Recently, we looked at what a light voice sounds like. I promised we’d look at what heavier voices sound like, and that’s what today’s article is about.
More particularly, I want to talk about what heavy voices sound like, but also what heavy voices do NOT sound like.
With the clips in the light voice article, the differences are very overt as they lie at one extreme. With weightier voices, these differences can be less obvious to hear. In the following clips I’m not trying to claim these are the weightiest possible voices in the world, but to highlight qualities and characteristics that emerge as we move along the spectrum from lighter voices to weightier voices.
The weightier the voice, the more of these characteristics appear. Similarly, the lighter the voice becomes, the more these traits disappear and the characteristics you hear in the lighter voice article appear.
Once you grasp the extremes, the in-between stuff should be easier to grasp, or at least appreciate where these differences may lie. Now, on to our singers…
1. Tim Storms
This gent holds the Guinness World Record for the lowest sung vocal note (it’s lower than the lowest note of a piano). Here’s an example of his singing:
And here is an example of his speaking voice:
Two things I want you to note:
1) The richness at the bottom end in his singing – There are many men who can get very low in their voices. There are many women that can go very low also. But range alone does not tell the whole story. Listen to just how thick and rich the bottom end is for him down there, he’s not just able to force his voice down there, that’s actually where it comes alive.
2) It’s not as obvious in his speaking voice – Lighter voices can sound very obviously light to the ear, per our recent article on this. But heavier voices sound a bit more normal, so it’s not always as easy to spot. You have to listen carefully to the extra bottom end that’s present in the voice, the extra richness that pops out on the lowest ebb of the voice.
Which leads us neatly onto our second example…
2. Gerald Finley
Now this is an operatic baritone. His voice is nowhere near as heavy as Tim Storms, but it is certainly on the heavier side of things. That said, if I hadn’t alluded to this initially, would you necessarily hear the weight in his voice from this clip?
And yet, just like Tim Storms, that same low end ebb kicks in on the lower part of his range in this sung clip. Whereas many may be able to achieve the very lowest notes of this passage, the richness in the voice and the ease of timbre down there is what distinguishes Finley as having a weightier and heavier voice than the average singer.
So now we’ve talked a bit about what makes a heavier voice, let’s look at what DOESN’T constitute a weightier voice with a fairly mainstream example:
3. NOT Adele
Here’s a bootleg from Hyde Park this month:
Have a listen from the start to the singing, and the weight in her voice. But about 40 seconds in, she motions to someone offstage and speaks over the microphone (something about some people being really far back). Listen to the weight in her voice. Notice how it is maybe slightly heavier than average, but it actually sits relatively high. While we have mostly been talking about male examples (as they make the differences much easier to hear), you can hear her voice has none of the hallmarks of a truly heavy voice.
Adele is now in her 30s so it won’t be as light as in her 20s, and she’s also had at least one vocal haemorrhage (bleeding of the vocal folds caused by vocal abuse and excessive force of singing). Such damage tends to make the voice sound lower and deeper than it is actually built to be. This is similar to what you hear with people who have smoked most of their lives, or teachers who have spoken too loud for most of their career – prolonged damage builds up to affect the instrument.
My point is, maybe it’s a little heavier than it once was, but this is far from being a weighty voice in the way we’ve discussed above. So why do so many people think she has a heavier voice?
What heavy voices do NOT sound like
I’m not bringing this up to focus on Adele per se or to be negative, but to use this clip as an example to highlight how most people mistake sheer volume for vocal weight. They also mistake range (or believed range limitations) as a definitive line on what makes a singer one voice type of another. I’ve met people who insist they are contraltos (the lowest and truly weighty female voice type), but you can tell from their speaking voice that their voices are fairly middle of the road weight-wise.
Consider: people with lighter voices can generally identify their voice is light, but anything other than this end of the bell curve tends to cause confusion for people. The lightest voices find they can get to high notes but can’t hit them very powerfully to begin with, whereas basically every other voice finds they can give it some welly when they need to but don’t find the high notes quite so easy (to varying degrees).
So what conclusions do the majority of such singers reach?
“I must be a weightier voice because I can sit into it more, and I hear how ‘weighty’ that sounds“… when in reality, they’re just hitting the notes harder, and mistaking volume (and lack of present facility to hit high notes) as having a ‘weighty’ voice.
Singers who sing with too little intensity for their instrument/calibration, can often find themselves thinking they must be light voiced for similar reasons. The current untrained state begets a false sense of understanding around their voice. But that’s a topic for another day.
Listen to someone’s speaking voice AND singing voice. Try to listen to the low, middle and high part of the frequencies their voice has when they speak. Listen to the ease with which they produce different pitches, rather than just the pitches themselves. And don’t be fooled by volume. Sometimes lighter voices hit their voices very hard to make them sound bigger, and heavier voices sometimes dial things back to not over-do their power.
Please do revisit the discussion on lighter voices we had previously, and through doing so, you should have some idea of the extremes of vocal weight and range.