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Mezzo Sopranos Often Mistaken For Soprano

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Why do you think artists like Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are often deemed sopranos? People love to throw around the titles like full lyric soprano or spinto soprano. Where do you think these claims come from? Do you agree with them? 

 

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Voice classification is for opera, choir, etc. It's hard enough for me classify my voice, much less another guy's voice. The only female voice type I'm somewhat familiar with is contralto as it is closer to mine!

Most of my favorite female singers are contraltos, I don't know if it is because they are closer to the tenor or not but the rich/dark timbre is amazing.

 

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Ive never heard anyone say either Mariah or Whitney was a soprano... Most say they are altos but as neither of them sing in classical style wich uses mainly falsetto/headvoice(tomato/tomato) i dont see the point in classifying them? They are not gonna sing opera anyhow

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12 minutes ago, Jens said:

Ive never heard anyone say either Mariah or Whitney was a soprano... Most say they are altos but as neither of them sing in classical style wich uses mainly falsetto/headvoice(tomato/tomato) i dont see the point in classifying them? They are not gonna sing opera anyhow

Exactly... But if you must... this is not the voice of a soprano.  This voice is too dark to be a soprano in my experienced opinion. But as Jens points out, it really is not very relevant anyways. Vocal Fach classifications make singers view frequency (Pitch) in terms of "up down / low high" , which is like being lost in the shrubbery maze from "The Shinning", you can never get out of it...

Frequency (pitch) has no altitude associated with it. 

This whole endeavor of singing... has nothing to do with "hitting notes that are high"... it has a LOT to do with learning how to tune, amplify, and shift resonance (formants)... the objective reality of formants is omni-directional, all directions.

Sound waves move in all directions, not up / down / low / high. So stop the madness and get your head on straight. People that can't get out of that perspective of singing are doomed to be lost in a the maze from "The Shinning" forever, trying to "Hit high notes" that were never even there to hit.

 

Fortunately for Danny, he eventually figured that out... and then started singing better... as for his Dad, well... he froze in the maze trying to get out of something that there was no exit for.

 

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I think the main problem when talking about voice types is that people start to think in terms of pitches instead of sounds. To me voice types are like basses, cellos, violins etc. You can perfectly play a violin melody on a cello for example, it will just sound different. Maybe there are some notes in the extreme ends that you cannot play on all those instruments, but the general range of each instrument is so large that it does not really matter in application.

Then there is this thing called tessitura, which is a range of pitches, but it is not the range of pitches that can be played, it is the range of pitches where the instrument sounds most pleasant to the ear and where it has the most expression and is easiest to be played. This is quite similar to how it gets harder to play a guitar when you only play on the very high frets. The strings will get stiff played on higher frets which limits the space for expression of dynamics and rules out some techniques (bending etc. gets harder). Same happens when you sing a lot above your tessitura.

Singing below tessitura is like tuning down a guitar. The further you go down the more undefined it will sound and the looseness of the strings makes the sound muddy and limits the volume that can be used.

That said, both voices don't sound like a soprano instrument to me ;-)

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4 hours ago, benny82 said:

I think the main problem when talking about voice types is that people start to think in terms of pitches instead of sounds. To me voice types are like basses, cellos, violins etc. You can perfectly play a violin melody on a cello for example, it will just sound different. Maybe there are some notes in the extreme ends that you cannot play on all those instruments, but the general range of each instrument is so large that it does not really matter in application.

Then there is this thing called tessitura, which is a range of pitches, but it is not the range of pitches that can be played, it is the range of pitches where the instrument sounds most pleasant to the ear and where it has the most expression and is easiest to be played. This is quite similar to how it gets harder to play a guitar when you only play on the very high frets. The strings will get stiff played on higher frets which limits the space for expression of dynamics and rules out some techniques (bending etc. gets harder). Same happens when you sing a lot above your tessitura.

Singing below tessitura is like tuning down a guitar. The further you go down the more undefined it will sound and the looseness of the strings makes the sound muddy and limits the volume that can be used.

That said, both voices don't sound like a soprano instrument to me ;-)

I agree, but there is a lot of functional variation. Lighter voices can add a bit of warmth/richness or subtract a bit of brightness, and darker voices can add some brightness or subtract some of the lower overtones.

For example contraltos I listen to all use a lighter vocal tract position and tend to be rock/pop/soul style. But in the past, they would often try to maximize the lower overtones in more operatic traditions:

So the voice isn't as stuck in place like a violin or cello. it's kind of like if you have an electric a guitar, you can have a tone knob on the guitar/amp. These tone knobs will never turn a guitar into a bass. But there is a lot of functional variation while the equipment itself remains the same.

Every voice will have unique timbre/resonance possibilities per note.

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Yes, exactly, it is just a very basic comparison. In singing you can vary the size of the istrument within certain limits to make it sound brigther or darker. I think the main factor with voice types in singing is really the length, thickness and elasticity of your strings (vocal folds) and the point where they get too stiff or too loose and lose their flexibility. And I think the real physiological analogy is actually very strong as the effects that typically happen at the upper end of the tessitura (falsetto, flageolet) are often associated with "stiffening" of the vocal folds while the effects that happen in the low end (vocal fry) are associated with the folds being loose and relaxed.

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Just now, benny82 said:

Yes, exactly, it is just a very basic comparison. In singing you can vary the size of the istrument within certain limits to make it sound brigther or darker. I think the main factor with voice types in singing is really the length, thickness and elasticity of your strings (vocal folds) and the point where they get too stiff or too loose and lose their flexibility. 

I think it's good to work with what we have. My higher range can get a bit screechy at times for my tastes, where as someone else might be able to get away with a similar coordination if their voice type was darker. 

But in the modern world Clara Butt may benefit from singing brighter if she wanted to sing more commercially. Contraltos with a super dark coordination don't seem to have much commercial value. I don't think there is any voice type that can't be made to work. Just depends on what you want to do with it.

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1 minute ago, KillerKu said:

I think it's good to work with what we have. My higher range can get a bit screechy at times for my tastes, where as someone else might be able to get away with a similar coordination if their voice type was darker. 

But in the modern world Clara Butt may benefit from singing brighter if she wanted to sing more commercially. Contraltos with a super dark coordination don't seem to have much commercial value. I don't think there is any voice type that can't be made to work. Just depends on what you want to do with it.

Yes, I think there have been studies as how a "medium timbre" seems to be most pleasant to the consumers of commercial music. "medium timbre" for males is in the high baritone/low tenor area. For females it is in the mezzo-soprano/soprano area. Thus, you often see the lower voices lighten up their timbre in commercial music. Just look at a bass like Tim Foust. In the middle and high range you would think he is a boygroup singer instead of a deep, rumbling bass.

But on the contrary you also often hear the lighter sopranos trying to darken their timbre.

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On 15-02-2016 at 5:33 PM, Jens said:

Ive never heard anyone say either Mariah or Whitney was a soprano... Most say they are altos but as neither of them sing in classical style wich uses mainly falsetto/headvoice(tomato/tomato) i dont see the point in classifying them? They are not gonna sing opera anyhow

Yep.

It's also worth noticing that once you realize that classification does not apply to pop singing, its not by changing the term from "fach" to "weight" or "strawberry" that the result will be any different.

The problem is not just of evaluation and context of application, its also lack of the conditions to allow for it (technique training).

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On 2/16/2016 at 4:54 PM, YouCanSingAnything said:

I think people mistake vowel modifications and style for vocal weight. Also... operatic fachs are NOT the same as vocal weight either. A low tenor might choose to sing lyric baritone rep. A leggiero tenor is also a choice in training style more so than it is a real vocal weight, same with a coloratura soprano.

So something you'll hear is "well they execute a lot of really fast runs and a well developed low range, so it must be a coloratura." This tells us nothing about the actual weight of the instrument but only about the singers stylistic preferences. It's an already poor method of determining "fach"/vocal weight. When someone then tries to apply it to contemporary singers the system gets even worse. So that leads to opinions like "voice weight doesn't matter in contemporary." Call me when you hear Justin Bieber covering "Ring of Fire" in Cash's key.

A far better system is to organize singers by weight as many people do on this forum. High soprano, medium soprano, low soprano. Furthermore, vocal weight is a scale. It's not a box. You can sit between high and medium, for example. In the future we will be able to analyze the cord length, tissue density, larynx position, cord composition,  vocal tract shape, etc. and more or less make an objective determination of vocal weight on this same scale regardless of style. Such a scale would have no need for labels like "baritone" or "soprano".. all that is needed (potentially) is a number to indicate your position on the scale.

So anyway. The reason people confuse fach in general is because they mistake style with weight AND they're attempting to apply an archaic, borderline nonsensical hodgepodged  operatic system to contemporary pop singers who engage their voices in radically novel ways. Anything coming from such a perspective is inherently flawed.

And you can sound like one voice type on one song and a different one another song, even if they share the same range.

 

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3 hours ago, YouCanSingAnything said:

yea! The way I see it is it's more of a range of possible sounds you can produce given your physiology. I can reasonably imitate a lower voice, for example. But, in contrast to an actual lower centered voice, my vowels won't be able to modify in the exact same way. The effect of the "imitation" vs. the actual low weighted voice is audible to an observant listener; not better or worse just different.

Yep. I also notice a bit of less flexibility in larynx placement. In classical singing for example we have that "chiaroscouro" thing which needs you to keep the larynx quite stable between low and high range. In the highest range it seems to me that lower voices need to go for more chiaro in the sound, which makes them enter "pharyngeal voice" earlier, while the higher voices can stay darker on top (in relation to their "medium" position). If a low voice stays dark up their it will often end up in falsetto.

In the low range it is the other way round. The higher voices have to give up more of their chiaro and lower the larynx stronger which leads to vanishing presence in the voice and lacking fold closure.

In contemporary singing those differences are less distinct, especially in the high range, because the higher voices use higher larynx and lots of pharyngeal voice, too. And also the full projection that is needed for classical singing is often not used in contemporary singing, which gives the larynx more freedom to move without losing fold closure

I still think you can often hear in contemporary singing if a voice is specifically low or high (otherwise no one here would be able to say that those 2 girls are no sopranos), but everything is a lot more fuzzy and small differences like high baritones vs. low tenors are almost completely neglectable. I'm especially under the impression that the low range is a better indicator than the high range (because of the heavy use of pharyngeal voice which sounds very similar in a lot of voice types).

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