What are some good songs for tenors to sing?

Recently I was attempting a rousing rendition of “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash, when my friend groaned and said, “You’re not a baritone or a bass, you’re a tenor.” I’ve never been a musical person, so this was new to me.

He suggested “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, and I have to say I can truly belt that one out. But I can’t tell if a song is tenor, baritone, whatever…can you guys give me some “tenor” songs? I need something for the shower and karaoke.

A secondary question–what does it mean to be tone deaf? I’m pretty sure I’d qualify…I’ve always had musician friends who could hear a note played and say “oh, that’s a b flat” or “that’s a c”. I feel I don’t have the ability to do that, but can that be a learned thing?

Off to Café Society.

The tenor voice is the highest natural* range of an adult male voice. According to the definition I have in my Encyclopedia of Opera, “it extends about two octaves upward from the C an octave below middle C.” The baritone voice is lower on the scale, “approximately two octaves upward from the A a tenth below middle C.” The bass voice is even lower (the lowest male voice), “ranging two octaves upward from E an octave and a sixth below middle C.”

In other words, tenors have a higher pitch to their voice, while baritones have deep voices, and basses are very, very deep.
I don’t think most pop singers’ voices really fall into these categories, at least not very neatly.

For a proper tenor song, you’re looking at any of the stuff that Placido Domingo and Pavarotti (and Jose Carreras, the “other” famous tenor) sing: “Nessun Dorma,” “Che gelida manina,” “Celeste Aida,” “Vesti la giubba,” etc.

[size=1]* the highest possible male voice is that of the castrato. Since you don’t find too many castrati nowadays, singing roles in operas that were formerly assigned to a castrato are typically sung by a woman, usually an alto-soprano–even though the role is for a male character.

For some more pop stuff, try the Beatles or David Bowie. If you want something more modern, go for Coldplay, Ryan Adams, or the White Stripes. Basically, if you’re not straining for the notes, you should be fine.

As for your second question: the ability to recognize a note that’s being played is part innate ability and part skill. The important thing isn’t whether or not you can name the note, but whether or not you can sing it. The truly tone deaf don’t seem to recognize pitch at all. You can have an entire choir singing around them, and they’re more or less hitting notes at random. The odds are that you’re probably not tone deaf.

Besides, if you were tone deaf, your friend wouldn’t be telling you to try a different song. They’d tell you to stop singing. And to never sing again. Ever.


If it’s comfortable and you’re not straining on either the highs or the lows it’s the right key for you. You don’t have to sing Johnny Cash’s songs in his key (unless you’re singing along with his record). If you have an accompanist he/she should play in a key that suits your range. If they can’t, it’s their problem, not yours.

If by “songs” you mean rock or current pop I don’t know what to suggest. If you’re interested in classical music, you can find sheet music transposed into a comfortable key for you. If standards are your thing, listen to Andy Williams or Mel Torme (both tenors). That’s music in the right range for you. When I sang (long ago) my range was right between baritone and tenor. My accompanist knew “my key,” or more accurately, my range. I sang all of the standards (think Frank Sinatra songs). Aah the days when I wasn’t a geezer!

Sing “be My Love”.
Mario Lanza used to sing that one.


“A Wand’ring Minstrel I.”


A lot of “popular” songs – aka “standards” – are fine for tenors – check out Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc. (Oops, I now see DesertGeezer addressed this issue.) My deity, Fred Astaire, was a tenor.

Anything by Radiohead.
quiltguy154 :smiley:

First mistake - trying to duplicate a song.

It’s music. Make it your own. Sing anything you want, the way you want. It’s all good.

It you can’t actually hit the notes, change the key. But above all, don’t duplicate.

Sing “White Christmas” to a reggae beat. Just listen to the radio, every other song is a remake of an older song but, it’s put to a disco beat or some other contortion.

Invent. Innovate.

Danny Boy.

Tony in West Side Story is a tenor, so you could try “Maria” and “Something’s Coming” in their original keys (E flat for “Maria”, IIRC).


Zardoz, if you haven’t heard the (Harry) Nillsson CD’s, you really ought to check them out. Harry was a brilliant pop singer/songwriter whose material was written for the tenor range. If you can sing in his range, this stuff will give you chills. It will give a baritone a sore throat. Harry, Nillsson Schmillsson, Son of Schmillson are treasures. Harry got into booze in a tragic way. A Touch of Harry In The Night was sadly bad, but had a few good numbers. Harry Nillsson drank himself to death. :frowning: