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Baritone: Definition & Vocal Range

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  • 0:00 What Is a Baritone?
  • 0:50 A Baritone's Vocal Range
  • 1:49 Baritones in Choral Music
  • 2:54 Types of Operatic Baritones
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emma Riggle

Emma has taught college Music courses and holds a master's degree in Music History and Literature.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the baritone voice type. You'll learn what an average baritone range looks like, and you'll also learn about the wide variety of music written for the baritone voice.

What is a Baritone?

'He's just an average guy.' When I hear someone described that way, I expect to meet a down-to-earth kind of person that anybody could like. In the world of vocal music, the baritone voice is the 'average guy': a nice medium between the highest and lowest male voices.

In vocal music, baritone refers to the medium-range voice category in adult males or to a singer who possesses that voice. The term comes from a Greek word meaning 'deep voice,' and that's just what a baritone has. Baritones sing in a warm, attractive range of notes that's similar to an average adult guy's speaking tones. That might be why baritone is the most common male voice type - if you pull the average guy off the street and ask him to sing, chances are, he'll be a baritone!

A Baritone's Vocal Range

Musicians use the term vocal range to describe the distance between the lowest and highest notes a vocalist can sing. Adult male voices fall into three major categories, each with its own range. The highest common male voice is called the tenor, and the lowest is the bass. Baritone range falls right in the middle of those two.

Each individual baritone has his own unique vocal range: some can sing a little higher or lower than others. However, it's helpful to look at an average baritone vocal range to see how it lies between the tenor and bass categories.

The keyboard in Fig. 1 illustrates the average range of a baritone: about an octave and a half, from low G to E above middle C.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1 Baritone range

For comparison, this keyboard illustrates an average tenor range: from D below middle C to A above middle C.

Fig. 2
Fig. 2 Tenor Range

And here's a keyboard illustrating the lowest male voice, the bass: a range from low D to D above middle C.

Fig. 3
Fig. 3 Bass Range

Baritones in Choral Music

If you've ever sung in a choir, you may have a question at this point. If baritone is the most common male voice, why is choral music usually separated into only four parts: soprano and alto for women, tenor and bass for men? The answer is that choral music doesn't use the terms 'tenor' and 'bass' the same way that vocal soloists do.

In choral music, 'bass' just means the lower male part, and 'tenor' means the higher one. Since most baritones don't have vocal ranges high enough to sing tenor parts, they generally sing bass in choirs. Now you know why community choirs usually have more 'basses' than 'tenors' - it's because most men are baritones!

Sometimes, ensemble music does make special use of the baritone voice. The Barbershop Quartet genre is a great example. Barbershop music is divided into four parts: Tenor, Lead (Melody), Baritone and Bass. Not only is there a baritone part, the lead is often sung by a baritone as well!

Types of Operatic Baritones

In the world of opera, singers spend decades training their voices to reach their unique potential. As a result, there are several subcategories of baritone voices, each with its own color, volume, and characteristic style.

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