Why do people have different vocal ranges?

The voice of every individual is as unique as one’s fingerprint. While your Alexa might not be able to tell the difference between two people, the human ear is certainly capable of pointing out differences in voices. So what creates these differences and what do the differences mean for our singing?

Firstly, the biggest factor in shaping your voice is your training. A good singing teacher can near enough get anything from a singer with time, dedication and persistence. There’s very little that will stop most people being able to hit a certain note, though there are outliers and some biological limitations that should be seen as gifts rather than limits. Obviously, if someone has a naturally low voice, there’s not much point learning to sing solely high notes, especially when good bass voices are hard to find.

An untrained singer would be lucky to have a single octave range whereas your average singer taught with traditional technique should have about two octaves, with broader ranges certainly possible.

As one stretches the vocal cords, they become more pliable and able to vibrate at different speeds, however you will also develop your mind-muscle memory and build the connection and control needed to precisely manipulate your voice.

The other major factor in determining ones vocal cords is, as mentioned above, genetics. Some of us will naturally be predisposed towards a lower or higher voice. This is due to thicker, longer vocal cords or thinner, shorter cords. Shorter, thinner cords are able to vibrate faster, producing a higher tone.

Gender plays an important role in this genetic component. By the time the average person is an adult, their vocal cords will be between 12.5mm and 17.5mm long if they’re a woman, and between 17mm to 25mm long if they’re a man. This means most female voices will lean towards a slightly higher untrained register than a male voice. Gifted, lucky individuals such as Nina Simone will fall in this crossover range.

However, what’s more important than range is the quality of tone. There’s no sense being able to hit the broadest range of notes if the underlying voice isn’t pleasing to the ear. Trained singers, like our choir members, have developed their voices to bring out the best of their natural quality. The human singing voice is so much more than the number of notes someone can hit, it’s warmth, control, character and so many more qualities.