Finding your voice type: What the fach?
One thing that is unique about the human voice versus instruments is the fact that no two sound exactly the same. Instruments are manufactured to sound as similar as possible, whereas you can distinguish an individual’s voice as they pick up the phone. However, there are categories that can help us think about the way we see our voices. Some people are better at singing low, and some people are better at singing high. Some people are really loud (me) and some people are softer.
The typing goes as follows from low to high. Men: bass, baritone, tenor, countertenor (rare). Women: contralto (rare), mezzo soprano, and soprano. Attached is a video by the Metropolitan opera that really helps to distinguish between the types of singers. The fach system is something used primarily for opera, and it takes things a step further. It adds qualifiers to these base types such as a character singer (bright voice), a coloratura (sings quick notes), a lyric (sings lyrical melodies) or a dramatic (sings big and loud).
Taking private lessons helped me find my fach, and find my place as a performer. As a child brought up in choirs, I was often told to blend, quiet my voice, and take out vibrato. I didn’t receive big roles in the shows I did. I hadn’t been exposed to opera, and saw women in tv musicals who where smaller with a different voice type than mine. I wasn’t sure how I fit as a performer.
Working with a teacher (who understood the fach system) helped me realize what my strengths were as a singer, and where I fit on the stage. I am a more dramatic singer, my skills are singing long and loud. There are different songs for me than other sopranos who sing faster and quieter.
Additionally, what people often forget is that our physical body is our instrument. Some parts of the way are body is physically formed makes up the way that we sound. A trumpet and a clarinet can play the same note. But do we expect them to sound different? Yes. Why? Because they are formed differently.
Our bodies are our instruments. Our skull, cheekbones, sinuses, neck, lungs, and abdomen all play a role, and that’s just to name a few. And everyone has a different body, and a different voice.
It took me a hot minute to embrace mine. As a young woman (especially one interested in theater) I had a lot of body dysmorphia. I wanted to look different and sound different. My first jarring voice lesson in college helped me change the way I thought about myself. My teacher pointed out different physical characteristics in me that I didn’t love about myself, like my big cheekbones and my short neck. I have come to know that this is a hallmark trait of some great dramatic sopranos.
Not everyone fits the mold perfectly, but it helps to know what you can do. And focus on that, you have a unique instrument with its challenges and its talents. Love that instrument, and love your body. Don’t be upset that you don’t sound like another singer, because at the end of the day, you sound like you, and that’s a beautiful thing.