In classical music, the male vocal range is divided into four categories whereas in choral music the male voice is categorized by the last two letters of SATB classification—tenor and bass. This difference in voice categorizations is due to the different requisite of classical and operatic music. Classical music pedagogues classify the male voice on the basis of qualities like vocal range, weight, tessitura, timbre, transition points, and vocal register. On the other hand, choral music singers are only classified according to their vocal range.
To categorize vocal range, classical music pedagogues first determine the vocal range and weight. Then, they try to identify subtle qualities like those of tessitura, timbre, passaggio, and vocal register. The vocal register is the span of vocal tones that emanate from the laryngeal vibration patterns of the vocal folds. There are four universally accepted vocal registers, namely:
1) Whistle Register
The whistle register is the highest-range of vocal register that can be produced and the most difficult to phonate. This register is rarely used even by professional singers. However, there are people including males who can actually phonate the whistle.
The falsetto is a higher vocal register than the modal voice that emanates from the vibration of the ligaments at the edges of the vocal cord. The falsetto register overlaps with the modal register by an octave.
3) Modal Register
The modal register or normal voice is the most commonly-used vocal register for it is used for normal speaking or singing.
4) Vocal Fry
The vocal fry is the lowest-range of voice register that is characterized by low frequency, popping, or rattling sound as the air passes through the glottal closure of the larynx.
Basing on the abovementioned vocal qualities and registers, classical music pedagogues are able to define the four primary voice type of male vocal range that includes the following:
The countertenor is the highest male vocal range and is deemed as the male equivalent of the female contralto or (in some occasions) of the female mezzo-soprano voice category. Its vocal range can span from G3 (the G key below the C4 key) to D5 or E5 but usually resides between E3 to E5 of the piano key. Countertenor singers usually sing in falsetto register on high notes and at the modal register on low notes. There are three subcategories under this category of male vocal range, namely: sopranist, Haute-contre, and castato.
The sopranist or male soprano is a male singer with a vocal range and tessitura of a soprano usually via the use of falsetto voice. However, some sopranists can sing at soprano range in their modal voice like Radu Marian and Michael Maniaci. This is due to the fact that Marian has an endocrinological condition and Maniaci larynx has never fully developed.
The castrato is a singer who can sing in the female vocal range due to his underdeveloped physical condition resulting from prepubescent castration. As a consequence of this castration, the castrato retains his prepubescent voice. A castrato will usually replace a woman for the female role in opera and church choirs if the female participation is not allowable. However, due to the ban on castration, true castrati are now all but extinct. At present, the role of the castrato is often taken over by other countertenor subtypes.
The haute-contre is the French alternative to castrato as castration is prohibited in France. With a vocal range that lies between C3 to D5, this voice is identical in some respects to tenore contraltino. Moreover, haute-contre sings in the modal voice, i.e., the normal speaking voice and possibly in falsetto on the high notes.
Examples of The Male Countertenor Singing Voices
This is the highest male voice in classical music within the normal voice register. Typically, the vocal repertoire of a tenor stretches from C3 to C5 but can extend down A♭2 at its low end to a high note of F5. This voice type is further divided into seven subtypes concerning vocal weight, timbre, tessitura, and agility, of the voice.
Examples & Facts About the Tenor Voice
1) Tenore Contraltino
The tenore contraltino is characterized by its dark and heavy lower octave but with sufficient vocal dexterity of the coloratura singing.
2) Tenore Di Grazia or Leggero Tenor
The tenore di grazia or leggero tenor is one of the most confusing voice to classify that it is often mistaken for a lyric-baritone or lyric tenor as it can go as low as A2. However, the most distinguishing characteristic of the tenore di grazia that other tenors don’t have is the vocal ability in the higher extension (that starts around A♭5) to sing in the modal voice that sounds like falsetto. The typical vocal range of tenore di grazia lies at approximately A2 to C5.
3) Lyric Tenor
The lyric tenor is a tenor with a vocal range that stretches approximately from C3 to D5 and is characterized by strong but not heavy, bright, full timbre that can be easily heard above orchestral accompaniment.
4) Spinto Tenor
The spinto tenor voice has similar vocal characteristics of the lyric tenor but with a heavier vocal weight that it is sometimes called the “dramatic-lyric” tenor. It also has a span of two octaves reaching approximately from C3 (an octave below middle C or C4) to C5 extending D5.
5) Dramatic Tenor
The dramatic tenor is characterized by rich, powerful and heavy vocal weight that is a common trait of dramatic singers in the tenor range of C3 to C5.
The heldentenor is almost similar to dramatic tenor in many aspects but possesses a strong passaggio at higher notes, and the voice can support higher dramatic phrases. It can also execute the tenor’s higher tessitura despite having a deep and thick vocal timbre and is often regarded as a “baritone with higher extensions.” And this kind of powerful tenor voice is normal used for the male heroic roles in the classical music performance or opera.
The baritenor is identifiable by its dark and heavy lower range but packs sufficient dexterity for coloratura expressions and has a vocal repertoire that spans from low C4 to a high of F4.
The baritone is the middle-ranged male voice type that lies between the bass and the tenor range with a vocal repertoire that lies at approximately A2 to A4 in classical and operatic music. However, in choral music, the baritone piece has lower notes that span from F2 to F4. There are seven vocal subtypes within this voice type category, namely: baryton-martin baritone, lyric baritone, kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble baritone, and bass-baritone.
Examples of Baritone Singing Voices
1) Baryton-Martin Baritone
The baryton-martin baritone is also known as light baritone due to its light voice quality that is almost the same as a tenor but lacks the G2 to B2 range of other baritones. It has a vocal repertoire that typically starts from C3 to B4. This baritone vocal subtype was named after Jean-Blaise Martin and is only seen or heard in French repertoire. Baryton-martin singers can be trained as tenors as they share the same primo passaggio and secondo passaggio of the dramatic tenor and heldentenor.
2) Lyric Baritone
The lyric baritone is a sweet-sounding, mild baritone voice with higher tessitura than other voices in the baritone range, specifically the dramatic baritone. This baritone subtype has a vocal range that resides between A2 to G4 and is typically used in comic roles.
The kavalierbariton is characterized by a metallic voice but can sing in both dramatic or lyric phrases. Its vocal range that spans from A2 to G4 is practically the same with lyric baritone but has a more vocal weight for dramatic phrases alongside noble baritonal timbre.
4) Dramatic Baritone
The dramatic baritone has a fuller, more vibrant and darker voice quality that has a vocal range spanning from G2 to G4.
5) Verdi Baritone
The verdi baritone is a particular type of baritone and is considered a subcategory of dramatic baritone with a vocal range that extends from G2 to B♭4. The verdi baritone is identifiable by its bright tone color and higher tessituras than that of bass-baritone.
The baryton-noble or “noble baritone” is characterized by seamless vocalization and strong declamation.
The bass-baritone is distinguishable by its lower range ripely resonant voice and the capability to easily sing in baritonal tessituras. Its vocal repertoire extends from F2 to F♯4. The bass-baritone subcategory is further subdivided into lyric bass-baritone and dramatic bass-baritone.
The bass is a classical male singing voice and the lowest vocal range of all singing voice. Its vocal range generally lies between E2 to E4 with extreme low at C2 along with its tessitura. The bass is likewise subdivided into subcategories. However, unlike the other voice type categories, the bass is partitioned according to national flavor instead of a single classification system. In Italy, the bass category is divided into three subcategories that include: basso cantante, basso buffo, and basso profundo. Of these, basso profundo is lowest in the bass repertoire that spans from C2 to C4 but can extend down to extreme low note G1 or F1.
The American system subdivided the bass into four subcategories namely: bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German “Fach” system features further variations that include: spielbass (basso buffo), schwerer spielbass (literally severe basso buffo), Karacterbass (bass-baritone) and Serioser Bass. These subclassifications under the bass category may at times overlap with each other, and it is very rare that a bass singer, singing in one voice type, will not touch another.