Female Vocal Range

(Last Updated On: April 13, 2021)

The female vocal range is higher than that of a male singing voice. In choral music, the female voice is categorized on the basis of the singer’s vocal range and occupies the first two categories of the SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) classification. In classical music, the female voice is divided into three categories.

Each category further subdivides into subcategories. These subcategories are characterized by voice qualities such as vocal range and weight, vocal timbre and tessitura, and passaggio or vocal transition points like vocal breaks and lifts. These voice qualities along with vocal register constitute the main criteria on classifying the female singers. 

The Facts About Female Voice

  • The vocal range is the span of notes that a person’s voice can phonate from the lowest note to the highest. Female voices mostly dominate the higher notes, and each vocal range generally consists of two octaves on the piano keyboard.
  • The voice weight pertains to the lightness or heaviness of a perceived voice. Lighter voices are more agile, considerably brighter, and are often associated with the “lyrics.” On the other hand, heavier voices correspond to the “dramatic” and are characterized by their richness, darkness, and power. In between these two vocal weights is the “spinto.” More vocal weights and power means less agility. Spinto—being middleweight—carries less vocal power but retains the vocal agility.
  • The vocal timbre is the character or quality of a musical sound or voice that gives the distinction among sounds or voices. The tessitura, on the other hand, pertains to the general pleasantness of a voice within a vocal range. It is best described as the particular singer’s comfort zone. The passaggio is the transition from one vocal register to another like the transition from “head voice” to “chest voice.”
  • The Vocal register is a natural voice tone that comes from vibratory pattern of the vocal folds of the larynx. There are four widely accepted voice registers according to the vocal range. These are the vocal fry, modal or normal voice, falsetto, and whistle register.
  • Vocal fry is the lowest voice register and well below the chest vocals of modal voice.
  • Modal voice is the normal voice used in speech or singing.
  • Falsetto is about one octave higher than that of the modal voice.
  • Whistle register is the highest-pitched of the vocal register.

Some pedagogues include the “head voice,” “middle voice,” and the “chest voice” to the registers; however, the use of such “voice” is confusing and thus is not universally accepted. Musical pedagogues use these voice qualities as well as the vocal registry to determine and classify a person’s voice to a specific category. For female voice, there are three generally accepted categories, namely: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and the contralto.


A. Soprano

The soprano is the highest singing voice and has the highest tessitura except for a specific type of soprano called the sopranino. It has the highest vocal range of two octaves that generally spans between the keys C4 and C6. C4 is the middle C key found at the center of a piano keyboard. This is divided into five subcategories according to vocal range, timbre, weight, and voice agility. These five subcategories are the following: 

1) Coloratura Soprano

Coloratura Soprano is a type of soprano voice usually found in operas that is identified with agile runs and leaps as well as trills. 

2) Soubrette

Soubrette is a soprano voice subcategory that lies between C4 to D6 that is characterized by lightness with sweet timbre and midrange tessitura distinctive of that frivolous, girlish character that the soubrette portrays.

3) Dramatic Soprano

Dramatic Soprano is characterized by a rich and powerful voice that is full of emotions that can ably cut through or sing over a full orchestra. It has a voice range that extends from A3 to C6.

4) Spinto Soprano

Spinto Soprano is a soprano subcategory with a voice range that spans from C4 to D6 that is depicted by voice clarity and easy handling of high notes. The spinto is characterized by the use of the singer’s “ping” or “squillo” to vocally slice through the orchestra similar to that of a dramatic soprano.

5) Lyric Soprano

Lyric Soprano has a similar vocal range to a soubrette but with full timbre and higher tessitura to differentiate it from soubrette.

The sopranino is a rare singing voice that occupies a higher vocal range than the soprano that lies between E4 to E6 but can be extended to A7. Although not part of classical or theatrical music, sopranino may perform as a regular soprano. 


B. Mezzo-soprano

The mezzo-soprano is a singing voice that lies below the soprano but higher than contralto. This vocal category spans from A3—which is the A key below the middle C or C4—to A5. In many cases, the mezzo-soprano can extend down to F3 or up to C6. The mezzo-soprano is characterized by heavier and darker vocal tones than the soprano. Like the soprano, this vocal category is broken down into three subcategories namely: coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-sopranos.

  • Coloratura Mezzo-soprano is characterized by warm low register notes and agile high register notes. The vocal range of this subcategory stretches from G3 at the lower note up to B5. Some mezzo-soprano can extend to the high note of C6 or even D6.
  • Lyric Mezzo-soprano is a subcategory that has a voice range that generally starts at G3 and extends to A5 key and is characterized by very smooth vocal quality. While lyric mezzo-soprano doesn’t possess the weight of a dramatic mezzo-soprano, it also doesn’t have the coloratura’s vocal agility either.
  • Dramatic Mezzo-soprano is typified by a broader and powerful voice than both the coloratura and lyric mezzo-soprano and can easily sing over the accompanying orchestra or chorus. Its vocal range is approximated at F3 stretching up to G5.

C. Contralto

The contralto is the lowest range of female singing voice found in classical and operatic music. This vocal category is relatively rare among vocal ranges and stretches from F3 up to F5 on the piano keyboard. Some contralto voices can be as low as E3 or as high as B♭5. Considering its various voice qualities and vocal register, this vocal category was further apportioned in the same manner as that of the mezzo-soprano voice category. 

Contralto and its choral counterpart, alto, shares the same vocal range that spans from F3 to F5. This is where the association stops. Contralto and alto are not the same categories as classical categories, for the contralto was categorized by considering the vocal registers as well as other voice qualities aside from vocal range. 

Contralto: The Lowest Female Singing Voice

So, what is the lowest female singing voice? The lowest singing voice widely acceptable is the contralto, and this is what this section will focus on.

Females are known for their unique voices, which turn many on whenever they hear them. The female singing voice is classified in different dimensions. The differences are evident in terms of range and voice. However, here, you will see the category based on the lowness or highness of the voice, with a specific concentration of the lowest singing voice of the females.  

Vocal Characteristic of Contralto

Contralto is said to be the lowest singing voice that is typically identified with the female gender, and it is actually unique of all the voices traceable to the female. Most of the female voices are either soprano or mezzo-soprano voices, but contralto has brought a shard and distinct taxonomy in the categorizing of female voices. Contralto voice is in similitude with other voices like basses and countertenors in terms of lowness and rareness. And the amount of tessitura present in contralto is ranged between E3-ES with a laudable measure of vocal weight.

In the aspect of vocal range, contralto as the lowest voice is said to be reasonably rare. It is somewhat similar to, but different from that of alto, and kind of similar to the vocal codes of the countertenor’s voice. 

Contralto Female singing voice is mostly found within the below F below the mid C to the second F that is the C above the middle C (F5). Some voices at some extreme points do hit the E3 that is, the E below the middle C. Concerning the range of the voice; it could be noted that contralto would be close to the male tenor voice and the female singers with the contralto singing voice would be able to sing some songs at the same range with the male singers sing tenor. In essence, contralto can transit out from the chest voice, which is around the E3 the E note that is found below the C located at the middle, shift the note D which is just a pitch or octave higher than the middle note C, where the head voice is found. 

Contralto voice can further be categorized into three general types: coloratura, dramatic contralto, and lyrics. The relevance and understanding of contralto is primarily traceable to its afflation with the operatic and classical singing. This is based on the knowledge that classical singing in comparison to other traditions of higher capacity to accommodate more vocal categorization. The usage of contralto as the lowest female singing voice is also extended to the context of Jazz. In Jazz, contralto is used to describe the lowest female single voice. While in contemporary operatic context, the usage of contralto has been tied categorized more often as the mezzo-sopranos. This is rooted in the fact that the singers that fell within each range are known for their covering for singers in the aspect of other ranges.

Furthermore, there has been a different misconception in the usage of contralto and alto. Many people do misconstrue contralto for alto while referring to the female voice that falls within the low range of notes. While Contra alto refers to the low female lowest voice type, alto on the other side of the coin would mean, the notes or the range at which a singer sung. From above distinction, it would be crucial you note that the different is based on the former being a voice type and the latter being just a voice range and not a type per se. in Choral singing, for instance, the usage of alto is linked to the reference to the vocal parts in the alto section taken by the singers.

Finally, characteristically speaking, contra-alto differs from female voices. Contra alto is found to be darker and even richer in comparison to the mezzo-soprano. In terms of practice, a singer using a contralto female singing voice would be found flourishing in the land of outright convenience while placed on a pal with other singers using other female singing voices, because she is singing at the lower part of her voice.

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2 thoughts on “Female Vocal Range”

  1. Help? My bottom is B3 and my top is B4! Could this be right? What am I? Alto?

    When I was a little girl, in the 1940’s, my tonsils were removed and I’ve had a very deep speaking voice since then. All of my life I would have loved to sing. I did have singing lessons for a short while in my early 20’s at the Granoff School of Music in Philadelphia and had a Jazz singing coach for a few months. I couldn’t afford to continue the lessons and then had a family.

    I am 78 years old and still find myself interested in singing. I can’t afford to pursue it and hope you can at least tell me what my classification is.

    If there are any suggestions you might think of, it would be much appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Alice

    Reply
    • Dear Alice,

      I’m a novice hobbyist singer myself so take my comments with a grain of salt…

      Women at a more advanced age, are almost certainly inclined to have lower voices than when they were young. It’s not uncommon to be an intermediate voice type and falling more neatly into the lower vocal type. Sopranos tend to suffer the most from this change and might lose some top notes and have other issues in their high range.

      Your reported vocal range at the moment is very limited at just one octave. Most singers have at least two. If your gut is telling you you are an Alto, you are probably right. In a given population, most women are more likely to be Mezzo-soprano’s and true contraltos are very few in comparison.

      Mezzo’s sound wonderful and are most comfortable in the middle of their range, not too high and not too low. Being in the middle has advantages though, because there are some skilled operatic Mezzo’s have taken on both Soprano and Contralto roles. One of the most famous Divas in recent memory to have achieved that was Maria Callas, who was a natural Alto.

      Anyway, l think you may need to get vocal coaching to expand your range and find out where your comfort is and what sounds best. A vocal coach may guide you in finding where your voice transitions are, and this is key to finding out your true fach. Also, a person’s speaking voice is a very poor indicator of vocal type. Unfortunately one’s vocal instrument is hidden in view and unless you have a way of measuring your vocal folds at the doctors, there is no other way but investing your energy and resources into learning to sing.

      Reply

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