Tenor: The Voice Type of Operatic Heroes

Posted on August 24, 2022

Based on the vocal ranges of singers, they can be divided into different voice types. These are further divided into voice types for men and women. One of the common voice types for men is a tenor. But how high and low can a male tenor voice go? We’ll introduce the tenor voice type with some examples of well-known singers with a tenor voice. We’ll also look at some other instances where you might run into the term “tenor.”

What is a tenor?

Tenor is a high male voice, the highest one in the modal register, ranging approximately from C3 to B4. The tenor is positioned between the lower baritone voice and the higher countertenor. The origin of the word “tenor” can be traced back to the Latin word tenere (to hold).

Different tenor voices can be divided into further subtypes depending on the context. In opera, there are multiple overlapping types of tenor voices, such as the lyric, spinto, dramatic, and heldentenor, also known as the heroic tenor. In many operas, the tenor is also the hero and leading role of the story.

Although the main vocalists of many bands in popular music such as pop and rock are categorized as tenors, there tends to be a shortage of tenor voices in choirs. Male tenor voices aren’t particularly rare, but many of those who possess such a voice are more inclined towards popular music genres rather than taking the role of a tenor in a choir.

What are some examples of a tenor voice?

Some well-known tenors in classical music and opera include Andrea Bocelli, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo. Famous male singers with a vocal range of tenor include Freddie Mercury of Queen, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, Bono from U2, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, and Michael Jackson.

Linkin Park
Chester Bennington of Linkin Park is an example of a singer with a tenor voice.

Tenor instruments

The word tenor isn’t used just to refer to a male singing voice but can be found in the name of some instruments as well.

Tenor saxophone

Just like the human voice, saxophones can be classified based on size and pitch. Unlike the male voice type known as tenor, the tenor saxophone can be found somewhere in the mid-range in relation to other instruments in the saxophone family. The tenor sax is also a mid-sized saxophone, making it one of the most common types along with the alto saxophone.

Tenor ukulele

The tenor ukulele refers to a ukulele size right in the middle of the most commonly used ukuleles. Smaller than the concert ukulele but larger than a baritone ukulele, the tenor ukulele size is about 26 inches (or 66cm) long and uses the common GCEA ukulele tuning.

Tenor drum

The tenor drum doesn’t refer to a specific instrument as there is plenty of variety in percussion instruments referred to as tenor drums. For instance, in a large symphony orchestra, the tenor drum creates that low, booming sound many are familiar with. In this context, the large drum is often played with mallets.

The term “tenor drum” may also refer to the type of drums used in a marching band. Unlike the tenor drum of an orchestra, this instrument includes multiple drums that create a higher pitched sound than its orchestral counterpart.

Learn about the tenor, voice types, and other music terminology

Read more about different voice types and other concepts in our complete Musician’s Glossary article full of music-themed terminology.

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