“There's no half-singing in the shower, you're either a rock star or an opera diva.” Josh Groban
If there’s one thing that brings everything together, it’s the arts. At the heart of this world, there’s the opera.
However, if you watch an audition on The X Factor, The Voice, and Britain’s Got Talent, you'll hear examples of a contemporary singing voice rather than operatic voices which are usually defined by their vocal range.
Of course, in terms of musical quality, harmonies, pitch, timbre, and the skill of each musician, traditional music is well ahead of its contemporary counterparts.
When you listen to the whole repertoire of singers like Roberto Alagna or Luciano Pavarotti, you can’t help but want to be able to sing as well as them and push the limits of the human voice. Of course, if you want to become a singer, you’ll need a good voice. No matter what your tessitura - mezzo-soprano, baritone, bass, contralto, countertenor, etc. - there’s nothing stopping you taking to the stage and becoming a singer.
Let’s have a look at some of the different options you have once you’ve started your vocal training with a quality voice teacher.
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Working on Your Voice to Become a Tenor
Do you have the potential to become a tenor and would you like to focus on that? You’ve come to the right place! If you want to learn to sing like a tenor, you'll first have a look at some of the fundamentals.
Musicologists tend to classify the human voice and musical instruments in terms of tessitura. This is the range of notes that either the voice or instrument is capable of naturally performing.
When referring to male singers, the tenor sits at the top of the range with the baritone and bass below it. Only the countertenors (and a few other uncommon tessituras) sing higher notes.
It’s worth mentioning that opera singing and Italian opera in the latter half of the 19th century, in particular, have made tenors the stars of the show.
Thanks to the refining the tenor’s vocal technique in order to make it more appealing to broader audiences, the tenors have become the heroes of some of the greatest operas around the world including here in the UK.
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The vocal technique for these registers slowly evolved from a falsetto - or head voice - during the baroque and classical periods into a chest voice around the beginning of the 1840s. A French performer was the first to deliver a high C from the chest in The Barber of Seville.
That’s exactly what a good voice coach will teach their aspiring tenor: singing more and more notes in a chest voice once they’ve managed to master them using a head voice. This is a long process and takes daily practice. You shouldn’t even consider working on this until you’ve perfectly mastered the lower notes. Without this, an aspiring tenor runs the risk of developing an unstable voice and a tessitura that constantly shifts.
While we haven’t mentioned it, yet, your tessitura is often defined by your innate abilities. While a baritone can dream of becoming a heroic tenor, it’s completely out of the question for a bass. Don’t forget that the tenor actually includes one of the widest ranges of sub-divisions into both lower and higher ranges. Thus, even the most famous tenors cannot be expected to fill every role written for tenors since some of them are written for very specific types of tenors.
If you want to become a tenor, you’ll need to be patient, serious, diligent, and hard-working!
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In terms of male voices, baritones are the middle ground between the low ranges of the bass and the higher ranges of the tenor: if you’re on the middle ground, your future lies as a baritone.
When it comes to opera singing, there are very few pieces that could exist without one or several baritone singers. It’s the fulcrum of a number of works. Verdi, Bizet, and Wagner all made use of heroic baritones to breathe life into the low and middle notes.
This is the most common tessitura for men meaning that there are a number of important and significant melodies that can be written for it. Professionally speaking, this is the type of singer who will find work much easier as long as they’ve got the necessary talent, of course.
On a piano, the range of a baritone is generally between A2 (the second A below middle C) to A4 (the A above middle C). As they get older, tenors tend to slide towards baritone. This makes it very important to be aware of the baritone pieces as early as possible and work on these lower notes as their range will inevitably head towards that of a baritone.
The latter point is actually a baritone’s main goal (in addition to singing perfectly, of course) and they can find help in doing this from either a private singing coach or a teacher in a music school. The icing on the cake is that it’s generally easier to learn to reach deeper notes than higher notes. This means that you’ll be able to make more progress more rapidly.
Of course, practice makes perfect and you can’t expect to make any progress without regular singing exercises. The more you master your exercises, the more likely it’ll be that you’ll be able to become as famous as the star baritones.
How Do You Get a Voice for Opera?
Who’s never once sang in their life? Even those with the worst voice in the world know how to sing in the shower. However, opera is a completely different kettle of fish to your everyday singing.
While most of us can croon a few notes of the nursery rhymes we were sung as children or the latest hit: melody is just one part of singing. Real vocal skill comes from the a set of skills that will make your voice move your audience.
Even the most famous pop singers, while fun to listen to, don’t have anywhere near what it takes to break into the world of opera. Opera singing requires a power that you very rarely find in middle of the road commercial music. Plácido Domingo would probably never take a microphone and sing an everyday pop song.
If you want to sing like such a singer and become a master of vocalisation, you’ll obviously need some training. Having a beautiful voice with the right qualities is obviously an innate gift rather than something you can learn. However, perseverance can make all the difference. You need to warm up as well as train almost every day in order to perfect your singing technique.
Almost every muscle in your body, especially those in and around your mouth, need to be called upon in order to get the right volume and sound quality when you sing. This is a goal that you’ll work towards every minute of every day once you start trying to expand the limits of your tessitura.
Finally, what separates an opera voice from the others are the pieces that it performs. Writing music and operas have a long history spanning centuries and the pieces are incredibly rich. One thing we have to say is that it requires a special kind of introduction, one that you can often only get from renowned singing lessons.
Pavarotti, who only started his musical training properly at the age of 19, was largely self-taught and is uncommon in the world of opera. If you want to break into this world, you’ll need a good vocal coach as well as the steely resolve required to pass the auditions in order to get into prestigious music institutions.
How Can You Sing Mezzo-Soprano
Now that we’ve covered a large part of male singing, let’s move onto female singers who are just as important as their male counterparts in opera.
Female singing voices mirror those of male singers and are divided into several groups from the lowest ranges (alto) to the highest ranges (soprano). Between these two examples, there’s the mezzo-soprano, with the term “mezzo” in Italian meaning “average”. However, not in the sense of mediocrity but rather as being in the middle. There are a number of famous opera singers who fall into this category.
The best mezzo-sopranos are often very versatile and can reach a few semitones beyond either end of their range. You should definitely check out some of the most famous amongst them.
The main ways of working on a mezzo-soprano voice don’t differ very much from the ways you’d work on any other tessitura. Becoming a mezzo-soprano is often the most common choice for women unless they have vocal cords that lend themselves to a particularly high or low voice which would make them a contralto or soprano.
Don’t ever forget that self-confidence can often be the difference between those who persevere and those who give up. Of course, those that never give up are the ones that end up being some of the world’s most famous singers!
Carmen remains one of the most popular roles for mezzo-sopranos. You should definitely learn it off by heart if you’re a mezzo-soprano. It’s also the most popular opera on the planet which means there’s no shortage of roles for Carmen going if you have the voice and are willing to travel!
Learn How to Sing Vibrato
Vibrato is to singing well as Yorkshire puddings are to Sunday lunch, after all. Without it, you’ll never be able to break into the world of opera or be able to make a dent into the competitive world of televised singing competitions. However, don’t lose hope! We’re going to have a look at vibrato and vocal techniques as well as some important approaches to working on your vocal coaching.
Vibrato can be found in choral and solo singing as well as in a variety of different styles of music like jazz, gospel, opera, etc. The key to vibrato is maintaining a regular and sustained frequency to your vibrato. While there are a number of important advantages to mastering vibrato, the main one is adding it to your repertoire of skills and making you more desirable as a singer.
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