The combination of voices and orchestra is of course very common. In many respects, choral and vocal writing requires its own manual, and these pages offer relatively limited information. There is no substitute for joining a choir and learning singing 'from the inside'!

The various classifications of voice have arisen over many centuries, but do not always cover every type of voice (hence the "other voices" section). Use the links above to navigate the relevant pages. Generally speaking, soprano, mezzo and alto are female voices; tenor, baritone and bass are male, but this is not always the case. The countertenor is a high male voice. Choral writing requires a different technique to soloistic writing, and careful account of the limitations of either choir or soloists must be taken.

Vocal production consists of a central technique known as chest voice, in which the vocal chords are thick, and an additional head voice for women, or falsetto for men. Depending on the vocal characteristics of individual voices, the extent of the range of these varies, but in general the male falsetto is high and small in range, whereas the female head voice covers a large part of the upper register. In trained singers, the difference between these two timbres is barely perceptible, but some singers (especially in jazz or popular music) make a feature of one or other region of the voice.

The tessitura of a piece of music is the range within which most of the music is set (rather than the range of the voice singing it) and is an important factor in determining the difficulty of a given piece. It is worth noting that certain vowel sounds present problems in the upper register: for women, the 'closed' vowels (ee, i, e, ay), for men the 'open' vowels (a, aw, o, oo). It is a good idea to place the tessitura accordingly to avoid these problems.

Vocal music is laid out as in the following example. Notice that the text is placed below the notes, whereas dynamics and other markings are placed above. Note also that a slur and beam indicate where a syllable of text is sung to more than one note.

Vocies layout
Excerpt from 'La Nourriture' by Andrew Hugill

The Orchestra: A User's Manual is a free resource and will remain so. It still receives between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visits per month from all over the world. See the testimonials. Thanks to all the donations, I have been able to create this responsive re-design. But the movies and sound clips recorded in 2004 do show their age. I would really like to re-record everything and add many more techniques, especially for solo and ensemble writing. I estimate this will cost around £50,000. If you know a source of such funds, please contact me: a.hugill [at]