Vocal range is a measurement of the pitches that a person is capable of producing with his or her voice. This measurement is important in both speech and singing. Singers are often grouped according to their vocal range. A man's voice is typically classified as countertenor, tenor, baritone, or bass. Female singers are grouped as a soprano, mezzo-soprano, Alto, or contralto.
Physical limitations of vocal cords in humans restrict the vocal pitches that can be naturally created. The human vocal range is typically limited to between 80 Hertz (Hz) and 1,100 Hz. In musical terms, this range falls between the notes "E2" and "C6." Many singers can produce notes throughout a wide range of these frequencies. In a choral or opera singing group, performers are usually identified by the range where they are most comfortable.
The highest male voice classification is the "countertenor." Men who use this vocal range often rely on the "falsetto," or high-pitched head voice, to sing notes at this level. "Tenor" is the second highest voice type for men, followed by the the "baritone." Baritone voices represent the most common vocal range found in men. The lowest male voice is the "bass," which is traditionally used to represent very masculine characters in operas and other performing arts.
Women tend to have a vocal range that is more high-pitched than men. A "soprano" is the highest female voice classification. "Mezzo-soprano" is the next highest voice, which is found in the majority of female singers. The "Alto" voice is the third-highest female vocal group, while "contralto" has the lowest pitch. This last voice classification is very rare, and contralto parts are often filled by mezzo-sopranos or Altos during opera performances.
Vocal ranges are primarily determined by physical factors that cannot be easily changed or manipulated. Despite these natural limitations, singers or speakers can improve their vocal capabilities with practice. Vocal exercises near the high or low extremes of a voice range can allow a person to become more comfortable manipulating their vocal cords. With practice, voice range can be increased to some degree.
The vocal cords can also become strained with improper use, however. Forcing the body to repeatedly produce tones that are near the extremes of a voice range can cause damage. Singers or speakers wishing to improve their natural voice range should proceed slowly, and follow the guidance of a qualified vocal coach or other voice expert.