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Caveat: if you're not into science meets music, please just skip this post.

I'm being asked to sing for a music class. I dislike singing. I don't sound good. I would not make it far on American Idol. Yet, they keep asking, and it is expected of me.

I had the idea of trying to express my voice while singing in frequencies/hertz using a tuner (many apps available). I would then find songs/singers in a similar hertz range and target those songs. Assuming I could record the Hz values for myself and songs as data, I could then use stats and measures of central tendency to make sure more than just the average range lined up. I would want the standard deviations to be smallish too, etc. Idea being I'd remove any chance of say winding up with a song with an average range but with a massive vocal range, for example a Freddie Mercury song. I'd want singers/songs in my range.

I suppose this wouldn't guarantee I'd sound good singing something. But, in theory, it would be a better place to start.

How would you find your wheelhouse (vocal range) so you don't sound awful when singing?

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    There are many online resources to help you find your range, singers with the same range, and songs in that range; e.g. playback.fm/vocal-range and myvocalrange.com Just Google "vocal range". – Your Uncle Bob Jun 5 at 3:34
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    I don’t really understand much about this question but I think there’s a lot about singing that maybe you haven’t learned yet that could make things tricky for you. For example, your range isn’t something you’re born with, you learn and train up to it. You’re partly born with it, of course, but it’s not fixed. It changes as you learn to sing and as you grow up and grow older. – Todd Wilcox Jun 5 at 3:41
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    Every new singer I ever knew has felt insecure about singing in class, but that's why you sign up for a class like that, namely to learn how to sing or how to sing better, it's a study program, study hard and learn how to sing. Get your money's worth and have fun while you're doing it. – skinny peacock Jun 5 at 3:57
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    A music class has a music teacher. He will let you sing the scale and in 2 minutes he will be able to tell your range. And probably he will place you in the group where he will need you most and you fit best. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 5 at 4:45
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    I'm gonna stick a +1 on this. Yes, it's a terrible idea, but the answers pointing out it's a terrible idea give it some lasting benefit, imo. – Tetsujin Jun 5 at 12:25
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Although using science may help to find a particular vocal range, it's probably easier to just use a piano or guitar to determine the lowest note you can comfortably sing and the highest note you can comfortably sing. Then you can choose a key to sing your songs in. The scenario you describe seems to imply that you have in mind all singers singing in unison, and I think you would probably become bored with your results sooner or later because harmonies might be limited. In addition, you might pass up a chance at singing with someone who is the perfect compliment to your voice, but has a different range than you do. My opinion is that science is great for helping us understand how things work with music, but without understanding the whole picture, we risk the danger using it to actually slow down the development process in our learning about music. That's how I see it.

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Hmmm. Mathematically, this should work (remember that frequency correlates logarithmically/exponentially with letter names of notes). However, it's not the way that we tend to do it here in the music world. There's an easier way. The process you describe correlates very strongly with what we singers do, but we use letter names instead of frequencies.

First, we find our own range. You mention recording frequencies of your voice? We do that via piano, and this helps us avoid messy hertz calculations: Play a note, sing it, then move that note up or down until you cannot sing the note you're playing. As an example, suppose I'm a female. I'd start with my finger on my piano's middle C (which is always C4). I'd find that my lowest note is G3. Then I'd go back to middle C, and start upwards, finding that I can't sing any higher than D5. So, my range is from G3-D5. Be very careful with your octave numbers; there's a huge difference between G3-D5 and G4-D6.

The second step is generally finding a song and checking its range. It's the same process, but with the singer in the song's voice. To save time, find the highest and lowest note and verify those. Suppose I wanted to sing "White Christmas" by Bing Crosby. If I'm the same female from earlier, I can sing high enough, but I don't suppose I'll be singing down into the second octave like Crosby. I might want to transpose the song higher or find another workaround to avoid that A♭2, or I might not sing the song at all.

You don't actually need a piano - any fixed pitch reference will do-, but it's easier if you have one. Pianos/keyboards will most likely cover the entire range of any particular singer, and also it's tradition :)

Also recognise that range is far from the only factor in singing ability. If you're being asked to sing for a music class, the thing I'd worry more about is pitch and rhythm accuracy, not matching your range to songs. Most music classes (never experienced a counterexample) are fine with singing in transposed keys, and up/down by octaves as needed. Music classes really aren't testing your singing ability, they're testing your musical understanding.

Another thing we singers do is divide the range of frequencies created by the human voice into 4 general ranges to facilitate comparisons: Soprano is the highest (think high female), Alto below that (think low female), Tenor below the Altos (think high male), and Bass as the very lowest notes (think low male). Of course, gender is not a strict requirement for any voice classification, and in fact vocal range is not technically what determines one's type (it's how the voice sounds), but the practicality of the system is apparent. Supposing I'm the same female from earlier in the question, I wouldn't volunteer for the bass section of any arangement. It's just common sense. There are also a bunch of in-between voice classifications.

Range comparisons in general are a very weak predictive tool for most things, and I think too many weigh range too heavily when singing. The best advice I can give you is: Don't worry about it too much, and use common sense.

  • Huh, I'm female, and given that Middle C is C4, my singing range is easily bigger than C3-C6. I get the hunch that I have a very large singing range, though, so what is the average female singing range in terms of how many octaves wide it is? – Dekkadeci Jun 5 at 5:59
  • @Dekkadeci A range of more than 3 octaves would put you above Whitney Houston, Adèle, Björk, Dolly Parton, Alicia Keys, Dusty Springfield, Joni Mitchell, Katy Perry, Stevie Nicks, Karen Carpenter and Taylor Swift according to this list: newstalk.com/news/… Mariah Carey tops the list with more than 5 octaves, but they've omitted Yma Sumac. – Your Uncle Bob Jun 5 at 13:15
  • @Dekkadeci Average people are around 1.5-2.5 octaves, so I'd say you're probably larger in range than average. Not sure there's much difference between females and males. Pretty impressive. I'd say the average serious female singer would probably be somewhere areound 2.5 octaves, but obviously no two voices are alike. And this is just my estimations, so I could be a little off (I didn't run any numbers or anything). – user45266 Jun 5 at 14:59
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    @GC123 While frequencies are much more absolute than letter names, very few musical resources, including fellow musicians, will be able to understand anything using absolute frequency. The entirety of western music theory is taught, learned, and communicated in letter names. I'm not saying that your way doesn't have its benefits, but be aware that communicating your ideas to others will be quite difficult. "What's that high note?" "Oh, it's 1,046.5Hz" "What?" And if it's a guitar class, I highly doubt that the singing is going to be much of an issue, since the focus is likely on the guitar. – user45266 Jun 6 at 23:04
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    @GC123 All I'm going to say is that I'm not saying that you're wrong; I'm saying it's going to be hard to communicate. It's like creating your own programming language: Even if it's super helpful and efficient, most people are going to have trouble using it if they've never seen it before. – user45266 Jun 7 at 4:02
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This isn't "science meets music" this is "Fun with Music, by Dr Sheldon Cooper."

Don't try to work it out, just sing it & see if you can.

The human ear maps notes heard to notes sung in the same way as you catch a ball. You do it almost without thinking. Mapping out the trajectories mathematically on paper won't help you catch. Some people are better at it than others, but almost everyone can do it to some extent.
It's a bell-curve, with the few truly hopeless at the bottom, matched by the few truly exceptional at the top - the greater proportion in the middle are the average joes; the ones who can sing, but shouldn't give up their day job.
That's science ;-)

Working out the frequencies really has no bearing on it to the average musician or singer. Sing along with something - try Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music. That will at least explain the major scale whilst giving you something elementary to sing along to. It even has elementary harmony, counterpoint & canon.

If you're male, you'll probably want to sing an octave below Julie Andrews - that's the same notes at half the frequency.
That's more science ;-)

Or the full-length version without video, the rest starts at 2:14

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    Now that's funny – ggcg Jun 5 at 12:08
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    Use the correct words: "Do, the stuff that buys me beer; Ray the guy who serves me beer; Me, the guy who drinks the beer; Fa, where I'll go for beer..." – Carl Witthoft Jun 5 at 13:22
  • "...you'll probably want to sing an octave below Julie Andrews - that's the same notes at half the frequency." That's kind of the point of expressing the range in frequencies and comparing the data. To find where I fit. – GC123 Jun 6 at 17:57
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    ... which is exactly the point of my joke. No-one needs to 'analyse' that, you just do it - like you catch a ball. – Tetsujin Jun 6 at 18:19

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