SmarterGuide to A Cappella: Vocal Ranges

Phrenology Head

Anatomy Matters.

To begin, take the time to read the Wikipedia article on vocal ranges. It’s a good introduction to what is going on — especially if you’re not terribly well-versed in the ways of the dark arts of vocalism. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Hopefully you’ve learned a bit about where the voices fall; do pay attention to the very helpful diagram in the article. Then, hunker down and think about who you’ll actually be writing for: amateur college singers. This means that even if they DO fit comfortably into one of these ranges (they won’t), they’ll probably not have a full command of their voice anyway — and it should be a major goal of your group to improve everybody’s vocal capabilities. Along the way, though, an arranger should do his or her best to help the learning singers develop, and take particular care to hover around comfortable tessituras (ie the range where most of the singing occurs). For the most part, this means to avoid breaks in the voice and stick to comfy-cozy confident pitches.

So then, the question of what “voice ranges” to use as guidelines is completely ridiculous, since it emphasizes the outer reaches of a person’s vocal capacity. What is much better to consider is the sweet spot in the middle, and the “danger zones” where the vocal breaks occur. We’ll only address outer limits when talking about the outer voice parts.

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