I am trying to gain insight about the process by which vocalists identify their voice type or fach. I am not looking for any discussion about the basic distinctions between, say, soprano and alto. Voice types, such as coloratura soprano or lyric soprano, often overlap in many ways. There are several factors including range, tessitura, and voice color, that go into voice type, and as I said, there are various overlaps between types based on these qualities. Further, the roles associated with some fachs can be performed by those in a different fach.

Still further, these types are only categories; every human voice has its own unique characteristics that may generally resemble one type or another, but may have interesting quirks. Lastly, the voice evolves over many many years, generally not settling until late 20's or even 30's (and even that might not be the end of it), further confusing issues regarding specific voice type.

My question is, with all of this ambiguity and complexity, how does a vocalist and their teacher reach conclusions about what voice type they belong to? How does that process evolve over time?

I should note that I am fairly familiar with this process from first-hand experience as a sometimes-singer, although I'm not really looking for information for my use as a singer but to better understand singers as a conductor. I am looking for specific anecdotes and/or knowledge from singers who have gone through this process of discovery.

1 Answer 1


To answer your question head on, an experienced teacher will listen to the student's voice for all the qualities you mentioned: "range, tessitura, and voice color". The teacher will then mentally compare those qualities to other singers that they know. They will also be comparing that voice to the kinds of voices they are used to hearing in various roles. In some cases the singer will be a clear fit in one of the fachs, in others the voice will sit between fachs, be suitable to sing multiple fachs, or perhaps be capable of only a subset of one fach. Of course, the voice matures as it ages and as the singers technique changes, so this assessment is fluid and should be constantly reconsidered. These assessments are also fluid depending on the production. A voice that can sing heavy repertoire in a small house with a reduced orchestra may only be suitable for lighter repertoire in a big house with a full orchestra.

Unfortunately, much like musical genres often do a poor job of defining the subtleties of music, the human body and composer's imaginations don't conform very tightly to our categorical constructs. That being said, we need a vocabulary to discuss and even internally proces the qualities that make a voice suite a role and, like musical genres, this is the best method we have.

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in voice, I became very frustrated with singers over identifying with a fach and either limiting themselves, over extending themselves, or trying to learn repertoire that would probably be in their future but was not yet healthy for their voice. To help combat that trend, I started a website that skips the system of fach pigeon-holes and helps singers find appropriate roles directly.

The website asks a singer for roles which they feel suit their voice right now, and then searches through it's database of over 16,000 singers careers for singers who sang those roles. The site then lists other roles most commonly performed by those singers.

It's not a silver bullet but it's a useful tool for brainstorming and it has the advantage that it's based on actual data. If your curious you can find it here:

For a very insightful 45 minute discussion on this exact topic with Nathan Gunn, Nicola Luisotti and Sheri Greenawald check out the VoiceBox podcast hosted by Choloe Veltman. Their website does not have a link directly to the episode, but the mp3 can be found here. (Full disclosure: They mention my website in this interview)


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