The Difference Between Range and Tessitura

Range vs Tessitura

When searching to find new songs, singers will often look at the lowest and highest notes, to see if they fall into a range they are comfortable with.

The “range” of a song refers to the tonal distance of notes from the lowest to the highest. However this “measurement” of a song can be somewhat deceptive, as the highest note may happen only once, and very quickly at that.

 

Tessitura

Tessitura refers to where most of the notes lie in a song.

For example: The chorus of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” has a range of G4 to D4, which is just over a half-octave, and is not extremely large. The highest note D4 is at the top of the singer’s transition area and can be daunting for the singer, however, you only hit the note twice in each chorus. If the note is not that strong, the listener may or may not pick up on it.

The tessitura of the chorus centers largely on Bb4, you will sing this note over twenty times on each and every chorus! If this note is not strong the listener will definitely be made aware.

This Bb4 sits right in the middle of the vocal bridge (or where the voice is likely to crack). Its constant repetition makes this song a really hard slog if the singer has not yet learned to balance this area.

In fact, Bb4 can be prone to pulling up chest voice (using too much of the lower register coordination). If this note is sung too heavy, or with too much of the lower voice in it, the singer will fatigue very quickly.

 

Determining Tessitura

This can be a bit trickier than finding the overall range as you need to really look the song over.

This is why it’s handy to be able to at least identify the notes on the staff, and to have a basic knowledge of where vocal bridges occur. This way you’ll be able to analyze music quickly to see where the trouble spots are and to see if the tessitura is particularly difficult.

Basically, you want to find where most of the notes lie within a song. Some songs will have a more balanced, wider tessitura, with the notes being spread more evenly over the range. Other songs will be more focused within a very small part of the range.

Find the basic tessitura of the verse, then the chorus, and the bridge (if there is one) by finding where the notes concentrate.

By seeing where the concentration of the notes lie, you can make a more informed decision on song choice and what you need to work on.

 

Tessitura and Teaching

Knowing the basic tessitura of songs can be very helpful in choosing songs for students.

One example is Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” While this song goes to the C5 (and even the Eb5 for a brief moment) in the chorus, the majority of the song, and therefore the tessitura, sits below the singer’s transition area.

This makes it not necessarily the best choice for a singer who wants to work on their transition.

Knowing the difference between range and tessitura is an important tool for the singer and the voice teacher.