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Art Of Singing:


 Classification Of The Voice

 General Conservation Of The Voice


 Breathing Exercises

 Development Of Voice

 Interpretation And Expression

 The Halls

 Defective Voices

 Read More Articles About: Art Of Singing

Classification Of The Voice

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

In classifying a voice, it is essential to consider particularly

1. The range.

2. The timbre (quality).

3. Vocal temperament.

In determining the range, care must be taken to keep it within easy limits ; in other words, consider only so much of the scale as is taken naturally, without straining. In cases where the voice has not been forced out of natural shape, this is a comparatively simple matter.

A cut glass cup, under the friction of the fingers, will give out tone, yet by rubbing it very hard the sound ceases altogether, from which we conclude that the strongest sound obtainable is due to just sufficient friction to secure ample vibration of the crystal, without preventing the freedom of vibration. It is necessary, then, that the crystal vibrate freely under the friction. That liberty of vibration of its tonal walls is the essential condition to the production of maximum and most beautiful tone (Bonnier) .

This is a point having distinct application to vocal study.

The Range is the quantity of notes the voice can reach comfortably and musically. From low to high the tones increase in rapidity of vibration. The more rapid the rate of vibration, the higher the pitch. The rapid vibrations beyond certain limits give out no sound susceptible to human ears. The number of vibrations in musical sounds ranges from forty to four thou-sand a second.

Blaserna gives the following limits of vibration in a human voice :

Normal Exceptional

Bass C 82 D 293 B (Contra) 61 F 348

Baritone F 87 F# 370 D 73G 392

Tenor B 109 A 435 G 98C# 544

Contralto E 164 F 696 C 110 A 870

M. Sopr. F 174 A 870 E 164B 876

Soprano A 218C 1044 G 196E 1305

and more

The Timbre or Quality.--The variation in the timbre of two voices, of the same range may necessitate classifying them differently.

What Is "Timbre?" Musical sounds are not simple, but compound each note consists of a fundamental set of vibrations which determine the pitch, and of a number of superadded vibrations which indicate the "timbre" or "quality" (Helmholtz).

Take, for example, different instruments Fundamental "A" is the same on all of them, but the superadded sounds are different and those are the ones that give timbre or quality to the tone.

The timbre of a voice, being part of one's organic constitution, cannot be changed.

This does not mean that a harsh, hard voice, made so by faulty method, may not be greatly improved in tonal effects by careful analysis and teaching. But as the timbre and quality of a voice is at bottom a part of the individual's natural make-up, it is obvious that no other can be substituted, however much it may be attempted or desired. But the best that is in a voice can be secured, with the result that one at times. is tempted to believe that nature's gifts really have been improved upon. The real fact of the matter is, of course, that the faulty conditions which have hitherto prevented proper results are removed, and the natural beauties of the voice shine forth. Timbre, like the individuality of which it is but a part, may be distorted and suppressed. By proper methods it may also be restored and expressed.

Vocal Temperament. Not of the least importance in the classification of the voice is "vocal temperament."

Just as there are no two living persons possessing exactly the same character, there are no two singers of like musical or vocal temperament. One singer will grasp mentally and vocally with ease what may be extremely difficult for another. Such combinations constitute what, for want of a better description, may be called "vocal temperament."

As an illustration of what happens when vocal temperament is disregarded, imagine "La Donna e mobile" sung an octave lower by a heavy bass, or a heavy mezzo-soprano aria from "Samson and Delilah" sung by a light soprano.

The general character of a person is a tremendous factor in his or her vocal temperament, all of which also indicates what a complex thing is individuality in singing, and how impossible and fatal it is to endeavor to develop any two voices by exactly the same processes.

Proceeding from low to high, the voices are classified as follows:


Basses, divided into three classes :

Profondo (deep, noble, contra), in which the greatest sonority obtains in the low range.

Cantante (bass-baritone) , showing better sonority in the high range.

Buffo, usually a poor voice, suitable for comedy only.

Baritones, divided into two classes:

Dramatic (very similar to basso cantante). Lyric, or Verdi's type.

Tenors, divided into three classes:

Dramatic, or very strong.

Semi-dramatic (Lirico spinto).

Lyric, or light.


Contralto, having a marked baritonal character. (None of this extreme type is on the stage at present.)

Alto or Mezzo-Soprano, the link between contralto and soprano voices.

Dramatic Soprano, one who indicates the greatest sonority and strength in the high range.

Lyric Soprano, lacking the strength of a dramatic voice. (This voice could be called the product of modern music.)

Coloratura Soprano, a virtuoso voice. (This should be placed in a class by itself.)

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