I just started singing in a choir as a tenor.

I have some training as a tenor (classical techniques) but I am not trained in choir singing.

The choir chose to sing a Kyrie by Philippe Mazé. It begins with a lot of D4s. That particular note is not difficult at all when I sing melodies. But it feels very different when I sing the note as a tenor in the choir.

D4 would be where my passaggio starts, I think. That seems to be the reason for the note being a bit difficult. It's like tenors stay in chest voice but ads more head resonance to the note.

How do tenors deal with it?

They don't say anything about vocal technique at choir practice. They just tell you to sing. That might be because you are supposed to learn that at other times. You should already know the repertoire before going to practice?

The sheet music for the first part of the piece: https://i.ibb.co/bzRXMbT/16941621771447573998051645670809.jpg

  • 2
    I’m in exactly the same boat. I just sing those high notes very quietly in head voice or even not at all. Definitely learn the rep outside of rehearsal. That’s true for all ensembles. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 11:35
  • Why quietly in head voice? D4 isn't high for a real tenor, ie a tenor singing the tenor line. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 15:19
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    I'm not a real tenor, they just stuck me in the tenor section. Or I have the voice quality of a tenor without having the range of a tenor. I don't know. I just know I can't hit D4. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 15:41
  • I see. I am a real tenor. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 16:33

1 Answer 1


Choir tenors are quite a mixed bag. The majority tend to be natural baritones that manage to sing higher. As a result, the location of the passagio and the control over it widely differs.

In my experience, there is a tendency to overexert chest voice and inconsistent access or control to head voice and falsetto. A strained voice has poignant overtones and doesn't blend well.

So there is the apparent paradox that if you want to sound like the others, you'll keep off the passagio as long as you can, but if you want to contribute to a well-blended sound, you'll move into mixed voice rather early and use even a light falsetto judiciously.

What "early" means in that context depends on your natural and comfortable chest voice range, and that differs a lot with people classified as tenor in a choir. Due to a general lack of high voices, that decision tends to be not really made based on timbre, speaking voice range, low extension and passagio but more on "does he get high enough in any reasonably graceful manner?", with some hope for eventual improvement factored in.

My own advice would be to practice scales and lowering your access to mixed voice such that you get considerable leeway for employing mixed voice and transitioning into head voice. It is common for the substance of a tenor section to suffer from too much grit and too little cement, and confining your chest voice usage to unstrained ranges helps with the consistence.

  • So when you sing in choir you should use some falsetto? Is that a specific choir sound? I wasn't trained in singing D4 eith some falsettto. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 12:54
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    This description of a typical tenor section matches my (admittedly limited) choir experience. I sang in the choir during my BMus. It was required that all BMus students participate in a large ensemble so the choir was a mix of voice, piano and guitar majors, plus some hobbyist singers from other faculties. Even after shoehorning all the baritones into the tenor section, the tenors were still the smallest section by far. And a good portion of us, myself included, were untrained. So yeah, it was a mixed bag and we struggled to sound as cohesive as the other sections.
    – ibonyun
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 19:17
  • Just curious, what does speaking voice range have to do with choral section? My choir director mentioned it too. It was one of the reasons to assign me to the alto (2) section even though I can sing the soprano part much better (I'm not a tenor. I'm a woman) Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 4:58
  • A tenor can have a speaking voice that is higher than a baritone and so on Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 6:25
  • @notmySOaccount Generally, it's a predictor of what part of a person's singing range is most comfortable to them (guessing but sometimes their stated or measured singing range can be misleading when people get trained to sing in unnatural ways?)
    – user45266
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 19:49

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