What is a countertenor?

Generally speaking, music ranges are split between soprano, alto, tenor and bass, with the soprano range containing the highest notes and bass containing the lowest. As men’s voices tend to be naturally lower than women’s, adult male singers generally fall within the tenor and bass ranges (though most likely tenor). However, men who are able to manipulate their vocal cords to sing in the higher registers – i.e., those above the range of a tenor – are known as countertenors.


What range does a countertenor sing?

Countertenors are, give or take, able to sing the same range of notes as female contralto and mezzo-soprano singers. Contralto falls within the alto range and is the lowest range of female voices, while mezzo-sopranos are somewhere between altos and sopranos, not being able to hit the lowest notes of the former range nor the highest notes of the latter.

So, how do the different ranges compare? Roughly speaking, a tenor’s range runs from C3 (an octave below middle C) to G4 (the G above middle C). A countertenor’s range goes from around G3 to E5, while an alto ranges from F3 to D5, a mezzo-soprano from A3 to F5 and a soprano from C4 (middle C) to A5.


Top image: Polish countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski by Getty Images