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Is there an easy method to determine what my natural vocal range is?

I'm a guitarist who writes songs and want to make sure that when I write it is in a key that is comfortable for me to sing, even if only for demoing purposes.

Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

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3 Answers 3

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Without a doubt, you should pay for a couple of lessons with a qualified voice teacher. They'll help you identify your range and point out that with proper training, you'll be able to expand your range both upward and downward.

If you are a man, you should also learn how to take notice of the difference between your "head" voice, your "chest" voice, and your falsetto, and recognize when you are moving from one to the other. Most male singers in pop music make use of falsetto frequently, whether they are aware of it or not, and this has profound implications for figuring out your vocal range.

For better or worse, traditional voice teachers tend not to provide any training regarding falsetto. Somebody who specializes in teaching rock and R&B singers might be willing to work with you on falsetto.

Part Two:

I think I understand what you are saying, but let me point out that Key isn't really the issue. The issue is range, or what in formal terms we call tessatura. That means identifying the lowest note in the melody and the highest note in the melody, which as you can see isn't really dependent on the key of the song, per se. Then you would want to determine whether or not that range of notes sits well in your particular voice.

A good strategy would be to write the entire song first, and then transpose the key up or down until it fits your voice, and then figure out how to play the song in the appropriate key on whatever instrument you play. This is why some guitarists rely on a capo. It's easier to play around with transposition these days because of MIDI sequencers and playback software that can raise or lower the pitch of an audio recording without changing the playback speed.

I'm not a songwriter, but I'm a journalist who has interviewed a lot of them, and one comment I hear from older performers is "I wish I had originally done this song in a lower key, because when I got old, it became really hard to sing it in the key everybody expects to hear it in."

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3  
Women should take notice of head voice vs. chest voice too. –  Monica Cellio Oct 22 '12 at 12:45
1  
Yes, of course. Sorry. –  Wheat Williams Oct 22 '12 at 19:46
1  
I think that range and tessitura are often confused. The tessitura is not given by the extremes, but by the interval where the singer should spend most of his or her time. A good singer can finesse a few low or high notes if needed, but a part whose tessitura doesn't match the singer's will be extremely tough to sing, even if the range is within the singer's compass. –  aeismail Jan 9 '13 at 12:17

If you sing regularly (like in a choir, or getting lessons), you'll get a good idea from the warmup exercises you do there. So I gather that this is not your situation.

Your range is probably wider than the range of a typical song that you'll sing, so what you really want to find is the most natural, comfortable part of your range. One way to do that is to record yourself singing a-capella over a period of time (not just in one afternoon), and then use your guitar to figure out what keys you're singing in. Then write more of that. I found with my (now-defunct) band that while my range usually supported several possibilities, sometimes one key just felt and sounded better than one that was a mere half-step away -- never mind that the bounds of the song were still far away from the edges of my range. (I think one of them might still be a little grumpy about that song in F#minor. No, Gminor just didn't work.)

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The answer to this is very simple:

1.) Go to a piano / keyboard / guitar

2.) Start at middle "C" (3rd fret A-string on guitar.)

3.) Move down 1 note / fret at a time until you can't comfortably sing with dynamics (you should be able to make sounds past this point.)

4.) Go back to middle "C"

5.) Move up 1 note / fret at a time until you can't comfortably sing with dynamics.

The total distance between these two points is your range. When writing your melodies, make sure you stay within this range.

Hope that helps.

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This will give you information, but in warmups people (at least the ones I've sung with) routinely produce sound at extremes that they can't really sing. There's a difference between reaching a note stepwise like that (and when in "warmup mode", and not worrying about timing and voicing, and...) and doing it as part of a song. Any note that you can't sing with this exercise is definitely not in your range, but it doesn't follow that all notes you can sing in this exercise really are. :-) –  Monica Cellio Jan 9 '13 at 16:14
    
You are correct in saying that during warmups pitches at the extremes of register can be produced, but this is not correct warmup technique and is not proper musicianship. With the advice I gave above it should be understood that sounds should be able to be produced both in the falsetto and in the vocal fry, however, classically trained vocalists would not count these extremes as part of their traditional range. Timbral integrity degrades the further you go in each direction. The original question was how to determine singable range, not the total range at which sound can be produced. –  jjmusicnotes Jan 9 '13 at 20:04
    
Ah, I see what you're saying now. I somehow misread your parenthetical note on 3 -- my fault, sorry! –  Monica Cellio Jan 9 '13 at 20:16
    
No worries, just wanted to clarify my point. :) –  jjmusicnotes Jan 10 '13 at 7:22

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