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The Difference Between Alto and Soprano Voices

Updated on July 22, 2010

How Are Alto and Soprano Voices Different?

Voice classification can be subjective, so it becomes a somewhat less scientific process. There is no universally accepted or applied science for determining voice types.

A typical way to determine vocal classification is when a music teacher or music expert will do voice exercises with the signer, having them sing various scales and notes in different parts. Alto and soprano are two such types. There is much debate amongst music experts as to the correct usage of the terms alto and soprano.

In opera, the German Fach system is a popular method of classifying singer's voices by testing range, vocal weight and timbre. The Fach system is a convenience for opera houses, as they keep lists of signer's classification and determine the best roles for them. Another way of determining voice classification is through the choral system which is based mainly on a singer's vocal range. Solo singers are classified according to timbre or where the voice feels the most comfortable and sounds the most pleasant.

With this inexact science, many singers are classified wrong by unknowledgeable vocal teachers. It is therefore critical for voice instructors to understand the importance of pivotal registration points in classifying vocal type.

The term soprano generally refers to a female singer with the highest vocal ranges. When it is used to describe a male voice it is the highest of the male signing voices or used to describe a boy whose voice has not yet changed to a deeper timbre through puberty. Historically, female singers were not allowed to sing in church so they used the boy sopranos to sing this part. An example of a soprano instrument would be a saxophone, for it provides the highest sound range.

Granted there is some variation, a soprano's voice ranges usually ranges from middle C to high A, one octave above middle C. A soprano in Opera may have a range extending to soprano C, two octaves above middle C.

Some famous sopranos include: Mariah Carey, Charlotte Church, Christina Aguilera, Julie Andrews and Celine Dion. Although many times in the pop music industry, the vocal range of singers is at times artificially enhanced.

Although both men and women have voices in the alto range, the term is often used to mean a female with the deepest of signing voices or a male with the highest signing voice, somewhere between a tenor and a mezzo-soprano.

An alto singer will have a range from around the F below middle C to the E a tenth above middle C, at the bottom of their range. Some altos have even larger ranges, from the C below middle C to the C two octaves above.

Famous alto signers include: Toni Braxton, Tracy Chapman, Gladys Knight, Brandy, Sade, Fiona Apple, Annie Lennox, Cher and Anita Baker.

To determine your vocal classification, it is important to work with a well-known and respected vocal teacher or coach, who understands the importance of correct vocal evaluation.

How Singing In Different Languages Affects Your Facial Muscles

Professional singers often have a repertoire of music with lyrics in a number of languages ranging from the Romance languages through Germanic tongues.

Aside from some obvious differences in diction and phrasing, singing in different languages is a physical process that takes into account the shaping of vowels, emphasis on consonants and any glottal stops along the way.

Native English speakers often find that singing in the Romance languages is the least demanding on facial muscles, while singing in German feels like an altogether different experience, affecting facial musculature in more demanding ways.

Your facial musculature includes everything from your jaw to your tongue. There are also other elements to consider when speaking such as where your tongue touches your teeth or which palate you are employing when shaping vowels in conjunction with your tongue. There is more at work when you speak than meets the eye.

Your muscles carry memories and know what to do when you see a word. You may have noticed that not only do your muscles have memory but you can also have breath memory. This is particularly true if you remember where you need to breathe from to set up a phrase or if you have perfected a song.

Great Stuff on Amazon - Books About Alto and Soprano

Great Soprano Opera Singers

What Is Your Vocal Classification? - Let Us Know Here!

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      anonymous 4 years ago


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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm confused about my vocal range... My music teacher vocalized me and it was known that my vocal range is contralto (alto range) and it lies between D3 ( D belowe middle C) and D5 (D one octave higher than middle C). That doesn't mean I can't go any higher than D5, it only means that I'm more comfortable singing lower and that to sing higher I have to use more diaphragm, in other words, D5 is where I "change" to head voice. I write "change" with quotation marks because it doesn't feel sounds like a head a head voice, it still has enough stregnth to not sound like falsetto. I have even reached from soprano C (C6) to E6!! This is why he also said to me I have the ability to be an alto-soprano. Could it be true that I am an alto-soprano? If so, does that make me able to sing soprano opera songs like "Flower Duet" (Charlotte Church sings it) and is it proper to do it? My vocal weight and/or timbre aren't very deep or heavy even for me who reaches down to D3. It sounds quite light and that is why the switch to head voice requires little effort for me, just more diaphragm. Does that make me a lyric contralto or a coloratura contralto?

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      Didge 5 years ago

      Several very cool ideas interactivevoices!

    • Padaneis profile image

      Padaneis 6 years ago

      Countertenor, so... a male alto. Unfortunately, I stopped singing a few years ago. C'est la vie...