How common are "natural" (not falsetto) sopranos?

I’ve sung my whole life. In choirs, in the car, in the shower, at family holiday gatherings, in friends’ living rooms, at my high school graduation, and occasionally on stage and at open mics. I’ve got a tenor to 1st Soprano range. I’ve never met (or been aware of hearing) a natural soprano, and I find it hard to believe that there are many (or any). But…I was a Zoology undergrad and I work for an ISP…not a whole heck of a lot of professional vocalists in my life for much of a sample size.

My girlfriend, on the other hand, is a classically trained pianist and composer. She assures me that there are such creatures as natural sopranos.

I’m willing to consider that perhaps we’re operating with different definitions of “natural”, but we’ve talked about the topic at length, so I doubt that is the case. To clarify, I define a natural soprano as an individual who does not need to flip into their falsetto to reach notes in the soprano range.

I am fully willing to allow that there are folks who can hit higher soprano notes than others, and folks that can transition from their “chest voice” to their “head voice” with such silky smoothness that they put butter to shame…but I remain a skeptic that many (any) people can reach those high notes without lifting their soft pallets.

So what’s the straight dope?

It’s my understanding–remembering my choir director’s information (we were state champs fo 14 years running; she had been in the Met)–that falsetto is a male thing.

I think you’re assuming (it sounds like you’re a guy, honeydewgrrl; clarification on this point might be helpful) that men’s voices and women’s voices work in the same way. It’s my understanding that this is not the case.

In other words, “natural soprano” is the natural state of the soprano.

(Again, this is all IIRC, so I await further clarification and correction from others.)

That’s the difference between a “boy soprano”–who’s not singing falsetto–and a “counter tenor,” who is. They sing in the same range, but the physiology is different.

That’s what was unique about Castrati: men who’d been castrated before puberty and so never underwent a voice change. They were able to sing soprano into adulthood. Almost anyone can sing falstetto, no matter how normal a puberty they endured. Castrato is different in that it was a natural soprano–like a woman–but with the vocal power of a man.

I’m a girl.

My choir instructor used falsetto as a unisex term, but I’ve certainly heard the claim that it only applies to men many times.

“Head voice” was synonymous with falsetto for my instructor, with “chest voice” being the same general voice that you spoke with. My actual speaking voice is somewhat different than the singing with my “chest voice”, but I believe that is due to the more carefully controlled breathing and the moderated flow of air across the vocal chords that comes with singing, not any physical change in the orientation of the throat that accompanies falsetto.

The wikipedia entry seems to acknowledge that woman do have falsetto.

There is definitely a point in my range where I have to adjust my throat in order to sing clearly. I can force my “chest voice” past this point and still reach the notes, but it sounds forced. I can also drop to lower notes in my “head voice”, but it is not nearly as strong of a sound as the same notes sung with my “chest voice”.

I suppose that is a different question/debate of it’s own…whether or not women have a falsetto.

I’m inclined to think that it applies to both sexes, but has a much more pronounced difference in sound in men.

Anecdotal evidence:

My mother is a natural soprano. She was classically trained so her natural bent towards high but full notes sounds quite lovely. Her speaking voice is beautiful too, and she was used on many automated systems recordings in times past. Now that she’s pushing 70, she’s getting a little bit of Old Lady Voice, but once she warms up to sing, all bets are off.

When we were young, she had both me and my brother enrolled in music and singing classes. Bro can sing okay and as I grew up I found I have a fairly rich tenor with a natural high side. Big, hunky man singing up to an F sharp (a bit hard, has to be just the right song for that! But it doesn’t sound forced or falsetto).

Breathing exercises were very important, and stressed by my mother and my own teachers/coaches. With proper breathing and warming up, a trained vocalist can maintain a natural sound thru a fairly broad range.

So, I’m not sure what you mean by no natural high voices.

More discussion on the topic of women and falsetto. No further authoritative clarification though.

My question for your mom, NoClueBoy, would be if (perhaps when she was younger, prior to her training) she ever noticed a being able to “feel” a point of transition in how she opened her throat when she sang on the continuum of low range to high range and back? Did any of her training involve being able to make that transition seamlessly? Or was she ever discouraged from singing in her “chest voice”?

Further refining the ongoing questions of the thread: Does “head voice” = falsetto? Or is falsetto for boys, and “head voice” for girls? Are they describing the same (baring certain anatomical differences) general physical changes to the shape of the throat, such as lifting the soft pallet? Can soprano notes be reached without lifting the soft pallet?

From HYBRID: COUNTERTENORS THEN AND NOW - SOURCE: Elizabeth J. Randell, Opera News (1994)

A more jargon-filled approximation, but one that seems to be in sync with my attempted laymen’s explanations.

I think the root of the debate with my girlfriend is that she is asserting that there are people who can reach the soprano range without having reached the point of conflict in the throat when the musculis vocalis relaxes…I think… :confused:

Hmm. And the Wikipedia, while it acknowledges that some women sing in falsetto, implies that it’s rare. So I think your sense of what your voice is doing is either, A), not really falsetto, or B), possibly rarer than you may think, and not an accurate representation of what other female sopranos do.

The little I remember from my choir days, and the little I know about castrati, leaves me pretty firmly convinced that “head voice” is not the same as falsetto, and that sopranos’ higher range is, indeed, natural. (Natural as opposed to falsetto, not as opposed to unnatural.)

I’ll keep looking for more authoritative sources though.

Not, HDG, that the writer is mostly discussing male voices, and she points out that this technique is not usual for female singers.

So, to answer your initial question, it seems likely that most trained sopranos are “natural” sopranos.

*numbering added by me

(1) Yes

(2) Yes

(3) No

(4) I have either no idea nor any opinion on this part.
I called her a little bit ago and included this discussion in our conversation.

She told me how certain songs she would perform required her to get into a certain frame of mind or perhaps even mood. She had to consciously move her voice into certain ranges. Most usually, tho, this was in the lower limit of her range. I never heard her hit a high note that wasn’t clear and bright. Asking her about that, she replied that she knows what her limit is and never wanted to “shriek” a note.

She is unfamiliar with the thought of female falsetto, but that really doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Only that she knows naught about it. FTR, her training began well over 50 years ago.

Her family was a musical family, several professional artists came from it, various genres. Going back even further, her grandmother was the lead in her church group for most songs/hymns/devotionals/whatevers. Beyond that, I don’t know. So, it would appear she had a bit of an advantage as far as knowing her voice and vocal capabilities from a young age.

“Not”? Sorry, didn’t perview. ***NOTE ***that the writer . . .

Pardon me for barging in, but I don’t know anything about music, so I don’t know what it’s called when a person goes from very very low to stratopheric highs. Could someone who does understand music terminology listen to this song all the way through and tell me what it is she’s doing here? This seemed a good place to ask without starting a new thread. (Btw, this isn’t studio trickery, I’ve seen her perform this song live, and sing both the lows and the highs)

Winter mp3


(end hijack)

Very interesting song and a very interesting voice. I wouldn’t call the highs she reaches “stratospheric”. I can easily reach them, even the brief highest spikes, briefly. It is the lows that are more impressive to me, and her ability to control her voice such that she can go from so low (where she’s using all/most of the length of her vocal chords) then jumping to the top of her range (blowing past the point where the musculis vocalis relaxes) and drastically shortening the length of the area of her vocal chords that she’s actively using.

The juxtaposition of being in the damn basement (for a woman) and then reaching a 2nd/1st soprano note is not something you hear very often.

You can hear that her high notes are a little bit quieter and less forcefull than her lows, but she has a very nice vibrato, and is very pleasant to listen to wherever in her range she is singing.

I’m a girl and I’m a mezzo soprano, but I can get up into the high notes if I need to. There were plenty of natural sopranos in the children’s choir I used to be part of…

To be honest, I’m not sure I understand what the OP is getting at. :confused:

I have yet to meet, or hear (either in person, or on a recording) anyone (male or female) that I know to be able to hit soprano notes without having to…

…lift their soft pallet
…relax their musculis vocalis muscle
…use their falsetto
…use their head voice

…yet I am assured that it is quite common. As a singer who can reach such notes if I consciously “flilp” from my chest voice, I’m merely questioning the terms “natural” and “falsetto” and wondering if there are any studies/proof indicating that there are singers who are able to reach high notes without requiring any muscular alteration of their throat.

Thank you so much for listening and taking the time to answer honeydewgrrl. I’ve always been impressed with her voice and how it can go from very low to very high (and she has several songs where she does that), but not knowning anything about music I never could put into words why, only that it, well, sounds cool. Hearing someone who knows what they’re talking about talk about her voice is enlightening to me. I appreciate it.

I think she reached her very lowest and her very highest live. This is an mp3 of the low, and this is an mp3 of the (by accident, actually) high, if you’re interested. They’re audience recordings, but I’ve always been thankful we were there to capture the moments.

I think it’s taken for granted that nearly ALL sopranos do just that, so I’m not sure how easy it will be to find “proof” of this. People don’t put a lot of energy into proving things that are already taken for granted.

My “honorary granddaughter” is 13, and her voice is beginning to move downward to adult-woman range from her reedy childhood voice. I’d characterize her normal speaking voice as “second soprano range.” But, without training, she has a remarkably good coloratura singing voice.

For kicks, while visiting them I played for her a recording of Minnie Ripperton, she of the five-octave range (“Loving You”). And, for whatever reason went through her crazy little head, she decided to work with that song, and treated me to a rendition of it where she sang along with the recorded Minnie and hit every note perfectly, including not merely the alto parts of the song but also that stratospheric G that makes dogs wince.

And blows up horses. :smiley:

I think this thread pretty much proves that I don’t really “know what I’m talking about”, but you’re welcome anyway. :smiley:

I’ve sung a lot, but I haven’t sung with a lot of people. Every soprano in any high school, college, or community choir I’ve ever been in reached that “certain high point, different for each singer” during warm-up scales. I just have this hunch that there are a lot more “unnatural” sopranos than “natural ones” out there, and that it is training the voice to smoothly transition past that point that has contributed to this “natural” meme (for lack of a better word).