Timbre is one of those tricky words many people think they understand, but only a few people truly do. Some like to confuse vocal timbre for the pitch or the tone, but it's more than that. Timbre can be described as the tonal color of one's voice, and many people can be hitting the same note with widely different sounds in their individual timbres. Finding your natural timbre is like finding your natural and unique voice.
Some people think voice types and timbres can be used interchangeably, but that isn't the case. Vocal timbre can be a helpful indicator of your voice type, but finding your type is more about identifying your singing range rather than just the color of your tone. As an example, alto and bass voice types tend to have rich vocal timbres, while tenors and soprano singers tend to have bright vocal timbres. But, an alto can also have a bright tone and a lower range than a soprano singer.
A singer's voice timbre can also change depending on the type of music they are performing in. For a jazz song, a singer may attempt to go for a lighter and more bright approach that won't be too rich against the instrumentation. That same singer could then perform an opera song in a lower range and produce a very rich sound due to the different vocal placement and technique required for the genre change.
A great example where timbre and voice types go hand and hand is when you take a look at the light lyric soprano voice type. A light lyric soprano is a fancy classical term for a soprano singer with a light and agile voice, capable of doing trills more easily than a dramatic soprano can, who still has a similar pitch range but brings a richness to her high notes.
Bright and rich or dark tones are common when describing a singer's vocal timbre. You can also describe the color of one's tone as piercing, silky, mellow, warm, light, airy, or breathy. There are no exact ways to pin down someone's vocal timbre since it's hard to describe the color or someone's vocal tone, but it makes sense in most cases when people try to explain it, and they have a good ear for music.
You cannot, however, have a flat or a sharp vocal timbre because flat and sharp refer to the pitch accuracy of a note and not the color of someone's tone. This can get confusing because low singers, for example, can have a rich voice that also goes flat a lot. You would think that their notes go flat because their tone is thick in a sense, but that is not the case.
While vocal timbre is mostly used in the music world when it comes to singing, it also applies to performers who are rappers as well. Since timbre is about the color of a person's voice and not about pitch, you can identify rappers by descriptors, including silky, mellow, piercing, or bright as well. The timbre of a rapper's voice will allow them to sound better on some beats compared to others. For example, a rapper with a bright timbre may not pair well with a silky smooth beat.
Timbre isn't limited to the vocal musical instruments. You can hear different timbres in all types of instruments, including wind, string, brass, and percussive instruments. The electric guitar, for example, can have a bright and piercing timbre, while a floor tom instrument can have a dull one. A recorder can have a smooth tone, while a piano, especially in its lower range, will give a rich and dark timbre. Compared to a singer, it's not likely that a musician with an instrument can switch their timbre approach.
It's pretty easy to identify which timbre descriptors can fit your voice, but if you aren't sure, take a stab at recording yourself so you can get clear audio of how you sound without hearing yourself ringing in your own ear as you sing. You can also get the opinion of someone else's opinion of your voice color. If you find that you have or can practice more than one color, that is a bonus.
Different timbres work well for different genres, different emotional approaches, and different tempos. Rich tones fit well with emotionally resonant songs, while light and airy timbres pair well with relaxing vibes. Light and airy singers have faster vocal agility, while rich voices can move slower and have different approaches to runs, riffs, and melismas. While some examples of rich instrumentation pair well with rich voices, a light voice paired with rich instrumentation may work better because of the contrast. The use of the right timbre is really on a case-by-case basis that most professional singers get a natural inclination for over time.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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