May 13th, 2013
Hi Dr. A,
My name is Tim, and I’m 17 years old with a background in theatre. I’ve really only been singing since last September, when I joined my school’s choir as a bass. It’s been a wonderful experience and all, but now that I’m graduating, I’d like to take my acting hobby a step forward and jump into musical theatre.
Now, my question is… Are musical theatre singers “trained” in a different way than opera singers? I’m not too familiar with how voice lessons work, so I don’t know if I’m supposed to be hunting for a teacher with a background in musical theatre…
Your question: “are musical theatre singers ‘trained’ in a different way than opera singers?” is a great one.
I need to choose my words carefully, because there are varying opinions on the subject … but those who feel that “the training of singers is essentially different” between those headed toward “classical” singing (opera, oratorio and recital work) and those headed toward musical theatre, I have found, are typically by those who know just enough about the voice to be dangerous, but who think of themselves as authorities.
Let me explain: ALL GENRES of musical style is benefited by learning and mastering the use of the voice as taught “classically” because the “classical method” teaches a singer HABITS that free the voice to express the widest range of dynamic and emotion with vocal freedom.
That said, opera predominantly consistently uses resonant ringing tone, and is usually accompanied by larger instrumental forces than musical theatre. On the other hand, the proponents of musical theatre feel free (or sometimes feel it necessary) to use a wider range of “earthy” sounds that border on yelling, referred to as belting, [some voice teacher is going to respond with vehement opinions about the difference between the two] which, overly used does damage to the voice, because it is using the voice with considerable (unnecessary) tension. Still, there can be found a large percentage of musical theatre greats, that never used their voice in any other way other than is taught ‘classically.’
I believe that to be classically taught actually enables a person to sing in ANY genre without the voice-damaging results that are so often observed in some “popular” singers. If a role or style requires use of the voice that results in damage to the voice … choose some other musical genre as a steward of God’s gift.
Obviously, if you are studying musical theatre, the likelihood is that up to 50% of the early literature you learn will be from Musical Theatre. The literature choice would be different for one who was headed toward opera. Still, you will do well to master the diction of Italian, German and French anyway.
Find a solid “classically-oriented” voice teacher who is also happy to teach songs from Musical Theatre. Let him/her know your aims and goals.
God bless you Tim.
April 18th, 2013
Greg (21) asks:
I just have a simple question this time (if you can believe it). I basically just want your opinion on how much a singer my age (21) should practice each week. I try to get in about an hour of singing 6 days a week and I rest once a week. This doesn’t include choir which is about 4 hours a week or any additional concert practices.
Half of my practice time is devoted to technique alone and the other half is repertoire, including diction etc.
What do you think about this?
I know that it can also depend on how much rep you have to prepare. I just got a part in an opera for this summer so I will have a lot of rep to practice within the next few months. Doesn’t this sound like a good amount or I should I kick it up a notch??
ANSWER: Good question, again, Greg.
At your age you ought to be able to practice at least one hour, six days a week – besides all the ensemble singing you do. What you are doing is, I think, appropriate and normal. Well done. However, as the necessity to concentrate on technique diminishes (because it is becoming second nature to you), your warm-up time could well be less than 30 minutes, and your time of learning/refining the repertoire expanded. One of the keys to vocal practice is to “avoid marathons” i.e., non-stop singing for two hours. Even singing leading roles in operas offers frequent moments of vocal rest. Work up to building stamina … don’t demand it of yourself early on or right away. Even as lengthy practices become necessary, the activities involved should vary so as not to be demanding bravura singing all the time. Even a race car lasts longer if it is driven at “posted speeds” most of the time and only pushed to the limits for short bursts. (Keep a bottle of water with you so you stay hydrated.)
A couple of questions you should ask yourself are:
Am I accomplishing all that my teacher is setting out for me to do … and doing it well?
Do I go into each practice with a “voiced aim” (an aim that you tell yourself out loud at the outset)? or, Do I go into practices with no goal in view? Only doing the first will result in productive daily practice. Just be realistic.
Greg, I think you’re on the right track, thinking and doing sensibly. Keep it up!
Best wishes always.
PS. There will come a time in the not-too-distant future, when you will likely need to be strong enough to spend 2 hours a day in vocal practice … especially as you prepare for recitals and opera roles. However, even here, doing an hour in the morning and the second hour in the afternoon might be more productive than all at one stretch each day.
April 10th, 2013
Hi Dr. A!
I hope you are doing well.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve messaged you but I’ve come up with another question!
What impact does the nose have on the singing voice? I’ve noticed from observation that many successful opera singers have rather large noses. How does this contribute to the fullness and power behind their sound? Do you know of any opera singers with small noses?
You see, my nose is sort of narrow for a man. I’m actually considering getting my nose looked at. My nostrils are sort of small and they sometimes collapse when I inhale through my nose (although it could also be because my nose is stuffed up right now and I’m just over worrying). I think this might be to the fact that my nose is slightly crooked. I know that surgery is a very important thing for an opera singer because it could change the voice. But here is what I’m wondering, if my nasal passages were opened up a little bit don’t you think that would give me more resonance? I’ve looked in the mirror when singing and I noticed that both of my nostrils flare out when I sing. Do you know why this is?
For the past 14 months of my private training I’ve never been concerned with this, but I’m all of a sudden become paranoid about it after noticing it in the mirror. I know that my teacher has told me that I sound nasally with some vowels and I’m wondering if my nose is the reason why. Of course, it could also be lack of training.
Sorry if I’m rambling on, but this is something that is really bothering me now. I mean, so far I’ve had great success with my voice. I’ve been in an opera, gotten into university choir ensemble, had numerous recitals, and I was accepted to the school of music at my university because of my audition. I’ve been told that I have a great voice and some professors told me that they think I can make it as an opera singer. I don’t want to potentially ruin this with a nose surgery but I can’t help but think how my voice might improve.
Have you had any experience with this? What is your opinion?
Thanks, I greatly appreciate it!
ANSWER: Greg, great question!
Now, I need to ask that you are as patient with me as I have been with you! Your questions are numerous, long and involved, and in order to answer them adequately, mine will take some time (and space) too. So, read on. Since we are talking about resonation I will expand and briefly mention all the human “resonators.”
First let’s define resonance. Resonation is the process by which the basic product of vocal sound is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way to the outside air. So we use terms like “amplification,” “enrichment,” “enlargement,” “intensification” as non-scientific adjectives describing what happens to the basic sound that is now “resonant.” More technically, resonance is a relationship that exists between two bodies vibrating at the same frequency or a multiple thereof.
You are absolutely right to refer to and think of the nose as a resonator. However, it may surprise you as to WHAT KIND of resonance is applicable to the nose. So, now we need to understand that there are two kinds of resonance: sympathetic resonance and conductive resonance. (I owe this abbreviated description to my mentor, the late Dr. James C. McKinney.) The essential difference between them lies in what causes the resonator to start vibrating.
In sympathetic resonance – sometimes known as “free” resonance – there is no physical contact between the two bodies. The resonator starts functioning because it receives vibrations through the air and responds to them sympathetically.
In conductive resonance the resonator starts vibrating because it is in physical contact with a vibrating body. Conductive resonance is sometimes also called “forced resonance.”
Both kinds of resonance are at work in the human voice. What becomes key for the singer is to know and understand what area of the body is functioning which way. Very briefly:
THE CHEST – is a conductive resonator, that is, it makes no acoustical enhancement on the vocal sound … it’s made of spongy material and is on the wrong side of the larynx. BUT, the chest may be important in feeling vibrations – especially on lower notes in the range – when they are being produced efficiently and clearly. Generally when this happens the singer feels the vibrations high in the chest near or on the collar bones.
THE TRACHEAL TREE – is the tube below the voice box that branches into an upside-down Y as it goes to each lung. This is a tube with some relatively hard surfaces and is “tuned” with very little opportunity for alteration, in the vicinity of E-flat above middle C … the area where women frequently experience their lower “break” and where men experience their break. Being below the larynx, this space does nothing to enhance the sound that is heard on the outside.
THE LARYNX is the housing that contains the vocal cords – the human primary vibrator of sound. Due to its smallness in size the only frequencies it can possibly reinforce are very high frequencies – and is in fact thought to be responsible for the production of “ring” in the voice (or, the “singer’s formant”) when phonation is efficient.
THE PHARYNX (or throat area) is, by virtue of its position, size and degree of adjustability the most important resonator … it truly “amplifies” the sound. It is this space that is responsible for reinforcing the frequencies that bring to vocal sound qualities identified as “full” “round” “rich” “warm” somewhere between 330Hz and 750Hz. This space includes the areas identified as laryngo-pharynx, oro-pharynx, and naso-pharynx – identifying specific areas in the throat.
THE ORAL CAVITY (the mouth) is second in importance as a resonator. Because of its location, size, adjustability it serves well as a resonator with a primary function of forming the vocal tone into understandable units with recognizable vowels and consonants. In some respect the mouth functions, like the bell of a trumpet, like a megaphone helping to project the sound.
THE NASAL CAVITY (the nose). [You were wondering if we’d ever get here Greg!] This is the third in rank in the hierarchy of vocal resonators … but it is much less important than the pharynx and mouth being essential for the production of only three nasal consonants [m], [n], [ŋ], and some nasalized vowels found in French and Portuguese. Aside from a slight change in dimension effected by flaring the nostrils, the cavity itself is not adjustable. However, it can be switched in or out of the resonance system to varying degrees by the action of the soft palate and attached musculature. The opening between the back of the mouth and the back of the nose is referred to as the nasal port.
The design and purpose of the nose is to clean and, if necessary, warm and moisturize the air as air is inhaled. Much of the inner lining of the nose is covered in fine hair and so has little to recommend it as a resonator – in terms of enlarging or enhancing sound. It doesn’t. In fact experiments have been done whereby trained singers had their noses stuffed with cotton – and except for the nasal consonants being impossible, no discernible result was heard to alter the sound by the hearer. WHAT THE NOSE IS GOOD FOR IN SINGING is to provide a place where conductive resonance is felt. Singers will often become aware of vibratory sensations in the area of the nose, cheek bones and sinuses when (their teacher identifies their) sound is good and efficient. Singing students do well to memorize and reproduce those vibratory sensations.
THE SINUSES, because of their size, location, minuteness or opening and lack of adjustability cannot exert any significant influence on the vocal tone. But, sometimes, singing students may feel vibratory sensations there when their sound is clear and vibrant. This conductive resonance may be helpful to the singer in the learning process.
The size of an opera singer’s nose does not contribute anything to the fullness and power behind his/her sound. I think there are many singers whose noses would not be considered large, too many to mention.
Your nose naturally flaring when breathing for singing is a good thing especially if it’s unintentional. It is simply your body responding to the need to assure that air can enter your body quickly and quietly. If at other times your nostrils collapse making it difficult to inhale, then having your E.N.T. check it out might not be a bad idea. Many singers have a deviated septum and that is an easy surgery to correct, and one of the results is that inhaling on both sides become easier.
Nostrils sometimes flare involuntarily while singing because there is a subliminal or psychological connection between those muscles and other muscles you are using in the singing process. It’s nothing to worry about. Nose surgery would not affect your voice or your sound! However, you may have to adjust to new sensations (conductive resonance) after the surgery.
“Sounding nasally” is considered a “fault” to correct. My guess is that this probably occurs for you in words and syllables where a vowel is followed by m, n, or ng. It is a common fault among young singers. The musculature “anticipates” the coming nasal consonant as you are singing the vowel and the nasal port opens in the process and the vowel becomes nasal prior to the utterance of the nasal consonant. You may need to practice saying and hearing the sound of similar words, first one that finishes with a hard consonant, and then one that finishes with a nasal consonant. E.g., Dad, Dan. The vowel in the second word must not become nasal but remain oral (just like the first word) until you are on the “N”. It may sound and feel strange the first times you do it correctly. But you will need to make this correction permanently. (Add, And; Bode, Bone; Fad, Fan; Dead, Den; Laid, Lane; Rabble, Ramble, etc.)
Greg, there are good E.N.T. surgeons. An experienced one will be sensitive to the needs of a singer and will be able to assure you that nasal surgery will not be detrimental to your singing. If in doubt, ask others for referrals.
Well, if you’ve read this far, you are to be commended! I hope this has been helpful … even though I know it was more than you asked for in one sense know that I have only touched on the subject of resonation quite superficially.
Best wishes Greg (and don’t fret).
 For a fuller treatment on the subject of resonation, I’d suggest that you go directly to my teacher’s writings: Author: James C. McKinney, The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults, a manual for teachers of singing and for choir directors, Waveland Press, Inc., Long Grove, IL Reissued 2005, p. 120ff. on which all this is based.
April 3rd, 2013
Joseph, 23, says: I am studying opera in college but every time I meet with my voice teacher She tells me I have so much tension. I no longer have tension when singing scales but when I sing Italian she says I have so much tension she can’t even show me what I sound like it is so bad and I cannot even feel it or hear the tension, then when I sing lighter to relieve tension I have to let more air pass through the vocal folds to get that ring. I have been reading your article about good baritones and how Michael Buble doesn’t damage his voice but you said he does not have effortless technique. I have been imitating Buble for years can you point out a part of his song or what you are thinking of when you say he has bad technique so I can start to hear subtle forms of less than perfect technique and perhaps notice when I have to much tension.
ANSWER: Joseph I’m glad you asked … however
I’d guess that my answer may not be very satisfying to you, because I’m going to address the first part of your paragraph … and discount the second half.
Firstly, Joseph, let me preface what I say with this: Sometimes I come off sounding abrupt, even harsh. But know my heart … that I’m FOR you and mean what I say in the most loving way possible. If you can receive my response that way … you’ll be better off.
1. You don’t need to be doing a lot of listening to or imitating Michael Bublé – especially as a student of opera. So, that’s all I’m going to say on that.
2. If you are at the stage where you can vocalize scales freely and without tension … then the key for you will be to make “vocalizes” out of your Italian songs … first by vocalizing them on various vowels ONLY, until they are firmly and easily in your voice and memory. THEN, AND ONLY THEN should you add the Italian text, concentrating on maintaining all the same sounds and feelings that you were able to achieve when you only vocalized the tune. In this way you are TRANSFERRING the technique (and freedom) that you are learning, into the song literature. Until you can make the “transfer” unconsciously … you will still have to PLAN your practice very intentionally until habits are formed such that you no longer sing with tension … just because it’s a foreign language.
3. By the way, it’s not unusual for singers to do strange things and get physically/vocally tense when singing foreign languages for the first time … or for the first year or two. There is often a false association of the sounds of the foreign language that triggers tension in the young American/English singer.
4. One of the keys to making the transfer more quickly, is that after you have “vocalized/learned the tune” you should SPEAK (not sing) the text until it is easy and fluent.
I think your question will have helped many developing singers.
Instead of listening to Bublé, get an earful of the sounds of Nathan Gunn, Thomas Hampson and Simon Keenlyside.
All the best.
February 17th, 2013
Greg returns to ask:
I will try and come up with a quality recording sometime this week and I’ll send it to you.
Thank you for your advice on the passaggio. You make a good point. I suppose it’s a good thing that I have no noticeable transition, I mean that’s the ultimate goal anyways. It’s just always been something that has intrigued me and I was confused as to where mine was.
I have another question for you. I was talking to my teacher about the relationship of body weight and the ability to find support. We came to the conclusion that bigger people (or average weight) might have an easier time being able to support their voice than really skinny people. The reason being that their extra weight and fat around the stomach area gives them more to “push against”. I hope that makes sense.
I was very skinny when I started lessons. I’m 6’4” and was only about 150 lbs! I’ve been trying to gain weight because I’m under the impression that it could help me with support and stamina, giving me more energy also (because having more weight will make me stronger in general). Since November I’ve gained about 10 lbs. I’m aiming for 180-200 lb range.
Obviously the amount of training makes a huge difference here as well. A skinny student with 5 years training will most likely have excellent support. But let’s assume you have a really skinny student and an average-weight student at the same skill level. Do you think the skinny student will be at a natural disadvantage because of his/her weight?
What do you think about this whole idea? It’s very interesting to me.
Answer: Interesting question Greg. I’ve had my share of slender, tall, young students. They, like yourself, typically do find it difficult to feel … and especially see … the outcome of a full breath that normally expands the rib cage and especially the epigastrium … that area below the sternum and above the navel. These men and women are at a greater disadvantage than their shorter stockier colleagues. When this happens, I sometimes grab the hand of the student and, palm facing my belly, place it on my epigastrium so that they feel the movement outward on a good deep inhalation as well as the contraction on exhalation. For some it’s a real ‘eye-opener’ (pardon the pun).
It used to be that singers were encouraged to “gain weight” to assure vocal health and strength. It has been several decades now that singers have become dedicated to physical fitness which has effected the same thing as well as supplied something more pleasurable to see on stage than “a fat opera singer.” In your case Greg, your height-weight proportion warrants some “beefing up” physically. If you can gain weight while maintaining physical fitness, you’ll do even better than as if you only gained the weight. At 6’ 4” you can afford to keep building (working out and eating heartily) until you’re closer to 200 lbs. But you sure don’t want that weight gain to be primarily fat. I’d suggest that you find a buddy or buddies with whom you can work out – doing whatever helps you AND that you enjoy. As I recall you said you’re 21. You are, in fact, at an age when the body is ready to build strength … and you should be able to achieve well developed proportions, strength and weight by the time you’re 24 or 25.
All one needs do is look at the physique of our American Olympic swimmers. Most of the men are well over 6 feet tall. For example, Nathan Adrian is 6’ 7” but his physical fitness and proportions are ideal.
Men like Samuel Ramey, James Morris and Robert Hale are well proportioned and strong.
Those are some of my thoughts.
February 17th, 2013
Greg returns to ask:
Thank you for your timely response! It was very thorough and well thought-out, I appreciate that very much. So you’re saying that, in most cases, heavier roles should be reserved for for mature voices that have had more training because their cords can better sustain the intensity?
I’d like to describe my voice to you and hear what you think, although I know that it’s hard to tell anything without listening to a sample. ( I would gladly submit a recording for you if you would allow me to do so!)
At this stage I consider myself a lyric baritone. I heard that most college-age adults are lyric. From what I’ve observed, this seems to hold true. I can go down do about G (below low C) and my high end is around F, F# above middle C. I’d say that I’m most comfortable singing a little below and a little above middle C. That seems to be my tessitura. My highest head voice note is a high D. I’m finding that my high range has greatly expanded since I’ve started training.
However, I’m having some trouble locating my passaggio. I really can’t tell where it’s at… I asked my teacher and she told me that for baritones, it’s around D above middle C. But here’s the thing, I sing above that quite often. She says that I naturally don’t have much tension in my voice and so it’s easier for me to sing within my passaggio. I’m not sure how I feel about this though. I heard that it takes quite a bit of time to navigate the passaggio. Perhaps my passaggio is higher than a D? I feel like when I get to E above middle C that’s when it becomes, not hard, but I’d say tricky. Now I can sing an E and it sounds fairly good, but I have to really focus and make sure I have enough breath energy to release it freely.
For some reason I feel like that E is such a tricky note within my range. To be honest, I think I’d rather sing an F. Maybe my passaggio is at the E instead?
It’s funny that you should mention Gilbert and Sullivan because I was in Iolanthe last summer and I hope to be in a production on Ruggidore this summer.
I hope you don’t mind me asking you all of these questions. I have a very analytical mind and so I like learning about these things! I really appreciate your time. I have many questions to ask!
Answer: Hey Greg,
Let me respond to each paragraph of yours.
You have the general idea of what I was getting at with respect to waiting on more demanding roles.
Feel free to point me to a YouTube video recording of you singing, or send me an audio via email. I’d be pleased to hear/see you.
Don’t fret about “locating your passaggio”! If you already have no noticeable transition (to yourself or your listeners) THAT’s what you’d be aiming for anyway.
The way you describe what you feel on E above middle C does sound like THAT is where you experience your passaggio. When ascending, a little increase in intensity and space (dropped jaw) will help you maneuver past that every time. As you continue to learn … sing more and more by how things feel rather than merely what you hear.
Hope this is helpful. Glad to be of service and answer your questions.
February 17th, 2013
Greg, age 21 says the following:
Hi! I just have to say that just love this blog! It’s very informative.
My name is Greg. I’m a 21 year old aspiring opera singer. I’ve been taking lessons for 13 months now and have performed in an opera and I’m also in choir at my university.
I’m a little confused about classifying my voice. I’m currently training as a baritone but I’m finding that my range is expanding as I’m learning correct technique. I know you say that you shouldn’t prematurely categorize a voice and should wait until it’s mature.
So here’s my question: what exactly do you mean when you say a voice is “mature”? How many years of training should you have before you categorize the voice? I heard it’s best to wait until the late 20s, but why is this the case?
I look forward to a response!
ANSWER: Hi Greg,
I’m glad for your question. Men’s and Women’s larynges (plural of larynx) typically mature on different time schedules. By this I mean that both the sound that women produce as well as the cartilaginous structure of their larynx arrive at maturity earlier than men. High school senior young ladies in general sound “advanced” and “mature” compared to their male counterparts who are the same age. The structure of the larynx is quite malleable from childhood through adolescence and then the cartilages on which the structure of the larynx is built harden over time. In women this takes until about age 28, in men this takes until about age 35. So, prior to that time while men (I include you here) can increase in range, power, flexibility and freedom to a significant degree they will typically “come into their own” in their thirties. Now, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to sing some operatic roles prior to that time, but it does mean that the choice of role may necessarily be more lyric and less demanding vocally than those that you may be able to take on later in life.
Still, by now, at age 21 you should have a good idea, even a definite idea of where your voice currently is. Start there, learn the roles that are most appropriate for your voice range and quality, those in which you feel successful. It is possible that you may continue to regard yourself as “baritone” as you come to full maturity, but whereas you might be comfortable singing the role of Papageno in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” or one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta baritone roles now, it would probably be wise to wait for about ten years before you venture to do the role of Figaro in Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” or the role of Germont in Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Having said all this Greg, it is still possible that since you began studies late, you may find a significant alteration in your voice over the next couple of years, higher, lower and perhaps in timbre too. If this should happen, roll with it, accept it and learn the literature that is most appropriate for your voice. At this time in your life think of your “voice classification” as being DESCRIPTIVE – acknowledging where you are now, rather than PRESCRIPTIVE of what you must ‘turn into.’
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to ask question.
Best wishes always.
February 10th, 2013
Mitko, age 15 says: Me again, sorry if I’m getting annoying.
So right now my voice has changed more and my full range without falsetto is the 3rd B below middle C to the G above middle C. My singing range goes from 2nd F below middle C to F just above middle C. My favorite range (very comfortable) is from the 1st C below middle C to D just above middle C. I still have a lyric tenor sounding which stops and becomes a deep bass sounding at the 2nd E below middle C to the lowest part of my range which I don’t use and I struggle to produce notes any lower than D2. I think I said one of my questions that my vocal teacher told me that I’ll be high baritone or dramatic tenor when I grow up. I’ve been there since like 7 months so he told me that he knows where my voice is going. My range is the same as the one of a bass-baritone, but my comfortable range and stamina don’t match it. My head voice starts at E or D above middle C. The usual notes I speak with are from E to E below middle C. What do you think I’ll become? And can anyone learn how to sing with a lot of practice?
ANSWER: Mitko, don’t apologize when you have genuine questions. It is well that you get “informed” answers to help you think rightly.
You have given a good deal more information this time than previously. That is helpful. Let me commend you for describing plainly and carefully:
1. Your ENTIRE range (growl through squeak) [low low B to high G]
2. Your possible singing range [low F to high F]
3. Your tessitura (comfort range) in which stamina is not a issue – seems to be in the upper middle part of your vocal compass: “C below middle C to middle C or the D above.”
4. Your comfortable speaking pitch, left me a bit confused “E to E below middle C”. This needs clarification because I suspect you don’t mean ONE NOTE! This makes a big difference if the low E is two octaves below middle C. But if you’re referring to the octave surrounding middle C, well that presents a very different scenario. I am going to guess, but I will need you to confirm whether I’ve gotten it correct or not, that you are referring to the E’s that surround middle C; the low E being a minor 6th below middle C and the upper E being a major 3rd above middle C. I guess this to be so based on the observation of No. 3 as well as No. 5.
5. the approximate note(s) where you move into “head voice”: D or E above middle C.
6. You are 15 years of age with a lyric quality.
BASED ON THE INFORMATION YOU HAVE GIVEN ME, but without me ever having heard you I venture to tell you the following:
You, knowing your own voice, as you have described, is MOST important. Well done. While it is not unusual for a young man to have a wide range, from “growl to squeak”, it is unusual for a boy of 15 to have arrived at his full potential range as reflected a decade or more later. Although your singing range is two octaves already, it would be VERY unusual for a low-voiced young man to be comfortable singing middle C or much above – and you are comfortable up to F above already. If I understand your comfortable speaking pitch area correctly – you are speaking as a tenor would. Also, the notes at which you find yourself moving into head voice are higher than most baritones and all basses at age 15. Baritones will find in later years that this may coincide with their move into head on some vowels, but not at age 15. At 15, 99% of all singers are “lyric” so that is not surprising.
I would say that what you describe appears to be “a tenor in formation” – and at the very least, a lyric baritone. Still, allow your voice to indicate to you, as time goes by in what direction it is growing.
Best wishes to you Mitko.
January 6th, 2013
Isaiah, age 16 asks: I am a bass-baritone with about a range of G2-F4(maybe f#) and I had a few questions. First of all, when I say my bottom note is G2, I am saying this is the last note I can sing with power, but I can hit an F2, but it won’t have much volume, and I find I have a very large voice everywhere else in my range. Is it common at this age to have a weak low register? If so when is the average age that these notes start to get fuller, (provided there is an average.)
This question is rather derivative, but I will ask it any way. At what age do most basses start developing a bass voice. I would like to be an operatic bass, and my choir director seems to think I will develop a good low range, but obliviously I have little control over where I end up, so I would like to at what age it is typical to know you are headed in that direction.
I’m sorry if these are annoying questions, and I understand if there is not a good answer to them.
ANSWER: Your questions are natural.
Keep reading other articles in my blog that are related to your questions … you should note a pattern.
I think it is early for you to peg yourself a “bass-baritone”. At the moment, based on your own description of yourself at age 16, you fit the “baritone” generalization better. Most bass-baritones at your age struggle to reach D above middle C, but already feel quite comfortable singing E and F 1&2/3 octaves below middle C.
It is common for notes below the modal register to be weak. As you grow older and mature, these notes can be strengthened with use, but G as your lowest full note may be a demarcation of the lowest perimeter of your modal voice – which fits the baritone designation (not bass-baritone). Still, I have had students who remained “lyric” with ability to reach low notes for choral purposes, but who, like you, did not have a strong note until G. Expanding your range, both upward and downward will come with time – meaning years. By the time you are 21 you should have a more realistic idea of “what you really are”. Remember, that the cartilaginous structure of the larynx in a man continues to develop and harden into his mid-thirties. That’s another way of saying that the voice (larynx) is the last organ of the body to fully mature. So, time will tell as you continue to sing and mature what direction your voice will go. Accept it as it comes.
Generally speaking a young bass or baritone does well to sing in choirs through high school and begin private voice study when he is around 18. Prior to that time the structure of the larynx makes embarking on the serious pursuit of mature use of the voice and producing those sounds unproductive. This means that in the American system, at about the time a young man is entering college (age 18) is also the time to begin voice lessons. (The starting age is typically younger for young ladies.)
At 16 you can explore the current parameters of your range and use those parts where stamina is comfortable and easy, which over time will also gain strength. With time and use you will find that your range will expand, up or down or in both directions. Another thing, Isaiah, each person’s voice mature’s at its own rate. James Morris was singing operatic roles (e.g., Rigoletto) with Luciano Pavarotti under the conducting of James Levine in his early to mid 20′s. [I know, because I was on the same stage in a concert production of Rigoletto in Philadelphia at the Robin Hood Dell outdoor theatre ... I being in the chorus.] (That’s early!) But many lower-voiced men don’t come into their own until much closer to 30.
I hope this helps you know how to think about these things.
December 26th, 2012
Josh, 18 says: “Hello, just came across your website and I love what you’re doing here.
Anyways, I have a question about vocal range and voice types. I’m a bass (I think) range D2-D4, and I’m wondering if it would ever be possible for me to reach C5. I just love the feeling of soaring higher into the higher parts of my range. Now, there are many musical pieces I would just love to sing, yet they require that high range of C5. It is this reason I feel I cannot embrace my voice type. I’m trying to be a rock vocalist with more of an operatic tone if this information would be useful to answering my question. Would it ever be possible to change my voice type and eventually reach those notes? And if it is possible, how would it be done?
Thanks for your time.”
ANSWER: Hello Josh.
You ask a fair question. Your voice has gone through the change and you now recognize your range and comfortable area, which you accurately identify, as being “bass.” THIS IS HOW GOD MADE YOU. You would do well to accept it and work within your capabilities! Assuming that what you have told me is accurate about your current range and comfort zone, you will always be a bass, period. Smile! It’s not a bad thing. In fact your uniqueness within your chosen genre can be turned into a huge blessing for you and your listeners. Do you know how many of the general population would like to join their “idols” as they listen to their recordings, and can’t because the songs are too high?
If reaching C5 is critical to you, over the next few years you can develop your falsetto (you may feel like you’re yodeling) so as to sing those high notes. However, you should NEVER force or scream up there if you want to have the use of your voice over the long term! By the way, as a bass, you may find that your falsetto does not necessarily extend that high either … another thing you may need to accept!
Josh, I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but if you heed the advice you will save your instrument over the course of your life, including your performing life. Accept the “bass” voice classification and learn songs within the area of your range in which you can express yourself easily and fully … and don’t fret about not having high C’s.
Best wishes to you Josh.