All of us are born with an inherent vocal range. Each range corresponds to one of the 7 voice types categorized under major voice classification systems. These are soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass.
Most singers focus on perfecting their natural voice range that results from their vocal physiology. But there are others who move from one range to the other during the course of their career, exhibiting remarkable dexterity. To identify your voice type, you first need to know your vocal range. The tenor is the voice type of males with a high-pitched voice. Wondering if you can sing like a tenor? Look no further. We will help you to figure it out.
Ways to Determine if You are a Tenor
On a piano, the farther a note is to the left, the deeper the note is. On the other hand, the farther a note is to the right, the higher the pitch. Broadly speaking, your vocal range is the lowest note that your voice can key in, to the highest note that you can hit.
It may be possible for you to have a vocal range that encompasses two voice types. But when it comes to fixing your voice type, you have to understand where your voice is most comfortable. You must be able to reproduce a note with ease without having to strain your voice. That’s why when it comes to voice classification, a lot of importance is laid on tessitura. It is the range of notes and pitches, from the lowest to the highest that one can produce with comfort and which has the best-sounding timbre or tone quality. In general, voice types are classified into male and female types.
- The male voice type includes: Bass, Baritone, Tenor and Countertenor
- The female voice type includes: Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Contralto
The tenor is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range falls among the highest of the male voice types. The tessitura of a tenor voice lies between the countertenor and baritone voice types. On the piano or the keyboard, if you are familiar with the keys, then your range must comfortably cover C3 to C5.
Profile of a Tenor Singer
The tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, and A4, the A above middle C. In solo work, this range extends up to (C5), or "tenor high C." Tenor artists are usually required to sing the lower notes of their octave range in chest voice and the higher ones in head voice.
While it’s possible to reproduce musical notes across octaves using the two voices, the quality of the tone usually changes when hitting the very high notes. That’s when falsetto or the false voice sets in. A brief description of these terms will help you to gather more clarity on the singing techniques of a tenor.
Chest voice refers to the thicker, deeper, and warmer tones. It also reflects the modal register that we normally use while speaking. When you sing using your normal speaking register, or close to it, you will feel a vibration if you put your hand on your chest.
Good airflow will help you to develop a warm tone that won’t waver or crack provided you are not straining your voice. When the chest voice is properly used, the entire set of vocal cords in the voice box in the throat comes into play.
The term can be misleading. Regardless of how this phrase comes across, the sound does not actually come from your head. Your vocal cords are still very much at play here. However, when a singer starts singing the higher notes, they may feel the sound and vibration in their head. Therefore, it is described as the head voice.
Falsetto has an airy, flute-like quality to it. It is not as deep or powerful as the head voice but has a beautiful delicate tonal quality. It is a stylistic choice and can be quite effective when used in moderation.
Types of Tenor
Depending on the vocal range, quality of the tone or timbre, expertise, and weight of the voice, the tenor voice-type is categorized into sub-categories. These are as follows:
- Leggero: Also known as the ‘tenore di grazia’, the voice is light, agile leggero. The vocal range of this tenor type is between C3 and E♭5.
- Lyric: The lyric tenor is a warm graceful voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy. It has a range from the C, one octave below middle C (C3) to the D, one octave above middle C (D5).
- Spinto: The 'spinto' tenor is very similar in tonal quality and range to lyric tenor, but with a heavier vocal weight. This makes the voice type apt for dramatic climaxes.
- Dramatic: Also ‘tenore di forza’ or ‘robusto’, the dramatic tenor has an emotive, powerful and heroic tenor sound. It ranges from the B, one octave below middle C (B2) to the B, one octave above middle C (B4).
- Heldentenor: The heldentenor or simply the heroic tenor has a rich, dark, and powerful like the dramatic tenor, but is heavier with an almost baritonal texture. The vocal range is around the middle of the tenor range E3-G4.
- Mozart: It is another distinct tenor type where the most important element is the instrumental approach of the vocal sound, which conveys perfect emission of sound and requires greater breath control. The vocal range for this tenor is from C3 to B4.
- Tenor buffo or Spieltenor: This is a tenor with a range that extends from C3 to B4. This voice is suitable for smaller comic roles in opera.
Evolution of the Role of Tenor in Opera
The tenor voice in opera as we hear it today has undergone a lot of transformation since its inception. Performance practices have evolved over centuries in tenor singing. In opera history, it became an established form only in the early nineteenth century.
The word tenor, comes from the Latin word ‘tenere’ which means to hold. To hold would imply to sustain since the tenor was a voice that would sustain the ‘cantus firmus’, the fundamental line of a song in medieval polyphonic music.
When the first operas were being composed in the transition between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the tenor voice had an important role to play. Many of the leading roles in the early opera were assigned to tenors until they fell out of favor with opera composers. Instead, voices like the castrati, haute-contre and baritones became popular across Europe, and the roles of kings, commanders, or heroes were given to these singers.
But with the advent of the 19th century, the science and technicalities involved in singing started receiving a lot of importance. Researches on vocal physiology were conducted to improve singing techniques that would result in optimal voice productions. The discussions on the roles of register, ‘passagio’, head voice versus chest voice catalyzed the need for a transformation in singing techniques which tenor singers leveraged.
Until then, tenors had a lower vocal range like those of the baritones at present. While singing, after a certain note, they would quickly shift to a head voice or a falsetto. Now the focus was on using chest voice higher in the register and delaying the advent of the head voice or falsetto. The final aim was to make this switch imperceptible. Tenors had to sound powerful and their tone, even, across their vocal range. Once this was achieved, operas with the tenor in lead roles began to be composed again, making artists with this vocal type popular and in demand.
Tips for Tenor Singing Training
There are a number of things you can do to draw maximum benefit from your training. Following these tips will help you to flourish as a tenor singer.
Voice Lessons from Tenor Singing Teacher
You can immensely benefit from taking training lessons from a western classical vocal teacher. He or she can help you with vocal exercises to improve your chest voice, head voice, correct your use of vocal effects such as vibrato, and a lot more. With proper guidance and feedback, you will be able to hit the right notes and perfect your singing style. You can take private lessons or join a music school that teaches western classical vocal. You can also opt for tenor singing courses online.
Learn to Read Sheet Music
Knowing how to read a music sheet will help you to identify your notes and sing without having to pause or break. A music sheet is divided into 4 spaces and 5 lines with the musical notes from A to G with variants like sharp, flat, and natural plotted on them.
Work on Passagio Transitions
A smooth transition from head voice to chest voice is one technique that a tenor must learn to excel in opera singing. ‘passagio’ is the passage or transition that the singer has to effortlessly make while shifting from one voice to the other. This a challenging technique and mastering it requires intensive practice.
Join a Choir or Musical Group
Practicing with a group is always a good idea. It keeps one motivated and there is always help available. You can receive constructive feedback from fellow members and regularly practice with them to hone your skills.
Tenors have earned their share of popularity by virtue of their outstanding vocal skills. Luciano Pavarotti is a name that is known worldwide. If you wish to become a tenor and create magic with your voice, then stay dedicated and true to your passion. You will win hearts for sure.