An opera singer singing with his hands up Vocal Health

Where Does Your Voice Naturally Shine?

In the wonderful world of voice, there is such a thing as a vocal comfort zone.

Classically trained vocalists understand this to be the optimal collection of notes falling within their tessitura, an Italian term that describes a singer’s most comfortable, full and resonant vocal range.

While singers and voice actors are certainly not limited to pitches within their tessitura, one can tell at times when an artist has gone outside the boundaries of his or her tessitura.

Have you explored the outer limits of your vocal comfort zone? Be sure to comment with the results (be they favorable or not!) in today’s Vox Daily.

Bel Canto

A couple weeks ago, I went to a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Ernani, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Having been to Lincoln Center years ago as a stop on a tour, you can only imagine my delight at returning to this place and staying for an entire evening.

The main attraction, other than the beauty of masterful storytelling, was Placido Domingo. You might remember him as one of The Three Tenors, a trio that performed around the world whose members included Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti. Domingo, age 74, can still pull out all the stops on stage. From my vantage point, storeys above the orchestra pit, I could tell it was him, but more so by voice than by sight. His adoring fans came out in droves to see him and he played well to the audience, gracing the opera house as only a luminary of his stature could.

Domingo, though a tenor for the vast majority of his long celebrated career, has recently explored baritone repertoire, and in this case, taking on the role of Silva in Ernani. The four-act opera took place in Spain during the year 1519. Old Silva, a baritone, had many songs in which his voice played a starring role.

Domingo’s performance was great, but his voice shone brightest in the higher notes on the stave that rested nicely within his tessitura. From time to time you could hear that familiar, glorious resonance, sparkling with a glimmer unmatched by the tones in the singer’s lower register.

Honoring Your Range

While this observation may seem centric to the opera world, I assure you, the same applies to all of us whether words are spoken or sung. Sometimes a voice professional’s range might shift.

After all, a woman’s voice doesn’t fully mature until she is in her forties. I happen to know of a tenor though whose vocal range shifted to that of a baritone, and accordingly, he had to learn new repertoire to accommodate this unexpected turn of events. That said, ongoing training and the careful monitoring of your voice, and its range, are always good ideas as is honoring where your voice naturally sits.

Two examples of actors who pushed their voices to the limits are Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The pair loved to dwell in the lower ranges of their voices, unfortunately to the detriment of their instruments years later. You might be familiar with the vocal disorder Muscle Tension Dysphonia, nicknamed the Bogart-Bacall Syndrome. I bring these two to mind because it is far more common for a voice actor or singer to capitalize on the lower range of his or her instrument than its higher range.

Back in our high school vocal class, we were given the opportunity to sing a song of our own choosing. Some girls chose to sing songs that drew upon their lower registers instead of showcasing their natural soprano ranges. These choices surprised our teacher, who found himself at odds with the selections and how they reflected the singers’ instruments.

How About You?

Have you experimented with the extreme highs and lows of your vocal range, or do you choose to stay within your tessitura, your instrument’s comfort zone? How has doing so affected you?

Looking forward to hearing from you!
Take care,

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  • Avatar for Yvonne
    April 7, 2015, 5:29 pm

    As a baby boomer, I definitely hear the shift in my voice. Sometimes I feel like an adolescent boy struggling to land either high or low! I’d be interested in comments about how to safely explore one’s range with out strain. Any thoughts for someone with only an antiquated (high school choir) singing background?

  • Avatar for Vox Daily Reader
    Vox Daily Reader
    April 7, 2015, 10:54 pm

    Great observations! I have been a soloist and vocal instructor for 20 plus years…To my dismay, I experienced a loss of vocal range in the last 5-7 years…I have a definite skip or break now in my voice that I attribute to some vocal damage that must have occured..but I do not know what the cause was. I am just 60 now, and am so grateful for my more recent career as a voice actor. I was able to be trained by Voice Coaches and certified, and feel I can translate my training from singing and teaching into my current career as a vocal coach and voice actor. My parents used to take me to the Lyric Opera in Chicago as a monthly excursion while in Junior High, and that foundation prepared me for the rest of my adult life observing, learning, and teaching voice technique. I love your insightful articles and observations!

  • Avatar for Nancy Curran
    Nancy Curran
    April 8, 2015, 5:38 pm

    After surgery a few years ago my glorious soprano top notes disappeared. I was left with a few notes below middle C and an octave above. I found a respected voice teacher who analyzed my voice and vocal technique and got me back on track with posture and breathing.
    Gradually I’ve been able to add a couple of notes to my range.
    That said, I am quite sure that I will never get the highest part back.
    That’s okay, though, judging from the response to my current voice.
    The goal is to use what is your current range and make the most of it with your technique, and the increased intellect and understanding of the music or prose before you.

  • Avatar for Lauren
    April 15, 2015, 5:31 pm

    Great post! While it is comfortable to stay within your own range, experimenting with different highs and lows of the vocal range is a wonderful idea! Getting outside of your comfort zone can allow for more learning. Thanks for sharing.

  • Avatar for Teddy Ray
    Teddy Ray
    April 30, 2015, 2:16 am

    My speaking voice, where it naturally lands…is low D. I am a low, low bass. however, I love using my head voice and have just gotten to the point where the pesagio/break sounds “even” or natural. What I do not like is vocal fry. it hurts. i never have a need to do that anyway.

  • Avatar for mark grove
    mark grove
    May 1, 2015, 9:23 pm

    Some interesting tips from you Stephanie on where your voice should focus,and why we should always train our voices and even go slightly out of our range voice wise to take it to a higher level.