Mitchell Morris and Raymond Knapp

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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The article discusses the basis of vocal production in the human body and explains the accepted typologies regarding voices and styles. The human vocal apparatus is a complex system involving a number of muscles and organs. The components of the oral cavity take the sound generated in the larynx and shape it in an astonishing variety of ways. The most important features of the oral cavity are the palate or roof of the mouth, the tongue, the teeth, and the lips and the nasal cavity plays a substantial role in managing sound production as well. Singing depends upon using the vocal apparatus to create sustained pitches, more or less stable frequencies. The vocal type refers to the combination of characteristic range and timbre of an individual voice. Male singers are named by the vocal type bass, baritone, and tenor, in order of ascending range and the female equivalents are alto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano. The baritone type is considered the most common type of male voice, and this is true for much of the repertory of musicals. The standard complement of female voices parallels that of the male voices. The mezzo-soprano is roughly equivalent to the male baritone and is probably the most common female voice type. Its characteristic range is A3/a-A5/a'. The term register refers to vocal range, the characteristic feeling of resonance in a specific section of the upper body, a timbre, or a given segment of a singer's range defined by the location of vocal “breaks”.

Keywords: singing; bass; baritone; tenor; female voices; male voices; vocal breaks

Article.  7439 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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