What is a countertenor? | Classical music

What is a countertenor?

Generally speaking, the musical scales are divided between soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, with the soprano scale containing the highest notes and the bass containing the lowest notes. Since men’s voices tend to be naturally lower than women’s, adult male singers are usually in the tenor and bass ranges (although most likely tenor). However, men who are able to manipulate their vocal cords to sing in the higher registers – that is, those above a tenor’s range – are called countertenors.

What scale does a countertenor sing?

Countertenors are, more or less, able to sing the same range of notes as feminine contralto and mezzo-soprano singers. The contralto sits in the alto range and is the lowest range of female voices, while the mezzo-sopranos fall somewhere between the altos and sopranos, not being able to reach the lowest notes of the first range nor the highest notes of the second.

So how do the different ranges compare? Basically, a tenor’s range is from C3 (one octave below middle C) to G4 (G above middle C). The range of a countertenor is approximately G3 to E5, while an alto is from F3 to D5, a mezzo-soprano from A3 to F5, and a soprano from C4 (middle C) to A5.

Top image: Polish countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski by Getty Images

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