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In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument

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Solo Voice Parts

Many different voice types are used in vocal pedagogy in a variety of voice classification systems. Most of these types, however, are grouped into seven major voice categories that are, for the most part, acknowledged across the major voice classification systems. Women are typically divided into three groups: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Men are usually divided into four groups: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. When considering the pre-pubescent voice, an eighth term, treble, is applied.


Songbooks for Soprano Voices

Songbooks for Soprano Voices

A soprano is a singer with a voice that usually ranges from middle C to "high C", two octaves above middle C (i.e. C4-C6). Of course some can go lower or higher. In four part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody. The word "soprano" generally refers to a singer of this highest vocal range and to his or her voice. Male singers whose voices have not yet changed are known either as "boy sopranos" or, in the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions, as trebles, whereas adult male sopranos singing falsetto are known as countertenors or sopranists.


Songbooks for Tenor Voices

Songbooks for Tenor Voices

The name "tenor" derives from the Latin word tenere, which means "to hold". In medieval and Renaissance polyphony between about 1250 and 1500, the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or holding) voice, vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor, which often proceeded in longer note values and carried a borrowed Cantus firmus melody. Until the late 15th-century introduction of the contratenor bassus, the tenor was usually the lowest voice, assuming the role of providing a harmonic foundation. It was also in the 15th century that "tenor" came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. Thus, for earlier repertoire, a line marked 'tenor' indicated the part's role, and not the required voice type. Indeed, even as late as the seventeenth century, partbooks labelled 'tenor' might contain parts for a range of voice types. In four-part choral music, the tenor is the second lowest voice, above the bass and below the soprano and alto. The range of the choral tenor is generally not as great as that in opera, however.


Songbooks for High Voices

Songbooks for High Voices

Defining a singers's vocal range is not always easy and often a vocalists can perform in a variety of ranges. Rather than being divided by gender these books are for any voice, tenor or soprano, who can sing in the higher range.


Songbooks for Baritone Voices

Songbooks for Baritone Voices

Baritone (or barytone) is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek barytonos, meaning deep (or heavy) sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C (i.e. F2 F4) in choral music, and from the second G below middle C to the G above middle C (G2 to G4) in operatic music, but can be extended at either end.


Songbooks for Mezzo-Soprano Voices

Songbooks for Mezzo-Soprano Voices

A mezzo-soprano (meaning "medium" or "middle" "soprano" in Italian) is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3-A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the G below middle C (G3) and as high as "high C" (C6). While mezzo-sopranos generally have a heavier, darker tone than sopranos, the mezzo-soprano voice resonates in a higher range than that of a contralto. The terms Dugazon and Galli-Marie are sometimes used to refer to light mezzo-sopranos, after the names of famous singers. A castrato with a vocal range equivalent to a mezzo-soprano's range is referred to as a mezzo-soprano castrato or mezzista. Today, however, only women should be referred to as mezzo-sopranos; men singing within the female range are called countertenors. In current operatic practice, female singers with very low tessituras are often included among mezzo-sopranos, because singers in both ranges are able to cover the other, and true operatic contraltos are very rare.


Songbooks for Medium Voices

Songbooks for Medium Voices

Defining a singers's vocal range is not always easy and often a vocalists can perform in a variety of ranges. Rather than being divided by gender these books are for any voice, baritone or mezzo-soprano, who can sing in the medium range.


Songbooks for Bass Voices

Songbooks for Bass Voices

A bass (or basso in Italian) is a singer who sings in the deepest vocal range of the human voice. According to Grove Music Online, a bass has a range extending from around the F below low C to the E above middle C (i.e., F2 E4). The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines the range as being from the E below low C to middle C (i.e. E2 C4). According to Singing for Dummies, bass range is normally F2 to E4 but can be as wide as Eb2 to F4. According to its author, Pamelia S. Phillips, the bass changes from chest voice into middle voice around A3 or Ab3 below middle C and changes into head voice around D4 or C#4 above Middle C. Phillips states that the bass's low voice is his strength, and the bass's high voice is his weakness. Phillips also states that the bass's voice is the deepest, darkest, and heaviest of the male voices. It is also common for men who are classified as "basses" (and have a full bass choral range) to have a speaking voice which may sound much higher than would be expected. Most seasoned basses also can train a very versatile falsetto, making their usefulness in a choral arrangement even greater.


Songbooks for Alto Voices

Songbooks for Alto Voices

An alto or contralto is a singer with a vocal range somewhere between a tenor and a mezzo-soprano. The term is used to refer to the lowest female singing voice, or to a kind of male singing voice utilizing falsetto called a countertenor. Alto pieces normally span between G below middle C to the E a tenth above middle C (i.e. G3-E5). At the bottom of their range, male altos sound almost like tenors. Some altos have even larger ranges; from the C below middle C to the C two octaves above (C3-C6 if middle C is C4), but like all singers, their vocal type is defined mostly by their "vocal center" and not by their range (a soprano for instance could technically possess the lower range of an alto, but would not be comfortable singing it). In four part choral harmony, the alto is the second highest voice. Alto pieces were originally written in the alto clef, but now use the treble clef.


Songbooks for Low Voices

Songbooks for Low Voices

Defining a singers's vocal range is not always easy and often a vocalists can perform in a variety of ranges. Rather than being divided by gender these books are for any voice, bass or alto, who can sing in the lower range.


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