There are different ways we can classify voice into different types. But in choral music and maybe classical music there is a standard approach to the way professionals classify voice into different types. Specifically, the terms soprano, alto, tenor, and bass are very common and I believe you and I have one or two ideas about them. Certainly, they are the type of voice we are very much familiar with and use often in setting up a choral group or choir. However, we have more than this voice types and classification.
But the questions that arise here is how do we actually come about this classification and place singers on them. Mostly, people believe men sing tenor and bass while ladies sing soprano and alto, and sometimes surprised seeing a lady singing baritone or a man singing alto. In reality, there is much to this simple exercise. Therefore, in this article, we will look into how voice is produced and things to consider before classifying the voice into a particular type.
The voice is the sound produced by humans with the aid of vocal cords or folds, larynx and other element residing in our throats. Certainly, the vocal cords enable humans to talk, yell, scream, shout, and also sing. Also, we should be aware that it is not only our vocal cords that function as voice-producing elements in our bodies. Of course, lungs, larynx, and articulators (like tongue, palate, cheek, lips, etc.) are also in function when we generate sounds. In fact, they actually help our voices to function very well during active singing. Nevertheless, the vocal fold (vocal cord) and larynx are very essential in voice production.
The Vocal Fold (Vocal Cord)
These are folds of elastic muscle tissue which bulge inwards from the sides of the larynx to form a long narrow opening across the glottis in the throat, and whose border vibrate in the current of air to create the voice. Absolutely, the vocal cords are the major element in voice production and a very essential part of the active singing. In fact, every singing begins with the vocal cords.
In other words, vocal cords are tissue valves located in the middle part of the neck. That is almost halfway between the bottom part and the top part of the neck. They reside inside the larynx or what you know as the voice box. Specifically, the vocal cords are two and make connections on the front side of the neck. Also, they have the ability to open and close from the back of the neck.
ALSO READ: How To Know Your Vocal Range
Vocal Folds are like valves and they vibrate when they absorb the air pressure from the lungs that pass through them. Their vibration will result in audible pulses that serve as the source of the laryngeal sound. In addition, the lung as the air pump must produce adequate airflow and air pressure that is enough to vibrate the vocal folds. This air pressure is the fuel of the voice. Whenever we take a breath, the vocal cords will open up in order to allow the air in and also out without any hindrance.
Also, they make a close connection each time we raise our voice (to shout or sing). The muscle of the larynx will provoke the vocal fold to close when we sing or speak. Also as the pressure of the air came behind them and force them to open pass through them they will close again. This process can happen several times within a second or two during the singing and therefore make the vocal cords to vibrate. Above all, the vibrating vocal cords modulate the flow of the air from the lungs, which travels out through the mouth to be interpreted as sound by the ears.
In terms of voice production, the larynx is a complex vocal instrument and sound natural apparatus. It houses vocal folds, popularly known as vocal cords, we use to produce voice by vibration. Also, the larynx manipulates pitch and volume, which is essential for voicing. The muscles of the larynx serve as an adjuster to the length and tension of the vocal folds. The adjustment is made by alter both the length and the tension of the vocal folds to help in fine-tuning the tone and pitch.
Furthermore, the part of the vocal tract above the larynx serves as articulators of the sound generated from the larynx. Besides articulation and also filtration they perform on the sound they also have interaction with the laryngeal airflow. They interact in order to weaken or strengthen the laryngeal airflow as the source of the sound.
Things To Consider Before Classifying The Voice
Voice types refer to the quality of a voice that a singer may have and use in singing. Normally, we are all familiar with the classification as bass, tenor, alto, and soprano or treble. But in actual fact, the voice is not just classified as a soprano because someone is able to sing high and bright. And also as a bass simply because he can sing low and bold. In practice, the type of voice a singer possess is identified by a practice known as voice test. This involves the human voice to be evaluated according to its vocal range, tessitura, and other voice features. The evaluation helps us to determine the kind of qualities a voice possesses. And also help us in subjecting it into a particular voice type known with those qualities.
Classification of Voice into one of the several types is a complex issue and also a function of a few factors. However, the power and range of ideal voice we use in speaking is not one of those factors. This is because it has different factors compared to the singing voice. In a nutshell, before we can classify a voice into any type, we need to look into the following essential features of the voice. Absolutely, we need to look at the vocal range, and other factors like tessitura, timbre, weight, and so on. Besides, the vocal register is worth considering in this perceptive as well.
As a singer, you may want to know the type of voice you have, but it’s not always a smooth sail to figure out the specifics. This is so because to determine your voice type is not limited to one functional factor as said. Although many people put vocal range as the norms to this end and using only vocal range is not enough. Normally, determining your voice type depends on the different features that were mentioned in the paragraph above. For instance, vocal tessitura and timbre would be very more important when the range falls between two voice types. In particular, this is a common case with sopranos and mezzo-sopranos. Actually, the two can have the same vocal range but their voice timbre and tessitura will be different. Specifically, mezzo-sopranos in this case will have a darker timbre and lower tessitura.
In today’s world, several different voice classification systems are available to identify voice types and no system is universally applied or accepted. Altogether, the type of voice you have is a result of the following vocal variables: Vocal Range, Weight, Tessitura, Timbre, Transition points, and Registers. Also, these variables for every individual naturally depend on the way their vocal cords in terms of thickness and shapes, and other parts of their body are formed.
Now, let us look into those variables required to determine the type of voice one by one.
1. Vocal Range
The vocal range is very important and basics in voice type classification. Also, it serves as the foundation for other parameters in evaluating the voice type. Basically, It is the distance between the lowest note you can easily sing and the highest note you can hit without stretching yourself. In other words, it is full set of tones that you have physical ability to produce with your voice. You may have the ability to reach notes within more than one tonal range. However, when it comes to deciding on your vocal range, comfort is the major factor. Knowing the vocal range gives us the privilege to know and understand the pitch and note a singer can sing comfortably and effectively.
2. Voice Weight
The vocal weight is the term used to define the lightness or heaviness of a specific voice in singing. This characteristic of the voice is considered as one of the major criteria used in classifying a voice into different types. We can use the following to describe the voice weight: light, bright, and agile for a particular voice and heavy, powerful, rich, and darker for another. You can think of vocal weight as the difference between lower piano keys and upper piano keys. Also, as the difference between the sound of a tuba and a trumpet. We can play some of the same notes on the pair of instruments or keys. But, if two players play the same note at the same time on both pairs, we will surely hear a difference between them. In particular, vocal weight marks the major difference between bass and baritone.
3. Voice Tessitura
The Voice Tessitura is the range at which a voice has its power and enable you to sing comfortably. For instance, the lowest male voice type (a Bass) and a high male voice type (a Tenor) can hit the same notes (pitch). But, if you truly observe them during a performance while they are singing the same high or low notes, you may see the bass struggling for the higher note a bit more than the Tenor. Likewise, the tenor may be struggling with lower notes a bit more than the bass. Again, tessitura is all about the comfortable singing range that spread across all the vocal registers. It’s a very important quality compared to the range when you want to select a song or piece to sing.
4. Voice Timbre
Voice timber sometimes called tone (voice) colour is the auditory quality of a musical note, sound, and voice. We can also describe it as the texture of the sound and feature that makes our voice different and unique. Of course, timber is a feature that gives colour and identity to the voice, and how a voice is perceived. And obviously, every individual (and instrument) has their personal and unique voice timbre that makes their sound stand out.
Moreover, voice timbre attached emotional feelings to the voice and the way we perceive it. In order to describe the voice timbre in the way we perceive it, we use words like breathy, light, full, round, and flat. Other terms used for timber as related to voice are piercing, resonant, mellow, dark, and warm. Also, smooth, rough, brassy, smoky, airy, and bright to mention a few are popular terms to express timber of the voice.
Finally, voice timber is not considered as the most important criteria used in classifying voice into different type. However, it really helps to know where the singer will best fit and classified accordingly.
5. Voice Transition points
This is a point or a place where your voice easily moves from one vocal registers to the other. It is the points where you change from the chest register to the middle register, to the head register. This transition between the chest registers and head registers is known as the bridge or passagio.
6. Vocal Registers
This is a specific spectrum of tones within your vocal range. Obviously, there are different ways of producing sound with the vocal cord. The vocal cords or folds vibrate and look differently in the registers, which helps to determine what is being used. Vocal registers emerge in laryngeal operation. They occur for the reason that the vocal folds have what it takes to produce several different vibratory patterns. Each of these vibratory patterns occurs within a particular range of pitches and produces certain characteristic sounds.
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