I've been procrastinating like a mad thing, so I've been playing with this. It's an online guitar tuner, sort of. You make a noise into the computer, and it attempts to tell you what pitch it is. I have a couple of friends who do this, mostly as a party trick, but both of them have had extensive training in both making music and thinking about it. I'm lousy at it. I tried to teach myself guitar once, and it was an unmitigated disaster in every respect -- I have weird synaesthesias, and one of them is that higher pitches should be closer to the top of my head, which is exactly backwards for guitars -- except for the tuning part.

I cannot match waveforms that are unalike. That looks rather stupid now that I type it, but I don't know any better way to characterize it. I can tune guitars to other guitars or to violins and pianos, and hell probably to banjos or harps if I tried, because they're all vibrating strings. The sine waves given off by piezoelectric tuners don't sound a goddamn thing like a guitar to me, and I couldn't match the pitch of the string to the feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee noise. But -- and this is one of the things that made me conclude that I had a half-assed phonographic memory in addition to the half-assed photographic one -- I could match the guitar to a guitar in my head. If someone had just told me that the standard tuning is to the first few bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra, that would have gone a lot easier.

One of the above-mentioned musical friends also once told me I probably had perfect pitch but lacked basically all of the standard pedagogical framework surrounding music and thus all of the standard ways to explain that. We were both three sheets to the wind by that point and we were talking in between rounds of Hey, Will The Rats Eat That? (yes, and if you give them an entire tortilla, they will also nap on it), so I have no idea how accurate an idea that would be in the sober light of day. I do hear pretty much the whole backing when I have a song running through my head, rather than just a suggestion of the path of the vocal. It's irritating at times, particularly if I'm entertaining myself a capella, because it's difficult if not impossible to just fast-forward through a musical bridge to the part where I can start singing again.

I lack both a piano and any skill at playing one, and the last time I was in a formal choir I was 12. As far as I'm concerned, my singing range is, "I dunno, a lot?" Junior high choir aside, all of my musical training has been in the form of annoying the neighbors by singing with the radio. (Well, with Winamp. Radio is crap these days.) It is one of those things where I've always been told, "you're very good at that," but nobody ever quantifies or elaborates, so other than concluding that nobody is going to think I'm strangling cats in the shower, I really don't have any clue. I had a ten-year-old once tell me I should be on American Idol, which was very well meant, but grade-schoolers are not really known for being discerning musical judges. As usual, I know what I can do, and I have no idea how this stacks up against other people.

Technology has finally progressed far enough that I can sing at the damn computer and have the thing tell me what noise I am making. The tuner is a little pernickety; despite what the text says, it does get distracted by the occasional random off-mic noise. I only have a very sketchy idea of how "far apart" notes are, but I know that I cannot possibly be hitting things like A2 or E7. There's also just enough lag to be irritating, and its smoothing function doesn't necessarily handle melisma very well. Although if it's accurate-ish aside from being annoyingly behind, this is partly because I nicked my vibrato from Gackt, and am jumping entire octaves when I wibble on purpose.

Preliminary experimentation shows that I can consistently hit A3 to about C♯ or D6, in the context of the completely random pop music I have handy right now. a-ha's "Take On Me" goes from something like A3 to E5, which is easy enough. Things in the sixth octave have to be in an open operatic voice or they strangle and die. I cannot quite hit top E. I can get E♭6 with a lot of run up and at top volume only, but I sound patchy. The comfortable resonant frequency of my head, if anyone is curious, appears to be right around G4.

I had to go look up what the various singing ranges were. No one's ever bothered to run it down for me -- inevitably I'm just told to go stand with the contraltos, although I'm aware that I can generally handle numbers in musical theater that are meant for male tenors. My first thought was: They're that narrow? Which was essentially the same thing I thought that one day when I went and looked up what ranges were considered an above-average, gifted, or genius IQ.

I cover four fächer, tenor through soprano. From about 220-1245Hz. Huh.

I have no idea how usual it is for people to be able to sing in more than one fach. I would think it's not all that unusual, but I have a consistently crap idea of the capacity of the average human. Two octaves doesn't feel like stretching to me.

[Edit to clarify: I can hit notes outside of the range I gave, but I'm way out of practice and I sound horrid. When I've been singing on the regular, don't have to worry about my volume, and have a good head start, I can just barely get all of "Music of the Night". Or "Magic To Do" from Pippin, for which I auditioned in high school, on account of we were short of tenor guys for Leading Player.]


  1. One day, as a young voice student, I asked my dad what is the difference between tenors and baritones and basses if they can hit all the same notes, and he said that it's because the voices sound different on the different ranges (which is probably what my teacher meant when she talked about timbre and tessitura and all of that). His example was the song Ol Man River, which is a bass solo, and my dad's a tenor, so him singing along with a recording really clarified for me that yes, he can hit all of those notes and no, it doesn't sound nearly as vibrant or awesome as the other guy, which is why the other guy is a bass and dad's a tenor (his voice is vibrant and awesome sounding in the tenor range).

    So you probably do have a Fach based on what your voice sounds like across the whole of your range. Not that that is terribly relevant to procrastinating unless you need help picking songs to best showcase your voice? (also, in my experience groups of singers tend to be woefully understaffed in terms of women who can make themselves heard in the lower ranges, so I'm not surprised at all that you get shoved towards wherever the contraltos stand)

    1. The notes I find easiest/most fun to hit are G3-G5. They resonate best in my head, is the only way I can think to put it. Above that I can only make them suitably loud if I open out into an operatic style, which is inappropriate for some kinds of music. I have no idea what I sound like in open air, because quite frankly I hate my recorded voice in the same way I hate pictures of me -- I'm sure I come out fine, but I don't always come out in a way that matches how I perceive myself from inside, and it's jarring and usually very frustrating. I hate looking through proofs when I do modeling, and the only way to do it when the photographer insists is to depersonalize and see them as a collection of interesting art shapes, rather than as myself. Art photos are often intentionally set up to make the model look different than she normally does, but it's much more difficult with singing, where singers are expected to always have their own characteristic sound.


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