In choir I sing soprano, alto and tenor.  So what is my voice type?


There are six basic voice types when classifying classical or operatic singing voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto/contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass, with several subtypes within each. In choral music, there are four designated voice types: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. When the choral parts are divided, the parts are usually split into Soprano 1, Soprano 2, Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone, Bass.

The operatic terms are best suited to collegiate, or mature singers, and should not be applied to young voices. Using the choral terms is more acceptable, and practical, in the school setting. You will find students who insist on labeling themselves, but encourage them to sing in the entire vocal range because this will be to their benefit as their voices will change.

There are many variables to consider when describing a voice type:

  • range – the lowest comfortable note to the highest note in the voice
  • weightlight voices are bright and agile; heavy voices are powerful, rich, and darker
  • tessitura – the part of the vocal range which is most comfortable to sing
  • timbre  – unique voice quality and texture; the color of one’s voice
  • transition points – areas where the voice changes from heavy to light


Voice type is determined mostly by where the most comfortable, resonant notes lie in the singing voice. However, beginning singers do not have the experience to understand their true range, and that this range will adjust as they continue physically grow and vocally develop. Although a female student may sing comfortably in the lower range or “chest” voice, this does not mean she is definitely alto. If this student has never learned to access the higher/lighter register of the voice, then she does not know the possibilities of her range. All young voices should be encouraged to explore and expand their vocal range. In general, most beginning singers have a medium-range voice.

A piano is the best instrument to help find one’s voice range. Simply sing as high and low as you comfortably can, vocalizing on a 5-note ascending and descending scale on “ah” or other comfortable vowel. (See Appendix A, #14 for a notated exercise) Using the designations E1, E2, E3, etc., for each octave on the keyboard (C4 is middle C), find your lowest and highest comfortable singing note.


This site from musicnotes.com shows the ranges of each voice type on a keyboard Vocal Range

The following website shows the vocal ranges of several famous singers, classical and pop.

Voice Ranges of Famous Singers


According to Manuel Garcia, “a register is a series of homogeneous (sounding the same) sounds produced by one mechanism, as distinct from another series of sounds equally homogeneous, produced by a different mechanism.” Garcia invented the first laryngoscope, and while observing the vocal folds during phonation he saw a certain configuration of the folds, which he referred to as a “mechanism.”. In other words, as a singer sang a scale the configuration of the folds would remain approximately the same up to a certain point, then alter visibly. When Garcia observed this, and at the same time heard a change in the tone quality of the sound, he concluded that he was hearing a change in register.

Common terms for vocal registers are fry, chest, heavy, modal, mix, head, loft and light. For consistency in this text, registration terms will be light mechanism and heavy mechanism. These terms are preferred because there is one vocal instrument, and each register influences the other. Along with light and heavy, commonly used terms for the extreme light, high ranges are falsetto for the male and whistle, for the female. While falsetto is generally achievable by all male voice types, whistle is not as accessible to all females.

The area where you may feel a voice “break” or “shift” is the passaggio, a transitional area that occurs as the muscles adjust when moving from one register to another.  A large part of vocal study focuses on working through these transitions. Be careful of online discussions of registration; instead refer to known pedagogues. However, be prepared to find that the more you read about registration, the more opinions you will receive!

Web resources for vocal pedagogy:

National Association of Teachers of Singing National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS)

~The Journal of Singing, published by NATS is a resource for all things singing.


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Vocal Techniques for the Instrumentalist Copyright © by Amy Rosine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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