“Some say I have a beautiful voice, some say I have not. It is a matter of opinion. All I can say, those who don't like it shouldn't come to hear me.” - Maria Callas
Singing and vocal technique are very particular disciplines and men and women don’t have the same vocal ranges. The size of the vocal cords affects the type of voice each gender has. Of course, within the genders, there are multiple different vocal ranges. While you might be familiar with terms like tenor, baritone, or bass, these are all male vocal ranges. This is why different singers will sing different types of songs. There’s something for everyone.
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So what are the main types of female voice?
In this article, we're going to have a look at the four main female voice types, the sub-categories within them, and why we classify them.
The Four Main Female Voices
As we’ll see later, things aren’t quite that simple, but for this article, we’re going to look at four main female voice types.
So what are these four voice ranges?
The Deeper Female Vocal Ranges
At one end of the scale, we find contralto, which is quite an uncommon vocal range for females. There are even some children with this vocal range, but it’s on the lower end of the scale for them too. This is a warm voice and there are many famous female singers with this voice type.
The most famous contraltos include:
- Judy Garland
- Annie Lennox
- Joni Mitchell
- Amy Winehouse
- And many others!
Then there’s the alto voice.
What is it?
Put simply, this is a female voice that corresponds with the male countertenor voice. Since the 19th century, this voice goes from G2 to E4. The alto voice is often referred to as the “natural” voice since it’s timbre works well with lyrical codes.
So what are the higher female voices? What makes them stand out?
The Higher Female Vocal Ranges
The most harmonious and musical voices are often considered to be the higher ranges. When it comes to the female vocal ranges, there are two main types.
The mezzo-soprano voice is the intermediate voice which is both light and rich. A mezzo-soprano voice can sing a lot of contemporary music and integrate comfortably into a choir. This type of voice is quite common for women and there are plenty of famous singers with this type of voice. Famous examples include Janis Joplin, Madonna, Rihanna, and Barbra Streisand.
The higher range is the soprano voice. This is very common among women and children.
Famous sopranos include:
- Julie Andrews
- Sarah Brightman
- Mariah Carey
- Demi Lovato
- Dolly Parton
- Diana Ross
- And many others!
However, this is just when we classify voices by the range of notes they can perform. There are also sub-categories of female voices that allow us to classify voices better.
Find out more about male voice types.
Sub-categories of Female Voices
So while we can classify female voices into four large groups, we sometimes need to be more precise with how we classify them in terms of musical technique. There are so many factors that can affect a voice.
There are three main sub-categories of voice: light voices, lyric voices, and dramatic voices. These group voices in terms of their heaviness and can all be found within the main ranges we saw before. Make sure you’re singing songs in accordance with your range and heaviness.
Light voices can chain together notes with ease and do better with their upper ranges than other voice types. Lyric voices excel in the middle ranges of their voice type while the dramatic voices aren’t as agile but feel much more comfortable at the lower end of their range.
Further Examples of Female Voices
We tend to add an extra subcategory to light voices: the coloratura soprano, for example, is famous for being able to do agile runs. In short, there’s a whole landscape when it comes to voice types.
A lyric soprano tends to often be referred to as just a “soprano”. They’re more powerful than light sopranos and are suited for expressive pieces. Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, for example, is famous for this type of voice.
Then there’s the dramatic soprano and the singer Maria Callas who was this voice type incarnate. It’s also the most powerful subcategory of voice. The range also includes a few notes lower than that of a lyric soprano.
Find out how to work out what your voice type is.
The Reason for Classifying Female Voices
The range of vocal ranges is impressive and they allow us to classify a performer’s abilities so that composers can write music for them or performers can audition for the right roles.
Knowing your vocal range is important for your career choices. Each voice type is suited to a different type of music or a different piece.
Imagine trying to sing heavy metal with a light soprano at the helm. It just wouldn’t work. It’s important to know what you can and can’t do in terms of your voice. The subcategories of female vocal ranges didn’t come into existence until the 19th century. During the 18th century, male and female voices were only distinguished by whether or not they were high or low voices.
Over time, the classifications were refined until we reached the different classifications we have today. They allow singers to perform to their strengths and enjoy pieces that work with their timbre and range.
Whether it’s vibrato, a head voice, warming up, etc. there are so many techniques that singers need to master so they don’t want to be singing outside of their range or singing pieces that don’t match their voice. The more comfortable you are when singing, the better you’ll sing and the more progress you’ll make.
So are you ready to work out your voice type?
If you need to know more about your tessitura, are trying to hit those high notes, or want to take care of your vocal folds, consider getting help from a voice teacher who can help you discover your voice range, go through vocal exercises with you, and take care of your vocal health. You can also learn more about registers from a singing coach or tutor. They can even show you artists with the same tessitura as you. Again, a tutor can help you work out the best repertoire.
If you'd like to learn more about singing, consider getting help from one of the talented tutors on Superprof. There are three main types of singing tutorial and voice coaching and each type has several advantages and disadvantages so what's right for one student may not be right for another.
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In face-to-face tutorials, there's just you and the tutor. This means that the tutor can focus on helping you to improve your voice and will put together a bespoke programme for you to follow. These are usually the most costly type of private tutorials since you're paying for all the tutor's time both in and out of class but they're also the most cost-effective.
There are also online tutorials where the student is taught via webcam. Since the tutor doesn't have to travel to their singing lessons near me and can schedule more lessons per week, these tend to cost less per hour than face-to-face tutorials. Since the tutor isn't in the room there with you, these tutorials are better for academic subjects rather than vocational ones. If you both have a good microphone and a good internet connection, consider opting for online tutorials to save money.
Finally, there are also tutors offering group tutorials. If you and a group of friends are interested in learning how to sing, you could hire a tutor together and divide the cost of the tutor's time. Of course, you won't get as much individual attention from your singing coach as you would in the other types of tutorials but you will pay less per hour per student.
No matter which type of singing coach you go for, they'll be able to help you work out your voice type, plan lessons that can help you improve your voice, and suggest songs and activities that work best with your tessitura. Don’t hesitate to get a singing coach or tutor (on Superprof, for example) to help you find your voice. Singing the right songs will help you to not tire out your vocal cords.