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Female tenors

Date: Thu, 1 Oct 1998 07:28:12 -0500
From: (Essie Dub
on September 4, 2002 10:00pm
This was my life for a while. I sang tenor for two years in high school, primarily because I was untrained in my upper range, and my director needed tenors, so he made no move to train me in the proper range. I even sang tenor that year in a regional honor choir, but sang alto -- albeit lightly -- at other honor choirs. I finally started training at the local community college late my senior year, and my teacher discovered that I was a soprano.

I would agree that it's beneficial to explore said female's voice via training first. It's hard getting outside the comfort zone, however -- I remember being very intimidated! If the student argues "I have no strength up there", I usually say, "Well, if I strapped my left arm to my body and took it out once a year, it wouldn't be strong either!" But if, after all that, she truly turns out to be a tenor, I would go ahead and place her in that section.

Heather KinKennon, Adjunct Faculty
Red Rocks Community College
Lakewood, CO
on September 11, 2007 10:00pm
I hated my voice for a long time because I could never sing anything above A above middle C in tune and with a nice tone. Then several years ago I discovered that I could sing a lot lower than I had ever tried, because I thought girls weren't supposed to sing that low, and realized that I actually have a pretty nice voice and can sing in tune - when I sing in my range, not in the range I was 'supposed' to have! As I became more comfortable with my voice, I began to practice more in the upper register and can now sing up to the F an octave + above middle C, though I still prefer the way my voice sounds lower, have better control over dynamics there, and feel more comfortable, free, and expressive singing there - after all, those lower notes are the ones I could sing without having to train my voice to do it. I can sing to the D below middle C without feeling like I'm straining. (I'm 25 btw)

I recently had to insist that the director of the choir I just join let me sing tenor - she listened to me sing for 5 minutes, never asking me to sing a note below the A below middle C, and seemed to conclude that because I can sing the alto notes that means it couldn't possibly be healthy for me to sing tenor parts (I might have been more inclined to defer to her judgement if she had heard me sing more, or at least had listened to my entire range). The alto parts we're doing frequently go to D and sometimes E, which are at the top of my range, while the tenor parts only use low E and below infrequently - hence they are right in the middle of my range, typically from F below middle C to G above middle C. Most of the tenors I'm singing with find the F and G difficult, and I can sing them blending in well with the male voices, while they have no trouble covering the low notes I leave out. To me this makes sense - given this music, I should be singing tenor. (plus, everyone knows tenor parts are more interesting than alto! :P )

The choir director told me that my voice had been 'artifically extended' lower than normal, but I don't understand how this could be so when I haven't sung in choirs since middle school (when I was put with the altos) and haven't done anything artificial on my own to extend my lower range, like smoking or doing exercises to sing lower - is she just ignoring the possibility that I might actually have a healthy tenor range? How can I tell if I'm damaging my voice by singing low? Like I said, it doesn't feel like I'm straining at a D, and when I did try to the C below that it very clearly felt like I was straining (though it does feel fine if I have a cold) - so I stopped trying to sing that low.
on October 21, 2007 10:00pm
Heather KinKennon seems to have it right - singing out of a comfort range SHOULD be taught, and "normal", but so many singers think they should always be comfortable to the point of lacksadaisical. Other ranges will BECOME comfortable if they are taught properly, including adequate and consistent air flow and support. Proper singing requires more than exhalation as in conversation, certainly not cheerleading, more like classical theatre elocution.

Microphones are out of the question altogether.

If such singing is not the habit, sure, some women, and some men, will have very odd ranges. I sing from a bottom-of-Bass clef F or lower to well above a tenor's treble clef ledger-line high C, and never require falsetto. I am a tenor, as is shown by the clear timbre, easy production and tessitura affinity for the top notes. I cannot usually blend with female church tenors, and often can never tell if they are singing, except for the raucous tone when they belt and ruin such pieces as the Faur
on October 26, 2007 10:00pm
Oxford/London based Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi is an all-female ensemble of singers and players which aims to recreate the sound of Vivaldi's Figlie di Choro, the foundling musicians at Venice's Ospedale della Piet
on November 26, 2007 10:00pm
For the past three years I have been thrown around between Alto, Tenor, AND Bass. As a freshman, I am now singing in the Tenor section of the Advanced Choir at my High School. None of my teachers can seem to believe that I can't reach the higher Alto notes. I haven't damaged my voice in anyway, considering I only started singing in my 7th grade choir.Would you consider me to be a natural Tenor, or try to bash that down again? I have just begun to get involved with the debate on female Tenors. If anyone has anymore websites, or information, please email me.
on February 20, 2008 10:00pm
My name is Harmony. I sing in my high school choir as a tenor. As a young girl my middle school chorus teacher told me I had no hope at ever being a good singer because my voice was to "raspy". But as I got into my high school choir, my new teacher put me on the tenor part. I excelled dramatically and soon I was one of the best tenor ones, because I didn't have to switch into head voice to get the higher notes, and I became actually very good. I was asked to sing in a noted out of school choir in an all male group, but I declined. Mind you I am one of 13 tenors in our entire choir of over 100. A lot of the girls would criticize me because they thought I was singing the wrong part. I let them believe I was just tone deaf, because I was afraid of the other consequence of them knowing the truth would be worse, and that i would be considered a freak. I naturally have the entire tenor range voiding the low D. However when I sing Alto I end up losing my voice and getting throat issues. For me I'm a tenor who was forced to be an alto thought out middle school before I found my niche. And for those of you who think I will get noids from my tenor singing,your entitled to your opinion, but for me singing Alto would give me noids. -HARMONY, A FEMALE HIGH SCHOOL TENOR
on March 11, 2008 10:00pm
I'm a 54 yr old woman and I sing baritone/bass. My lowest good note is f below bass staff, but on my 'good' days, I have sang the Eb below that. My top note varies a note or two, but normally is bottom space treble staff F. I CAN NOT sing higher, no matter what I try. I have no falsetto or 'head voice'.
I had bronchitis 2-3 times a year as a child and I smoked for 23 yrs before quitting in 1990. I also have hypo-thyroidism and I attribute my low voice to a combination of the three. However, my mother also had a very low voice, although not as low as mine.
I am presently singing with the Somerset Community College Vocal Ensemble in Somerset, KY. We leave March 24th for Italy and are participating in the 'International Days of Choir' in Verona. We are doing, as a non competition peice, the Kyrie from 'Mass in Gm' by RV Williams and I have the bass soli part. (I might mention that there are FOUR guys who sing bass in this group too!!)
I did not choose to have this low, voice but I have to work with what the good Lord gave me!
on April 9, 2008 10:00pm
I'm a high school freshman. I had never realized before that not being able to sing half the alto part was unusual. I thought that was what all the other altos did. I was surprised to find out that I could sing MUCH better when I went lower. Then when my choir director offered another girl the position of tenor, I asked her what the normal alto range was (my school does not have many altos so I really wasn't sure of this, strange as it may seem) and I found out that I could be a tenor. It hurts my voice going more than the F right above the bottom of the staff in the treble clef. I still don't know how low I can go... I have never done any of the "unnatural" things that I have heard women do and get a low voice from. My mother had a naturally low voice as well, but in her case, the choir kicked her out for having that low of a voice (it was an all-female choir in her school). I guess I inherited it and I sure am happy with what I have, even if it gives me a low speaking voice as well. The only thing that I see is a bad effect of this is that the alto section is much smaller now. (Two altos going off to be tenors, one alto going of to be a soprano, and two more altos graduating)
on April 27, 2008 10:00pm
I've always had a low voice, and was very embrassed about it. When I joined a church choir, I tried the alto section, but it was much too high for me, so I became a tenor. I do very well when I can follow someone else, as I don't learn the music as fast as the others do. My problem was when the few tenors we had didn't show up for practice or on Sunday morning. We didn't have enough time to learn all our parts so I could sing confidently on my own. I thought it was interesting to read all the technical stuff about what makes a voice a voice, and how to train it to respond. But I think the problem for most of us church singers, is that we don't have the interest, time, talent, or whatever to have all this great teaching to increase our range so we can sing like real "women"! So we have to do what we can, so I don't mind singing tenor, because it's easy for me, and I can reach alot of the higher notes in that range easier than the men, and I leave out alot of the really low notes. I hate it when choir directors will say men or women when teaching parts! I find it offensive, though I do try to make jokes about it, like whispering to a fellow tenor, "now am I a man or a woman"! I know it's unnatural for a women to sing tenor, but what can I do. I'm very tall, and I would assume that would make my voice deeper. Maybe choir directors who are dealing with amature singers should lighten up, and just let us enjoy ourselves. If there is a woman tenor or bass in the group, the director could be more sensitive to that and try to leave out the men women thing. I cring when I hear them say men, because I certainly didn't choose to have this voice, or this height, like the other woman said, I have to work with what the good Lord have me!
on July 24, 2008 10:00pm
I came across this site and read with great interest the articles on female tenor/bass vocalists. I had placed a search in google and up this came. I have sung all my life (also playing trumpet) and have sung as a soloist in many choirs (clssical,romantic, cantata, and one that sang folk songs from around the world) at university I had to sing some things I disliked to sing (although I loved to listen to them). Having been in internal conflict all my life I transitioned to the female role (being transsexual) leading to full gender reasignment. This caused me to stop singing, not because I could not (female hormones do not affect the vocal chords)but owing to my feeling uncomfortable singing 'Basso Profundo' in a skirt or even in trousers. This has caused me considerable anguish and many have been asking me to sing inspite of my now legal staus as a female. Some of my lady frinds ahve said that they believed there have been female basses and even basso profundo. I have found this ard to believe and would like to find out if this is infact true. I continue to play trumpet however it was for my vopice that p[eople wanted my service in choirs and in showcases. I still sing in private but do miss performing music for the pleasure of others, even my old lecturers in the music dept at university still say it is a loss and a waste of a voice. What do others think? I would value any input.

Yours gratfuly
Sally Kay Moat (
Kent GB
on August 4, 2008 10:00pm
I'm entering my junior year in high school and I sang soprano one until I was twelve or thirteen, at which point my voice changed dramatically [yes, I'm biologically female, and yes, our voices change too--just not as noticably as boys usually] and I began singing alto two.

After freshman year, I went to a choral camp, where I was allowed to sing tenor, along with two other girls--a graduating senior and a woman entering her sophomore or junior year of college. I found it to be immensely more comfortable for my voice and requested placement in the tenor section when I went back to school.

My director told me that she didn't want me to injure my voice, as we don't have enough boys to divide tenor and bass for most of the songs we perform. However, she allowed me to sing tenor when we split groups, and I excelled at it. It's just so much more comfortable for me.

Also, I sang with several school-sponsored regional groups--as a tenor. I was rarely the only girl. As a matter of fact, I sang tenor at CARNEGIE HALL with five other girls. Our conductor was shocked at first, needless to say, but allowed us to sing. Turns out we lead the section in the highest parts where some of the boys couldn't hit!

I returned to the camp this summer and again sang tenor, though I was the only girl in the section. I actually befriended one boy from the camp and he told me recently that until I told him, he had thought I was a boy, just from the quality of my singing.

This year in school, I will be joining an audition-only all-female group within the school, so I will most likely be singing second alto [female tenor to me just means I'm a REAL alto] but that is up for debate.

I have a range, on a good day, of Bb2-C#6, and a tessitura of Eb3-G#5. My breaks are D3 [chest to deep chest], C5 [chest to head], and approximately A5 [head to whistle range].
on December 1, 2008 10:00pm
"young singers must be
encouraged to sing in the "normal" female ranges." Must I be forced to sing a part that strains my voice? I was born with a lower voice than most girls. In seventh grade I joined my middle school choir, and I fell in love with singing. Having never been able to read music, I finally felt that I could live up to my name. Over the next four years I learned to control my voice, and finally found a voice part that did not strain my voice. This voice part was tenor one. Although I still found the top notes difficult, my throat didn
on January 4, 2009 10:00pm
Speaking as a female tenor (actually, the very top note of tenor are too high for me, so I sing tenor second.) My normal range extends low enough that I could sing bass, with the F just below the bass clef, the E on a good day. Never did exercises to get a lower voice, don't smoke or anything, am 16 years old. That E near the middle of the bass clef? That's where I normally talk. I, too, am one of those "rare individuals". Are we that rare? I'm starting to wonder. I'm in my high school chorus and tenor bass choir. No one cares.
on March 4, 2009 10:00pm
This is a sticky subject, to be sure. I feel that any voice should be extending beyond its comfort zone, but not to the point of strain, pain, or anything of the sort. I feel that a female voice should be finding and engaging the head voice and working it into their "comfortable" voice. In the same way, I feel that basses and baritones should be encouraged to mix their head voice into their singing voice for an easier production and better overall section sound. While the center (the natural, comfortable point where speech occurs) of a voice will vary greatly, training your voice to engage the proper breath and the necessary muscles will also help a singer work toward a richer sound.

This is all just opinion... in no way do I claim to be totally correct!