SATB is a common choral acronym, referring to the make up of a choir. Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone – the four most common types of voice. Each type brings it’s own set of characteristics, such as the warmth of a baritone or the brightness of a soprano. These elements are called timbre. Most men posses traits of the baritone voice, while most women are tend to fit the soprano voice more naturally.
It is a common misconception that these groups are defined by range. The range between a singer’s lowest note and their highest note is only one aspect of a singer and not enough to pigeon-hole them into a single category. Many singers find they possess vocal ranges above or below what is usually thought of as the voice of the group, while others will find that their range doesn’t extend to the boundaries of their vocal group.
SATB groupings are defined by a mixture of range, timbre, the sweet spots where an individuals voice sounds best (known as tessitura) and the points where your voice transitions from head voice, middle voice and chest voice (this is called passaggio) but why does this matter?
As a community choir, it is more important that the individual is able to sing comfortably. This limits strain on a voice still developing, instead of pushing a voice past the point where it is ready. Defining a voice before it’s been trained can lead to a singer trying to push their voice towards that goal, instead of exploring their voice naturally. This can lead to bad habits, as we push our voices in unnatural ways, which create lasting problems and shorten our singing careers. It also can dishearten us, when we’re asked to sing a note outside of our comfortable range that we still believe to be within the “perfect” range of our voice.
SATB grouping is not a fixed thing. As a singer develops they may find that their range expands higher or lower and what may have been thought of as a low baritone is actually a bass voice, an even deeper class of voice, or a higher baritone may end up more comfortable as a tenor. SATB groupings are only truly useful for voices that have fully matured and are pursuing classical arrangements.
Forcing people into these categories also limits what the choir can do. With a more flexible understanding of SATB, people are able to move around the choir to the parts best suited to them. As all our arrangements are composed by our fearless leader Emily, they consider the traits of our voices more uniquely. Instead of focusing on WHAT we can sing, we look at HOW we can sing,