The Relationship Between Vocal Range and Energy

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Pop SingerYou’ll often hear the word “tessitura” used when talking about a singer’s basic range. In short, your best notes are your tessitura. Every singer hopes for a good wide range within which they can sing, but don’t be overly worried if you find that your range is only an octave or so. Most songs dwell within an octave, with only a few notes that move outside that basic range. In fact, problems can occur with songs that range much beyond a 10th.

You know the signs of a song that’s pitched too far outside your tessitura: pitched too low, a singer’s voice sounds airy and unsupported. Pitched too high, it can sound strained and risks “cracking” or “breaking”.

Having said that, a voice that always stays well inside its “safe zone”, in most genres anyway, is missing out on opportunities to be more expressive and emotive.

A voice that strains for the high notes all the time can sound uncomfortable if it goes on too long. But every once in a while, a voice that has to tighten up to get those highest notes can add some much-needed energy and momentum to a song.

So what does this have to do with the songwriting process? It certainly affects key choice: if your song takes advantage of higher notes to generate energy, move the key so that these notes are at or slightly above the tessitura of the intended singer.

It can also affect the actual melody you’re composing, in a situation such as this: if your chorus melody has one note that is obviously the climactic high point of the melody, you can choose to modify that one note to move it upward, at or slightly beyond the singer’s range. (e.g., the “O Holy Night” effect).

In any case, energetic songs that keep the voice well under its upper tessitura can sound boring to an audience, without them even really knowing why.

Conversely, songs that use contemplative lyrics may be compromised if the range is too high.

In the process of composing music, we’re used to modifying chords, melodies and lyrics. But so often, we forget about the subtle advantages that come from modifying other aspects of songs: tempos, keys, instrumentation, and so on.

So experiment with vocal range by taking your latest song and moving it up or down. Listen to the effect that this has on your voice as you try it out. And definitely don’t be afraid of singing beyond your normal range. You may find that it adds an emotional effect that can’t be generated in any other way.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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