True basses can provide great depth to choral and a cappella groups – your deep voice is invaluable! As you progress through your singing lessons, you may also find your range increased, making it easier to hit lower notes. Here are a few tips and notes to consider for true basses.
Letting voices settle – the dangers of “making” voices
Some voice types become apparent fairly early on; as a general rule, the lighter types of both soprano and baritone voices settle down at a young age, and are usable in a trained, professional context by the singer’s mid-twenties. Other voice types, particularly lower and heavier voices, mature much later, and when a young male vocalist is considering how to sing bass, special considerations need to be made.
Focusing on classical fach – a German term used to describe voice types and suitable repertoire for them – as a young bass, you can learn a lot by listening to popular singers with a similar range, such as Isaac Hayes or Barry White. Let other genres feed your musical education, too – after all, good singing is good singing.
Training the bass voice – how to sing bass
As a young bass, you may find that your range is relatively short, perhaps only a good octave in the middle, with one or two extra notes either side. Work with your teacher to expand your range, and don’t put yourself in a box too soon. Within classical music, there are several types of low male voices, with appropriate repertoire for each.
One of the the best approaches when you’re just starting to settle into serious study is to arm yourself with bel canto vocal exercises, such as those by Vaccai or Marchesi, and work on evenness of tone, and ease of vocal production. Pay special attention to working through any register breaks, and don’t be afraid to slide between notes in practice – when you tidy these up later on, you’ll often find the gaps have vanished.
When exploring how to sing bass, the most common complaint from young singers is that there’s no repertoire. While it’s true that within opera, most true bass roles are “old man” roles, a little imagination and exploration can provide you with repertoire that you can perform early in your singing life, and also works that you can grow into.
For example, Superintendent Budd in Britten’s Albert Herring doesn’t have to be an old man. Good fun can also be had wading through the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Although more traditionally sung by a bass-baritone, Figaro’s arias sit low, and are useful study material for the younger singer.
Bass or bass-baritone?
Truthfully, the distinction is a small one. If the top of your voice is easy, and you have good low notes, you may wish to consider yourself a bass baritone, especially as your repertoire choices will be greater, certainly early on. While a true bass may be limited to Sarastro (The Magic Flute), Gremin (Eugene Onegin), Fafner (Das Rheingold), and King Mark (Tristan and Isolde), a bass-baritone has access to a large quantity of Italian repertoire, such as Verdi and Puccini, and Mozart staples such as the Count in Figaro, and the title role in Don Giovanni.
On song repertoire
In terms of exploring song repertoire, since many classics are available in a variety of keys, you will not have difficulty finding works that suit your voice and your personal tastes. However, when learning how to sing bass, you may find that Russian composers in particular understand how to write for those unique colors you have in your instrument.
Special rules apply for every voice type when training, although one important rule holds true for everyone – you cannot impose a voice type upon a singer. Patient work on exercises and repertoire will help a voice to develop until it tells you what it is. A true bass is a very rare and valuable voice indeed, and learning how to properly care for your voice and use that to your advantage will help you throughout your career!
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