Voice classification in non-classical music
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There is no authoritative system of voice classification in non-classical music as classical terms are used to describe not merely various vocal ranges, but specific vocal timbres unique to each range. These timbres are produced by classical training techniques with which most popular singers are not intimately familiar, and which even those that are do not universally employ.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Vocal categories and ranges for non-classical singers
- 3 Vocal pedagogical methods for contemporary commercial music
- 4 World records and extremes of vocal range
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The term non-classical music is typically used to describe music in jazz, pop, blues, soul, country, folk, and rock styles. In the USA Contemporary Commercial Music (CCM) is being used by some vocal pedagogues. Voice classification systems and vocal type terms were initially created for the purpose of classifying voices specifically within classical singing. As new styles of music developed, the quest for common terms for vocalists throughout these styles was sought, resulting in a loose application of the existing classical music practices. This haphazard and un-systematic approach to contemporary voices has been going on for years.
Approaches to voice classification in classical music
There are two overall approaches within voice classification: one for opera vocalists and one for choral music parts. One of the major differences in classifying voices between these two is that choral music classifies voices entirely upon vocal range, whereas in opera classification systems many other factors are considered. Indeed, tessitura (where the voice feels most comfortable singing) and vocal timbre (the innate quality of sound to the voice) are more important factors than vocal range within opera categorization. Within opera there are several systems in use including the German Fach system, the Italian opera tradition, and French opera tradition.
All of these approaches to voice classification use some of the same terminology which sometimes causes people to confuse them with each other. In the operatic systems there are six basic voice types and then several sub-types within each type. For women: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. For men: tenor, baritone, and bass. Within choral music there are only four categories for adult singers. First, for women: soprano and alto, and for men: tenor and bass. Within England, the term "male alto" is used to refer to a man who uses falsetto vocal production to sing in the alto section of a chorus. This practice is much less common outside of the UK where the term countertenor is more often applied. Countertenors are also widely employed within opera as solo vocalists. The term male alto is never used to refer to a solo vocalist. Children's voices, both male and female, are described as trebles, although the term boy soprano is widely used as well.
Applying voice classification to non-classical singing
In non-classical singing, it is difficult to place voices within either system for two major reasons. First, these voice categorizations were made with the understanding that the singer would be using classical vocal technique. These specific techniques, through study and training, result in a particular kind of vocal production and vocal timbre for each voice type which is unique to classical music. This is particularly problematic when trying to apply the operatic terms, as the vocal types are more descriptive of vocal timbre and vocal facility than simple vocal range. For example, one category of voice in opera is a contralto, which is the lowest female voice in the operatic system. One of the qualifying characteristics of this voice is a deep and dark quality to the vocal sound. This quality is not entirely innate to the voice, but is developed through classical vocal training. So although a singer in another genre might have a range equivalent to a contralto, they would not have a similar sound.
“These differences in voice qualities are reflections on variation in the muscular, aerodynamic, and acoustical conditions in the larynx and in the vocal tract. The subglottal pressure, the driving force in phonation, needs to be adapted in accordance with the laryngeal conditions.” In other words, the very act of singing consistently within one technique or another literally causes the voice to physically develop in different ways, and thus change the timbre of that particular voice.
Another example would be a coloratura soprano in opera. This is not only the highest female voice in opera, but also distinguished by its ability to do vocal acrobatic leaps, fast vocal runs and trills, and free movement within the highest part of the voice. A non-opera singer might be able to sing as high as a coloratura soprano, but they would not be able to do the vocal acrobatics of a coloratura soprano without classical technique and training. Therefore, the voice classification system in opera is not really applicable to singers in other genres.
A second problem in applying these systems is a question of range specification. This is particularly a problem when trying to apply the choral music system to the non-classical singer. The choral system was developed to delineate polyphonic structure and was not really intended to designate a vocal type to individual singers. In other words, choral music was designed to be broken down into four vocal sections and it is the sections themselves that are labeled soprano, alto, tenor, and bass and not the individual singers. For example, most women that sing the alto line in choirs would be considered mezzo-sopranos in opera due to their vocal timbre and their particular range resting somewhere in the middle between a soprano and contralto. A small portion of them, however, would most likely be contraltos. Therefore, one could say, "I am a mezzo-soprano singing the alto line", and the other "I am a contralto singing the alto line." They have two different ranges and sounds but they are singing the same part. This is important to understand, because it means that choral music isn't really about vocal type but about vocal range within a specific type of music: choral music. It is not uncommon for men with higher voices to sing the alto line or women with lower voices to sing the tenor line. It is, however, improper for a man to call himself an alto or a soprano, or a woman a tenor or bass. A woman who sings the tenor line is really a contralto when applied to the classical vocal type system, and a man who sings alto or soprano a countertenor or sopranist.
That being said, non-classical singers can adopt some of the terms from both systems, but not all of them, when classifying their voices. The six-part structure of the operatic system is much preferable to the four-part choral system for non-classical singers because it has three sets of vocal ranges instead of two to choose from. Most people's voices fall within the middle categories of mezzo-soprano for women and baritone for men. There are also a fair number of tenors and sopranos, but true basses and contraltos are rare.
The sub-categories in opera, however, should never be applied to a non-classical singer, for they are too closely associated with classical vocal technique. Words like lyric, dramatic, coloratura, and other defining qualities should never be applied to a non-classical singer. Also specific kinds of voices like soubrette and spinto should not be used outside of classical singing. The main categories, however, can be, as long as they refer solely to range. A non-classical singer could use the chart that follows.
Vocal categories and ranges for non-classical singers
The ranges given below are approximations and are not meant to be too rigidly applied.
- Soprano: the highest female voice, being able to sing C4 (middle C) to C6 (high C), and possibly higher.
- Mezzo-soprano: a female voice between A3 (A below middle C) and A5 (two octaves above A3).
- Contralto: the lowest female voice, F3 (F below middle C) to E5. Rare contraltos possess a range similar to the tenor.
- Tenor: the highest male voice, B2 (2nd B below middle C) to A4 (A above Middle C), and possibly higher.
- Baritone: a male voice, G2 (two Gs below middle C) to F4 (F above middle C).
- Bass: the lowest male voice, E2 (two Es below middle C) to E4 (the E above middle C).
Some men, in falsetto voice or as a result of certain rare physiological conditions, can sing in the same range as women. These do not fall into the female categories, instead called countertenors within classical music. Within contemporary music, however, the use of the term tenor for these male voices would be more appropriate.
Vocal pedagogical methods for contemporary commercial music
Teaching voice within non-classical music is an emerging field. Up to this point, voice teachers and voice research have been largely concentrated with classical methods of singing. However, new approaches and methods to teaching non-classical voice have recently emerged, such as the Complete Vocal Technique (CVT)  by Catherine Sadolin at Complete Vocal Institute or Speech Level Singing (SLS)  by Seth Riggs. Another examples is Jeannette LoVetri's method known as Somatic Voicework. It has really only been within the last few years that music conservatories and music programs within universities have begun to embrace these alternative methodologies suitable to other kinds of vocal music. As an example, the Dutch conservatories requires all vocal teachers to have undergone CVT training, and all Danish conservatory vocal teaching covers the CVT method. Likewise, LoVetri teaches the Somatic Voicework method in the graduate vocal music department at Shenandoah University in the U.S.
World records and extremes of vocal range
- The highest vocal range in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is that of Georgia Brown; a Brazilian female singer who produces unusually high pitches using a whistle register. Her range extends eight octaves, from G2 to G10. Her highest pitch, the G10, isn't technically classified as a note, but rather as a frequency; Brown verified the record pitch with Guinness World Records at Aqui Jazz Atelier Music School in São Paulo, Brazil, on 18 August 2004.
- Guinness lists the highest demanded note in the classical repertoire as G6 in "Popoli di Tessaglia!", K. 316, a concert aria by W. A. Mozart, composed for Aloysia Weber. Though pitch standards were not fixed in the eighteenth century, this rare note is also heard in the operas Esclarmonde by Jules Massenet and Europa riconosciuta by Antonio Salieri. Europa riconosciuta also demands an F♯6 from the roles of Europa and Semele several times. The highest note commonly called for is F6, famously heard in the Queen of the Night's two arias "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" and "O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn" in Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte.
- Several little-known works call for pitches higher than G6. For example, the soprano Mado Robin, who was known for her exceptionally high voice, sang a number of compositions created especially to exploit her highest notes, reaching C7. Robin also added a number of her top notes to other arias.
- The German soprano Erna Sack also reached C7 and her vocal range is well documented.
- Lowest note in a solo: Guinness lists the lowest demanded note in the classical repertoire as D2 (almost two octaves below middle C) in Osmin's second aria in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Although Osmin's note is the lowest 'demanded' in the operatic repertoire, lower notes are frequently heard, both written and unwritten, and it is traditional for basses to interpolate a low C2 in the duet "Ich gehe doch rate ich dir" in the same opera. Leonard Bernstein composed an optional B1 (a minor third below D2) in a bass aria in the opera house version of Candide. In a Russian piece combining solo and choral singing, Pavel Chesnokov directs the bass soloist in "Do not deny me in my old age" to descend even lower, to G1 or B♭1, depending on the arrangement. In the symphonic repertoire, the bass soloist in Mahler's Eighth Symphony is asked to sing a C♯2. In Paul Mealor's choral work, De Profundis, the bass soloist is asked to sing an E1.
- Lowest note for a choir: Mahler's Resurrection Symphony and Eighth Symphony (bar 1457 in the "Chorus mysticus") and Rachmaninoff's Vespers require B♭1. Frederik Magle's symphonic suite Cantabile and Zoltán Kodály's Psalmus hungaricus both require A1. In Russian choirs the oktavists traditionally sing an octave below the bass part, down to G1. Kheruvimskaya pesn (Song of Cherubim) by Krzysztof Penderecki includes a written F1 in its last chord, though the note itself is seldom performed.
- The Guinness record for the largest vocal range is held by Tim Storms, and spans ten octaves.
- Singers with a six-octave or greater vocal range
- Singers with a five-octave vocal range
- Singers with a four-octave vocal range
- Singers with a three-octave vocal range
- List of baritones in non-classical music
- List of tenors in non-classical music
- List of contraltos in non-classical music
- List of mezzo-sopranos in non-classical music
- List of sopranos in non-classical music
- Vocal register
- Voice type
- Peckham, Anne (2005). Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer. Berklee Press Publications. ISBN 978-0-87639-047-4.
- McKinney, James (1994). The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults. Genovex Music Group. ISBN 978-1-56593-940-0.
- Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-8614-3.
- Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company. ISBN 978-1-877761-64-5.
- Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59756-043-6.
- Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20378-6.
- Coffin, Berton (1960). Coloratura, Lyric and Dramatic Soprano, Vol. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-0188-2.
- "Teaching Singers of Contemporary Music". Journal of Singing. National Association of Teachers of Singing. 64: 380. 2008.
- "Greatest vocal range, female". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 2015-11-01.
- Guinness Book of Records, 2006 edition
- Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 1751, introduction. The G6 can be seen on p. 72
- Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (edited by Harold Rosenthal)[full citation needed]
- on YouTube, from La sonnambula
- on YouTube
- "Greatest vocal range, male". Retrieved 2013-06-25.