7

One of the defining features of voice types are the typical ranges and while not the deciding factor, is a good indicator of what voice type a person is.

So what are the typical ranges of the main voice types including Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass?

6

An important distinction to be made here is the difference between range and tessitura. According to The Complete Musician by Steve Laitz,

range is the total span of pitches that a voice can sing; this covers roughly the interval of a twelfth. ... a more comfortable register [is] referred to as its tessitura.

Laitz then provides a chart of SATB ranges and tessituras, reproduced below. "R" indicates range, while "T" indicates tessitura.

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Most theory textbooks agree, but there are occasional differences. Note that these textbooks all only discuss the range, not the tessitura:

  • Tonal Harmony by Kostka and Payne only has one difference: the lowest pitch of the bass is listed as E, not D. The same is true for Harmony in Context by Roig-Francolí.
  • The Complete Musician by Clendinning and Marvin has the entire bass range moved up a step, from E to D instead of Laitz's D to C.
  • Harmony and Voice Leading by Aldwell and Schachter has a few differences: the soprano can be extended by one step in both directions; the alto is listed as G to C, with the D an allowable extension; the tenor has a high A as an allowable extension; and the bass is listed as E to C, with both the lower and upper Ds allowed as extensions.
  • Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music by Gauldin prefers D to F for the soprano, A to C for the alto, D to F for the tenor, and G to C for the bass. He lists one pitch above and below each range as an allowable extension.
  • I thought that tessitura was more applicable to the range of notes in a piece. Or maybe excessive number of notes at the extremes of the range. Thus, a piece with a high tessitura would contain quite a few high notes - thus making it not easily sung by someone from that category. Obviously, some singers will vary slightly, so that some tenors, for example, would be able to comfortably sing a tenor piece with a low tessitura,which other tenors might not. Is Laitz stating tessitura is more a reference to voices (satb) than to the excessive number of high/middle/low notes that feature... – Tim Jan 22 '18 at 8:46
  • ...in a particular song? This may explain why in a/t/b/ the 'tessitura' is smaller than the range, but not so for top end sopranos. I'd have considered that tessitura refers to the song not the singer, and gives a better understanding to the poor soul who's about to sing. As in a bass may be quite capable and happy singing a song for tenor, providing it had a low tessitura, rather than him 'having a high tessitura'. – Tim Jan 22 '18 at 9:00
  • @Tim In my experience, the range of notes in a piece is typically referred to as the ambitus. But perhaps that's a US/UK distinction? – Richard Jan 22 '18 at 18:18
  • In a vague sort of way, tessitura can be construed as ambitus - which is a new one on me. Question time? – Tim Jan 22 '18 at 18:55

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