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How to Voice Your Choir Quickly & Effectively

Voicing can be done quickly and effectively in 3 minutes or less per student. In a 40 minute small group lesson, I provide a group warm-up, discuss the factors that determine where each student will be placed, vocalize and assess each student while engaging and educating the entire group of singers. I usually choose to vocalize 7-10 new singers in a 40 minute period but vocalize 15-17 returning members in that same amount of time.

The speed and efficiency occurs because I use a spreadsheet to record data, and have a clear plan of attack. This blog explains my entire approach to voicing a choir.

This downloadable spreadsheet is provided for freeHow to use it is provided in this blog!

name Vocal Range Lower Range Description Upper Range Description Middle Voice/Transition Section comments
Strung, Ella Eb3-A5 full, resonant stuck in S1 range balanced and strong A2
Williams, Alyssa F3-C6 too heavy strong – but flipped up high a bit imbalanced S1
Ramos, Jessica F#3-D5 full, Resonant pretty lighter than bottom A1/S2 3 parts middle
Samuelson, Kunjan G3-A5 full but not low flipped into falsetto at F5 nice balance S2
Warren, Emily F3-D6 Strong – not Alto 2 yet should sing S1 – no break imbalanced A1 her choice

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I believe there are five main factors that determine where to place singers within a self-selected choir. Prior to voicing singers, these factors should be discussed with our singers in an effort to include them in the voicing process.

  • Range – This is the most obvious and tangible factor for students to grasp. Singers should be able to reach/sing the majority of notes in their chosen section. If notes that best suit a specific section are not within a singer’s range, the singer will not be part of that section.
  • Tessitura – Two students may have the exact same range, but one student may sing with more ease and resonance in the Alto 2 range while another singer’s voice sits best in the Soprano 1 range.
  • Tone  – For treble voices, we discuss the flute/clarinet comparison. In general, the light and airier voices sound better on top with richer, more rounded sounds filling the bottom. In my Treble Choir (S1, S2, A1, A2) the first thing we do in small group lessons is determine whether each singer sounds more like a flute or a clarinet. If they sound like a soprano/flute, they must be able to comfortably sing above a Bb5 without any struggle in order to be placed as a Soprano 1. If they struggle in their mid-soprano range, usually due to a tonal imbalance or support issue, they will be placed in the Soprano 2 section. In terms of Altos, a singer who can sing an F3 with clear, forward resonance while still being able to sing in the Soprano 2 range, will be placed in the Alto 2 section; if they cannot reach the F3 comfortably and/or struggle to access their head voice, they will be placed as an Alto 1. For men, the guidelines are similar. Bass 2s must be able to sing a resonant F2, be able to access their upper chest voice, and demonstrate a decent sound in their falsetto range. Baritones have a full sound in the baritone range but cannot comfortably sing down to an F2. Tenor 1s may either be unchanged voices with an expansive alto range or a changed voice that can sing above a G4 in full voice. Tenor 2s sound like tenors but have a limited upper range, reaching an F4.

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  • Personal preference – Students should be involved in the decision-making process for which section they will join, but their input is only welcomed AFTER we have explored their voice. Where they want to sing only matters after they’ve been properly vocalized,  I’ve determined where they are best suited, and they have participated in understanding each aspect of the process. If after hearing why they sound like a soprano and why Soprano 2 fits them like a glove, they still want to be an Alto 1, I’ll support what they want as long as it doesn’t severely impact the need of the group or harm their voice. I find that most students will support my placement choice as a result of being included in the voicing process.
  • The need of the group – Choirs should be as balanced as possible provided all singers are placed in a comfortable section. If we intend to have a choir that sings in harmony, we must have singers who sing the high parts and singers who sing the low parts.

Self-Assessment Rehearsal Participation Rubric(s)


Choir Voicing Spreadsheet

I created a simple voicing spreadsheet in order to easily voice my choir members; by recording and organizing clear data, we can assess far more and recognize improvement in our singers throughout the year.

Listed below is a sample of the female and male spreadsheet. All categories will be explained below.

New Women

name Vocal Range Lower Range Description Upper Range Description Middle Voice/Transition Section comments
Smith, Ella Eb3-A5 full, resonant stuck in S1 range balanced and strong A2
Williams, Alyssa F3-C6 too heavy strong – but flipped up high a bit imbalanced S1
Ramos, Jessica F#3-D5 full, Resonant pretty lighter than bottom A1/S2 3 parts middle
Samuelson, Kunjan G3-A5 full but not low flipped into falsetto at F5 nice balance S2
Warren, Emily F3-D6 Strong – not Alto 2 yet should sing S1 – no break imbalanced A1 her choice

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New Men

name Vocal Range Low Range Description Upper Range Description falsetto Section comments
Abanian, Raymond Eb2-E well-placed – forward Strong – not controlled ok B2
Bernstein, Brian A2-F4 Light at bottom nice T2 sound yes – light B1/T2 prefers B1
Chancey, Ovas Db3-F#4 Light – unchanged unsupported, not confident ok T2
Oliva, Lawrence B2-Bb5 unchanged – sung softly full – mixed strong T1

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How the fast and efficient voicing process works:

We start with a descending 3-note step-wise mi, re do pattern using a forward “ee” vowel and a consonant to start each pattern. For women we start on F4 and for men on F3, descending by half-step. With each half-step, I’m focused on how they place their tone. When they can’t sing any lower, I record the lowest pitch, and describe their lower-range in 2-6 words.

For the next exercise, we begin at Eb4 for women and Eb3 for men and ascend with a do-mi-sol-mi-do pattern using an “ah” vowel  and a consonant to start each pattern. With women, I take note of the type of sound they create in their mid-voice. Is their tone airy? Does it sound similar to their lower register or is it a completely different timbre? As we ascend by half-steps, I listen for breaking points, changes in tone, and if they can access their whistle tone. I record their highest note, comment separately on their mid-range/transition and their upper-range in 2-6 words.

When vocalizing this same exercise with men, I focus on how they reach their upper notes and what happens to their voice when they can’t sing any higher. Do they crack into an airy falsetto, or are they mixed? Are they able to access their falsetto straight from an ascending pattern? The men must also sing a mi, re, do pattern beginning at Bb4 to assess the strength and control of their falsetto.

As the entire voicing process is unfolding, the entire small group of singers is engaged in brief but meaningful discussion about each individual singer’s production. We hypothesize what the upper notes might sound like based on the way a singer approaches their lowest notes. We recognize the weight or air in their middle voice as it is occurring, and hypothesize how this might affect their upper range.

As we conclude the 3 minute voicing, I explain where I believe the individual singer will best fit into our ensemble and why; afterwards, I ask if they agree and/or are comfortable with that placement.


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Categories on the Spreadsheet Explained

Here is how each category can be notated for quick and effective voicing purposes:

1. Voice Range – In order to save time, I like to notate vocal range based on the octaves on the piano instead of music notation. An example would be that a Bass 2 range could be E2-D4. A Soprano 1 range could be B3-D6. By writing this way, there is no need for clefs or music paper. In terms of male singers, I record their non-breaking range. I hope they aren’t screaming at the top of their voice, but if they are, I write the top note that they reach (Falsetto is a separate category); belting up high would be notated in the upper-range description. Range is simply the lowest and highest note that they can reach regardless of resonance or placement.

2.Low Range Description – In 2-6 words, I try to capture a clear description of the tone in their low range. Here are some examples: well-placed, full, resonant, airy, too far back, caught, forward but soft, belted.

3.Upper Range Description – In 2-6 words, I try to capture a clear description of the tone in their upper range. This describes everything above C5 for women and C4 for men. Here are some examples for women: Light, flexible, airy, unsupported, too heavy, gets stuck after G5, soft palate stuck, can’t access whistle,  full, vibrato, piercing. Some examples for men: fully belted, cracks into airy falsetto, unsupported, great mixed voice, flipped into falsetto on D4.


Sight-Singing Developmental Rubric – for developing students who lack underlying sight-singing skills


4.Middle Voice/Transition (women only) – this describes the transition from the Alto Range into the Soprano Range. I suggest using an ascending do-mi-sol-mi-do pattern beginning Eb3 for men and Eb4 for women. In 2-6 words, I try to capture a clear description of the tone as they transition into the upper range. How does the tone in their middle range compare to their upper and lower range? This transition tells the true story of the singer’s vocal development. Here are some examples of how to describe this area: too heavy when ascending, brings chest up, all air, doesn’t sound like lower-range, soft palate stuck, too forward, cannot access upper range, not enough space to move freely.

5. Falsetto (men only) – Our main goal is to hear our male singers access their falsetto. It’s as simple as having them sing one or two 3-note descending patterns starting at Bb4. If no sound comes out, move higher in their falsetto to see if there are higher notes. Typical notated comments would be: strong, airy, no sound, unchanged voice, great transition.

6. Section – this is where we decide what section they would be best suited. I usually list one section, but sometimes have a second choice listed next to it.  If we had a first choice and second choice, it would be notated like this: S1/S2

7. Comments – the main comments I list are ones that don’t fit any of the categories. They are things such as: student prefers to sing S1, or additional voicing info for a 3 part women’s split that might be helpful to know.

Download the Choir Voicing Excel Spreadsheet!

Last words on Voicing a Choir

There is no such thing as a high school alto singer; alto is merely a voice-part in a choir. All women should be vocalized up high and down low during every rehearsal. Men should be singing in falsetto daily and incorporating that tone into the rest of their voice. Bass 2s have low, resonant notes, but they should be able to sing tenor 2 notes just as tenor 1s with changed voices should be able to sing down to a G3,with light but forward placement. Singers are placed in choir parts that best suit them in order to create harmony but when it comes to teaching solo repertoire (which I highly recommend in a choir setting), they should be able to sing with an expansive, flexible vocal range.


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By | 2018-10-14T13:06:01+00:00 September 22nd, 2018|Assessment, rubrics, Self-Assessment, Vocal Technique, Voicing a Choir|

About the Author:

Adam Paltrowitz is a master educator, composer, conductor, and clinician. During his 20-year tenure as the Director of Choral Activities at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in New York, his groups have toured throughout Europe, Canada, and the United States. He also has pioneered a philosophy that every student is a soloist. Adam's choral program has also gained great acclaim for the cultivation of eight student-run a-cappella ensembles; some of these ensembles have performed on national and local television programs. His compositions and arrangements have been performed by choirs around the world. Adam earned his B.S. in music education from New York University, M.A. in vocal pedagogy from Columbia University - Teacher's College, and Ed.M. choral conducting from Columbia University - Teacher's College. ​Adam resides in Manhattan with his wife, Blair Goldberg, a professional Broadway actress, and their daughter, Lyla.

2 Comments

  1. A September 29, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Thanks very much for this great explanation and resource.

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