In this lesson, you’ll learn about the tenor voice type.
You’ll learn about the average range of the tenor voice and how its range compares to other voice types. You’ll also learn about some of the subcategories of tenor used in operatic literature.
What is a Tenor?
What do Paul McCartney, Hugh Jackman, and Luciano Pavarotti all have in common? Despite the fact that each of these men has sung very different styles of music, they all happen to be tenors! The term tenor can refer to the highest common voice category in adult males, or to a singer who possess that voice type.
The keyboard in Figure 2 illustrates the larger average range of an operatic tenor soloist: two octaves, from C below middle C to C above middle C.
Musicians have spent so much time categorizing various types of voices according to their ranges that you’ll sometimes hear vocal categories used to describe musical instruments as well. For example, saxophones come in many sizes, each with their own range. The saxophone one size higher than the baritone sax is (you guessed it!) the tenor sax.
Types of Operatic Tenors
As you may have guessed from the grouping of Paul McCartney, Hugh Jackman, and Luciano Pavarotti at the beginning of this lesson, a similar range does not mean that all tenor voices sound the same. The world of opera has developed names for many subcategories of tenor voices, depending on the voice’s tone color, volume, and other factors. These categories are used to portray different types of characters in operatic music.For example, the tenor di grazia is a high-range, light-toned type of tenor voice especially well-suited to singing fast musical passages. Italian composer Gioachino Rossini wrote humorous young-leading-man roles for the tenor di grazia voice.
A lyric tenor has an average soloist’s vocal range and a supple voice that specializes in singing flowing melody. Lyric tenors often play romantic leads, like the idealistic poet Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohéme.Another notable subcategory is the Heldentenor, a lower-range, dark, very powerful voice often used for heroic characters, like the knight Tristan in Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde.