Classifying singing voices

In European classical music and opera, voices are treated like musical instruments. Composers who write vocal music must have an understanding of the skills, talents, and vocal properties of singers. Voice classification is the process by which human singing voices are evaluated and are thereby designated into voice types. These qualities include but are not limited to: vocal range, vocal weight, vocal tessitura, vocal timbre, and vocal transition points such as breaks and lifts within the voice. Other considerations are physical characteristics, speech level, scientific testing, and vocal registration.[14] The science behind voice classification developed within European classical music has been slow in adapting to more modern forms of singing. Voice classification is often used within opera to associate possible roles with potential voices. There are currently several different systems in use within classical music including: the German Fach system and the choral music system among many others. No system is universally applied or accepted.[10] However, most classical music systems acknowledge seven different major voice categories. Women are typically divided into three groups: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto. Men are usually divided into four groups: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. When considering voices of pre-pubescent children an eighth term, treble, can be applied. Within each of these major categories there are several sub-categories that identify specific vocal qualities like coloratura facility and vocal weight to differentiate b tween voices.[7] It should be noted that within choral music, singers' voices are divided solely on the basis of vocal range. Choral music most commonly divides vocal parts into high and low voices within each sex (SATB, or soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). As a result, the typical choral situation affords many opportunities for misclassification to occur.[7] Since most people have medium voices, they must be assigned to a part that is either too high or too low for them; the mezzo-soprano must sing soprano or alto and the baritone must sing tenor or bass. Either option can present problems for the singer, but for most singers there are fewer dangers in singing too low than in singing too high.[15] Within contemporary forms of music (sometimes referred to as contemporary commercial music), singers are classified by the style of music they sing, such as jazz, pop, blues, soul, country, folk, and rock styles. There is currently no authoritative voice classification system within non-classical music. Attempts have been made to adopt classical voice type terms to other forms of singing but such attempts have been met with controversy.[16] The development of voice categorizations were made with the understanding that the singer would be using classical vocal technique within a specified range using unamplified (no microphones) vocal production. Since contemporary musicians use different vocal techniques, microphones, and are not forced to fit into a specific vocal role, applying such terms as soprano, tenor, baritone, etc. can be misleading or even inaccurate.