaves that a voice produces naturally without too much effort. Before you undertake any vocal training, you should study at least the basics of music theory as you would before you start playing a violin, oboe, french horn, accordion, bass clarinet, trumpet, guitar, trombone, or alto sax.
Being able to read sheet music would be really useful for deciphering any given piece. This is something that would really help if you were playing Kaufmann in The Tales the of Hoffman.
As you probably know, human voices tend to change over the course of a person’s life. There are certain key moments, too. During puberty, for example, the voice breaks during and your range will become deeper. Additionally, women’s voices also change during menopause.
At the height of a signer’s career (often between 25 and 45 years of age), they’ll need to work tirelessly on their voice in order to break into the world of opera as well as broadening their range in order to improve their chances of landing certain roles.
The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute requires a total mastery of the upper ranges of the human voice and tenors get their chance to shine in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
The Main Types of Tessitura
While there is some overlap, the voices of men and women are generally classified differently and are part of a scale from the lowest vocal ranges of men to the highest vocal ranges of men. Within these ranges, there are also several subdivisions.
From the lowest male ranges to the highest, the male vocal ranges are as follows:
The bass range goes from E2 (the second E below middle C) to E4 (the E above middle C).
The baritone range goes from A2 (the second A below middle C) to A4 (the A above middle C) like Marcello in La Bohème
The tenor range goes from C3 (one octave below middle C) to C5 (one octave above middle C). A good example is Almaviva in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
The countertenor is usually the highest male vocal range and include Handel’s oratorios and in the baroque music of Purcell.
Each of these groups includes subdivisions and certain singers, such as Roberto Alagna, are able to be classified as several different ranges and can play a multitude of roles without ever struggling to hit every single note.
Similarly, the female voice has three main roles defined by the range of notes they perform.
The contralto range goes from F3 (the F below middle C) to F5 (the second F above middle C) and includes roles like Erda in Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
The mezzo-soprano range goes from A3 (the A below middle C) to A5 (two octaves higher) like Carmen in Bizet’s work of the same name.
The soprano range goes from C4 (middle C) and C6 (high C) and includes Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Before You Start Your Singing Lessons...
If you want to succeed in music as either a classical or modern singer, you have to at least have a good voice.
After that, you’ll have to study some music theory in order to have a deeper understanding of music just like an instrumentalist would and work out your voice type in terms of pitch, timbre, and the songs you're capable of singing.
Your musical ear needs to be worked upon regularly as well as studying the main composers in terms of vocal music: Beethoven, Britten, Gluck, Gounod, Rameau, Vivaldi, etc. There are also a number of radio stations and places you can go to if you enjoy religious music.
You should also ensure that you can sing in key before you even consider trying to expand your range. Additionally, you’ll also need to have good elocution and chest voice and have mastered vibrato and diaphragmatic breathing. It’s important that you train yourself to sing without having to force yourself.
Your abdominal muscles and nasal cavities can be just as important as your ears and throat when it comes to becoming an exceptional singer. Additionally, you’ll need to have stage presence and be able to act as well as you can sing.
That said, you’re not going to just burst out of a music workshop and start and start singing motets under the direction of a famous composer in the world’s most famous opera houses. There’s a huge difference between singing your first light opera and performing the biggest roles on the best stages. Additionally, there’s also opéra bouffe.
As with all art, you need to do things in order. Before you start trying to learn to reach the high notes, you need to cover the basics. The low and middle notes. If you don’t do this, it’ll be a disaster. All your hard work will be for nothing if you don’t do things in the right order.
If you run before you can walk, you’ll end up with ugly and weak high notes and your voice will waver and you’ll struggle to improve. You need to start with the main notes of your range and only start to broaden your range once you’ve learned to masterfully perform these notes.
Once you’ve managed that, you can more on to more complex exercises. A singing course or singing lessons could help a lot at this stage.
Before you perform any music, you have to make sure you warm up your voice: make sure your throat and mouth are ready for singing so that you can perfectly operate them in order to sing in key and have the kinds vocal qualities that move people.
You should drink a lot of water and avoid dairy products so that your body is completely ready to sing.
Exercises for Reaching those High Notes
A knowledge of keys, a metronome, and singing lessons are all really useful to make sure that when you’re singing, you’re singing correctly and not picking up any bad habits before you put on your big show.
The amplitude of your voice comes from your throat which needs to remain low. You can do this by making sure it remains relaxed. Never move your jaw forwards as this amounts to exertion. Make sure than when you sing, you remain relaxed, composed, and in key!
You should also work on deep breathing and your posture in order to reach some of those high notes successfully.
You should also consider vocal warm up exercises for the vowels you’re going to sing. There are a number of singing exercises that you can use daily and your private tutor will probably suggest their favourites. The vocal cords need to be able to tense and relax without too much difficulty.
You should consider vocalising. First start with a low note and go up in semitones. You can use a piano to help you do this.
It’s also important to ensure that your vocal cords are comfortable. The vibration of your vocal cords is at the heart of having a voice like your favourite singing stars.
There’s a “lift” exercise you could consider which uses a rolled “r” to continuously go up a scale before going back down to the original note. This vocal exercise can help you improve your voice without having to resort to going to see a speech-language pathologist.
In any case, make sure that you do have a vocal professional with you so that your vocal cords are in their best condition and you won’t lose too much time working towards your goals.
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