Tenor vs Baritone (Differences, Types & Famous Examples)

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  • What are voice types?
  • How do I know if I’m a tenor or a baritone?
  • Which famous singers were baritones and which were tenors?

Put simply, the human voice has a range of pitches it can access most effectively.

Ranges vary from singer to singer, but common vocal ranges are separated into different common voice types.

Two of these voice parts, tenor and baritone, share some overlap in range, with the high notes of baritone voices being the low notes of tenor voices.

That said, the easiest way to determine if you are a tenor or baritone is to measure your highest note and your lowest note in a series of warmup exercises.

These notes define your range, and if your range is closest to that of the baritone, meaning it extends below the range of the tenor part, then you are likely either a baritone or bass.

Alternatively, if your range extends above the baritone into the range of the tenor, then likely you are a tenor. Really, there is a bit more to it than that, so if you still have questions, read on!

Voice Types

You are a singer. Really, just about everyone has the capacity to be a singer, but you are in the process of discovering your voice.

Maybe you have been singing for years but you have never needed to know what voice part you sing.

You are faced with the question, however, any time you sing along with the music on the radio or on a streaming platform and you find that part of the tune occurs in a part of your voice that gets uncomfortable.

Either you strain to reach notes that get too high or your voice weakens and disappears into the lower reaches of pitch. This is your voice reminding you that you have a range.

The range of pitches that a voice can comfortably reach is used to separate voices into four main voice parts. From lowest to highest, these include bass, tenor, alto, and soprano.

Bass and tenor are often described as the “male voice types” while alto and soprano are often described as the “female voices” but this is something of an over-simplification and is less descriptive than simply referring to the voice parts themselves.

There is some overlap between the voice parts, and there are other voice parts that occur between these main voice parts.

The baritone range is slightly higher than the bass range (the lowest singing range), placing it in between the bass and the tenor ranges. Likewise, the mezzo-soprano range is between the alto and the soprano range.

Part of the reason “male” and “female” voices do not make that much sense is the fact that there is quite a lot of overlap between voice parts.

The countertenor range, for example, extends into that of the alto or even mezzo-soprano. Specialized countertenors known as sopranists sing in the soprano range, using a well-developed falsetto, or head-voice, to sing octaves above the range of their chest voice.

The contralto, on the other hand, sings in a range that overlaps quite a lot with the tenor, though the sounds of the voices will generally differ in timbre.

How Do I Know If I’m A Tenor Or Baritone?

The tenor range typically extends from B2 to G4, the baritone from G2 to E4, and the bass range from E2 to C4. Any of these ranges can extend further in either direction.

While the quick and simple method shared at the top of this article will prove effective for most people, there is some potential for error.

Essentially, the human voice has two ranges: one is the true range of the voice while the other is its tessitura.

The tessitura is the part of your voice that you can access most comfortably, whereas the true range, for an untrained singer, is something more aspirational.

The difference in these two voices results from the fact that the voice is the result of muscles that can be trained.

For a singer with years of training, the tessitura grows to encompass the singer’s full true ranger.

For beginners, though, it may prove difficult to access much range beyond the tessitura, or even to know that the range extends beyond the tessitura at all.

If your tessitura occurs in the overlap between the baritone range and the tenor range then it could pose especially problematic for identifying your voice part.

This may be the origin of the myth that baritones are lazy tenors. While some baritones might also be lazy, there is nothing structurally about the differences in the voices that would indicate any causality.

For that reason, the only definitive way to answer the question, “am I a tenor or a baritone?” is to work with a specialist who can help you to unlock your true range.

Which Famous Singers Were Baritones?

Perhaps you’ve already gotten a start in measuring your voice against those of some well-known singers. The following are some prominent baritones you might recognize.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was a legendary singer whose contributions to mid-century American music cannot be overstated. His voice is iconic and it’s relatively low to feature so prominently in popular music.

Over the course of his career, his tessitura deepened, as often happens in aging voices, yet music spanning his entire decades-long career remains prominent even today.

For more on Sinatra, see What Genre Is Frank Sinatra’s Music? (It’s Not Just Jazz).

Bing Crosby

Like Sinatra, though pre-dating him by a couple of decades, Bing Crosby had an illustrious career in music and film.

While a lot of singers of his generation focused on the higher ends of their voices, he was not afraid to let his baritone range come through. Louis Armstrong, another baritone, once said of his voice it was like “gold being poured out of a cup.”

Elvis Presley

Elvis was somewhat unique in that he had a strong tessitura from D-flat2 to D-flat3, right in the sweet spot for delivering the soulful rhythm & blues lines that formed the core of the music with which he first rose to prominence.

That said, he had access to a powerful upward expansion in his head-voice that got into the upper reaches of the tenor range. The flexibility of his voice might have been one of Elvis’s strongest assets as a musician.

Johnny Cash

While Elvis sang with a baritone voice featuring some prominent tenor characteristics, Johnny Cash’s deep, gravelly voice is clearly a bass-baritone.

If you can sing comfortably in Cash’s range, then chances are you are tending towards the baritone voice type.

Which Famous Singers Were/Are Tenors?

Probably most of the male vocalists you hear are either tenors or baritones who have worked hard to develop their tenor range.

Freddie Mercury, for example, was likely a baritone, based on his speaking voice and the strength he brought to notes from the low end of the tenor range.

That said, his extremely developed upper range allowed him to sing comfortably in a wide tessitura that extended well into the tenor range.

Justin Bieber

Early Bieber is, of course, in the range of a boy soprano (what the British would call a boy treble). His vocal lines post voice change have, predictably, deepened.

Some might point to the lower notes he has hit in recordings as evidence that he has settled into a baritone voice, but others might point to the airy quality of these notes as evidence that his effective range is that of a tenor.

If you, similarly have trouble with pitches below B2, especially after some vocal coaching, you are likely also a tenor.

The Three Tenors

It should come as no surprise that The Three Tenors–José Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti– are/were tenors.

This trio of opera performers first appeared together in 1990 and took the music world by storm, performing around the world and producing the then-worldwide-best selling classical disc of all time.

If you can get your hands on a copy of the 1990 concert album and keep up with the range of The Three Tenors, you might very well be a tenor.

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s iconic, powerful chest voice is seated in the tenor range, and his falsetto extends upwards from there.

Like in the case of Justin Bieber, he was singing in the boy soprano range as a part of the Jackson Five.

When he released his first solo single, Got to Be There, he was only thirteen, and his voice still comes through in the soprano range, suggesting his voice is still pre-pubescent at the time of recording.

Though deeper vocal parts do very rarely come through in MJ’s body of work, there is a great deal of debate over where his natural, untrained voice actually sat, but for the most part, if your singing voice sits where MJ’s does, you are likely a tenor.

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake, formerly of NSYNC and today a ten-time Grammy winner and one of the top-selling musical artists of all time, is a lyrical tenor with very easy access to his falsetto.

This gives him over three octaves in range. If you can keep up with some of Justin Timberlake’s recordings, then chances are you are firmly in the tenor camp.

Summing Up

Hopefully, this article has given you an idea of where to start in your journey of the singer’s self-realization.

Determining range is one of the first steps, but, as previously mentioned, it can be tricky to name a voice definitively without the guidance of an expert.

The most important thing is to be careful with your voice as you begin to work on it because it is a muscular system and these can be injured if we’re not careful. With that, good luck and h