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Whilst we have various different voice 'categories', there doesn't seem to be much about actual vocal ranges. I'm guessing an average range is around two octaves of good singing voice, but this is only prompted by my Boss tuner showing around two octaves for each voice - soprano, tenor, etc.

Some singers - Karen Carpenter for one, appeared to have a range of four octaves, and some Russian males, although being 'basses', seem to be able to sing at least an octave lower.

Would it be fair to say that the 'alto', tenor' etc. labels are very vague, or is a two octave range more of a common feature among vocalists?

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  • Do you mean the range of actual people, or of music written for a certain 'voice'? Both of these pertain to and correspond inexactly with the voice 'categories' you mention, and probably in different ways to each other! – Judy N. Dec 30 '20 at 19:41
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    i.e. if we say someone is a tenor, do we mean they sing music written for tenors, or is music written for tenors so because it happens to be music that tenors are able to sing? – Judy N. Dec 30 '20 at 19:43
  • @JudyN. - I'm trying to ascertain what sort of range an 'average' voice might have. If it's written for tenors, then what range (in octaves) might that entail. Two octaves seems to be it. But I don't know - hence the question. – Tim Dec 30 '20 at 19:46
  • I still see several independent if related questions. What sort of range does an average voice have, what range is something written for tenors likely to have, what range is the person who sings something written for a certain voice type likely to have (e.g. a bass-baritone will sing baritone parts but will presumeably have a range that exceeds the range of music written for baritone)... – Judy N. Dec 30 '20 at 19:54
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Opera has a classification system with voice types like tenor, soprano, etc., the vocal range is around two octaves for all of them.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_range#Vocal_range_and_voice_classification

But that's just a classification system for opera. It's there to simplify things for composers ("assume that these voice types with such-and-such range is available") and for people hiring performers ("You can sing C4 to C6? You're a soprano. Next!"). Pop/rock operates under different constraints, so the opera system is less useful there.

Invididual singers vary. As described in the wikipedia link, if someone has a vocal range that covers more than one voice type they would get assigned a type based on where they sound best or can sing most comfortably.

Two octaves of usable range is indeed pretty common. For untrained singers it can be less than that (although most people can do at least an octave to an octave and a half), while a few singers have exceptional ranges of 4-5-6 octaves (e.g. Mariah Cary, Morten Harket from a-ha, Dimash Kudaibergen).

So the labels are approximate, yes. But it makes sense if you think of them as labels for the roles within an opera, rather than for the voices of individual singers.

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