by Tim on January 24, 2008


As individuals are grouped into races and nationalities so are voices classified according to common traits. Two main divisions are made on the basis of sex, namely, men’s and women’s voices. Further classifications are made with reference to timbre ‘ or tone color and, to some extent, compass or range. Men’s voices from the lighter and higher to the heavier and lower are called tenor, baritone, and bass. Women’s voices given in the same order are termed soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Various sub-divisions, denoting quality or style, occur under these groupings, as lyric tenor, dramatic tenor, bass-baritone, bassocantante, hasso-profundo, lyric soprano, dramatic soprano, coloratura soprano, and mezzo-contralto.

The lyric tenor voice may be described as flexible and expressive. It is well adapted to songs of a personal or lyric nature. The dramatic tenor has a more robust quality and is capable of interpreting music of greater emotional content, or compositions of an histrionic type. The baritone is of a heavier texture than the lyric tenor but lighter than the bass. The terms cantante (singing) and profundo (profound or deep) characterize bass voices. They differ from each other in flexibility and depth of tone rather than in range. The bass-baritone is a lighter voice than the real bass, but heavier than the baritone.

Descriptions given for lyric tenor and dramatic tenor apply also to lyric soprano and dramatic soprano. The mezzo-soprano, lying between the soprano and contralto, as the word “mezzo”  signifies, bears the same relationship to these voices as the baritone does to the tenor and the bass. The coloratura soprano is a high, light, and extremely flexible voice of great clarity and brilliancy. The real contralto voice is rare, with deep, rich, mellow tones. The mezzo-contralto is between the contralto and the mezzo-soprano in quality and usually in range.

Adolescent voices, or those of high school age, are commonly classified as soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto or alto, alto-tenor, tenor, baritone or bass. The alto-tenor is the changing voice of the boy. In other words, it is the boy’s
‘ This very useful word can be given its French pronunciation or its anglicized form, ”timbervoice going from treble to the more mature quality. It has the lower notes of the alto and the upper ones of the tenor, hence the term. From this stage it develops, by degrees, into tenor, baritone, or bass. Voices at this time are restricted in range, without much power, and are often husky in quality.

Range and quality inherent in a voice develop and mature with age and correct use. Not every voice shows in youth into what group it may fall in later years. However, this need not concern you if you are a beginning student. Your task is to learn to use your voice correctly in both speaking and singing so that obstacles are not placed in the way of its future growth.

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