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Lennon's vocal range/classification and how understanding it might help a singer/song writer
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23 November 2012
6.34pm
obcbeatle
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I've been doing a little research lately and think I've determined a few truths about John Lennon's singing voice. Please feel free to correct me if I am am wrong on anything:

1) Lennon is most often considered a tenor, but sometimes considered a low tenor as far as classification.

2) Lennnon had a very good vocal range so even though his classification has often been tenor he could consistently hit notes within the baritone range, and his falsetto was very good.

3) Most men are baritones, thus their ability to sing a Lennon vocal in the same key and range as John will at some point run out of vocal real estate while in the tenor range :-)

4) In general, most popular (pop) music male vocalists ... like Lennon ... are/were tenors and therefore have enjoyed more popular success than baritone vocalist because the tibre of a tenor vocalist is better suited for pop music then the tibre of a baritone vocalist ... with some exceptions such as Frank Sinatra who I think was a baritone.

In regards to #4 ... as a guitarist an aspiring song writer I have been learning to play many Beatles compositions, particularly songs that John Lennnon was the lead vocalist. My goals are to improve my ability to sing and play guitar at the same time, to improve my song craft by studying The Beatles chord arrangements and melodies, and to improve my singing voice in general. That being said I quickly discovered that I was a baritone, thus I cannot sing Lennon's vocals in the same key as John because my vocal range is weak at best even in the higher range of the the baritone classification. I suspect this is true for many male singers trying to sing Beatles songs. So what I have been doing is transposing Beatles songs using a capo on my acoustic guitar. This works well for most songs although I have to say ... there are some songs that just don't lend themselves well for transposing as the song tibre is really effected by singing and the playing guitar in a different key from that which it was originally written. A good example of this is "I'm A Loser" which was written and performed by The Beatles in the key of G but I have to transpose to the key of C to be able to sing it (capo on the C note on the E guitar string). As a consequence the guitar chords just don't sound that great because of the capo being so high up the guitar neck. However I am able to sing the song in my baritone vocal range, so there is a trade-off. I guess I will try to transpose to the key of C without using a capo to compare the sound. I'll end this post with a question ... is there anyone else on this forum who is a musician who has any comments/suggestions/advice to share on how to perform Beatles songs? Thanks!

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24 November 2012
2.14pm
Ben Ramon
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obcbeatle said
I've been doing a little research lately and think I've determined a few truths about John Lennon's singing voice. Please feel free to correct me if I am am wrong on anything:

1) Lennon is most often considered a tenor, but sometimes considered a low tenor as far as classification.

I'm afraid this is simply untrue. Lennon is most definitely a baritone, albeit a light one. People who classify him wrongly as a tenor seem to be listening to some of his lightest performances (Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, I'm Only Sleeping) while failing to take into account his general timbre, comfortable range, and speaking voice.

2) Lennnon had a very good vocal range so even though his classification has often been tenor he could consistently hit notes within the baritone range, and his falsetto was very good.

Again, this is untrue- I'd say it was more the other way round; he was a baritone comfortable up to about F#4-G4, and had to really scream to achieve notes above A4, which is tenor territory. The highest notes I've found by him, in the upper fourth and lower fifth octave, are screamed wildly and while extremely cool sounding are not really "sung". Take, for instance, A Hard Day's Night. Paul, a tenor, had to sing the bridge, which goes up to A4, because it was too high for John. Same thing with the second line of Any Time At All, or take the gut-wrenching chesty B4 at the beginning of Mr Moonlight in comparison with Paul's strong, bright, heady B4s and C5s in the Ticket To Ride harmonies. John's technique on high notes certainly improved over the years, but he was undeniably still a baritone.

3) Most men are baritones, thus their ability to sing a Lennon vocal in the same key and range as John will at some point run out of vocal real estate while in the tenor range :-)

Most men are, indeed, baritones, but I wouldn't make such sweeping estimates about vocal range. It is more important to determine the voice type of a singer by the texture and timbre of their voice, as well as factors such as their passaggio, rather than the notes they can hit. There are a great deal of baritones (Chris Cornell, Tom Jones, Mike Patton) who can hit full notes in the fifth octave with more ease than some tenors.

4) In general, most popular (pop) music male vocalists ... like Lennon ... are/were tenors and therefore have enjoyed more popular success than baritone vocalist because the tibre of a tenor vocalist is better suited for pop music then the tibre of a baritone vocalist ... with some exceptions such as Frank Sinatra who I think was a baritone.

I see where you are coming from, but this doesn't really work as evidence; popular male singers cover the entire spectrum of vocal classifications, and being able to sing in the tenor register is an arbitrary factor in success. Why should pop music require singers who can hit higher notes? Elvis Presley was a baritone. I think you are placing too much importance on the vocal range of a singer- just because something is high and difficult to sing doesn't mean it is being sung by a tenor.

In response to your problems with playing and singing the songs of the Beatles, why don't you just downtune your guitar a few steps rather than place a capo so high up the neck? Also, I'm A Loser is if anything a very baritone-range song, with John never even approaching tenor territory and hitting a rather low G2 in the verses; lowering the key of that particular song would surely be needless and would require you to hit C2 (!) in every verse. Unless of course you are trying to sing Paul's harmony in the choruses, which deals with pretty high G4s and A4s- in which case you should just relearn it, singing John's melody.

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Leppo

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25 November 2012
2.29am
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Funny Paper
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Sorry to bring up Paul, but that experience of the OP of being unable to match Lennon's vocal range in a song mirrored my own realization when I tried to sing along with "Hello, Goodbye" and I experienced the strange phenomenon where Paul's voice sounded high, but was simultaneously grounded in a lower register, so to speak.  I'm not technically versed in music, so I'm articulating this in a non-professional way.  At any rate, my chest is just way too weak, apparently, to accomplish singing this melody with the greatest of ease performed by Paul.

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25 November 2012
12.41pm
Ben Ramon
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paulsbass said

obcbeatle said
I've been doing a little research lately and think I've determined a few truths about John Lennon's singing voice. Please feel free to correct me if I am am wrong on anything:

1) Lennon is most often considered a tenor, but sometimes considered a low tenor as far as classification.

Agree with Ben Ramon: Not true. What would be your sources? Not even Elton John is considered to be a tenor but a high baritone. John couldn't sing as high as Paul, and of course Paul neither is a tenor but a baritone.

Thanks for the backup, paulsbass a-hard-days-night-george-9 But Paul is a tenor for certain! (or at least was until about the mid 80s). A tenor with an uncanny ability to imitate a baritone timbre, but listen to how incredibly light and bright his natural singing voice is, and how powerful and easy his high notes are. He's a low tenor for sure. 

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25 November 2012
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Ben Ramon
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paulsbass said

Ben Ramon said

Thanks for the backup, paulsbass a-hard-days-night-george-9 But Paul is a tenor for certain! (or at least was until about the mid 80s). A tenor with an uncanny ability to imitate a baritone timbre, but listen to how incredibly light and bright his natural singing voice is, and how powerful and easy his high notes are. He's a low tenor for sure. 

Welcome!

But sorry man, but didn't YOU do this nice little thing about his vocal range? a-hard-days-night-paul-5

I did indeed! And although I feel we will end up agreeing to disagree, I firmly hold that Paul is a tenor. Not a particularly high one, like Jon Anderson or Roger Hodgson, who are crazily high tenors, but he is a tenor. Forget about his excellent lows- I'd put that down to great technique. Forget about his Lady Madonna voice, and his gritty, chesty baritonal screaming highs- he's putting those on, because he's a fantastic vocal chameleon. Listen to his voice when he sings high notes with that light, natural, agile brightness- Hello Goodbye, Love Me Do, Band On The Run, Baby's In Black, Dear Boy... I've rarely heard such a tenory timbre in my life!

For reference, watch my video again, I've compared versions of Maybe I'm Amazed and Jet; rehearsal versions where he sounds ridiculously bright and tenorish in his natural upper register, and performances or recordings where he puts on that gritty baritonal "rock" voice, because he can.

Also, Paul only has about three or four recorded extremely low notes in his entire discography; whereas about 80% of his songs in the 60s and 70s go up to at least G4. What does that tell you? He's more comfortable in that higher register- he's a tenor.

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25 November 2012
8.39pm
obcbeatle
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Hello ... thanks for all the replies and feedback! Well ... apparently I need to do some more research :-) Sorry for any mis-information in my previous post. So now I have some questions and comments. Just for clarification ... for some of my questions below I will define middle C as C4 as I believe that is the most common designation (and I believe that is the C fingered on the B string, first fret on the guitar ... standard tuning). Again ... if I'm wrong about anything, please feel free to chime in.

I think I am a weak baritone because I can comfortably sing from G2 to C4, only. Maybe I could improve that range a little with vocal exercises. So Ben ... you said that Lennnon was a baritone that could comfortably get to around G4. I think that is why I am struggling so much ... I can't get near G4 :-) In fact ... one of the first things I notice when trying to sing most Beatles songs with John as the lead vocal is that I can sometimes pull it off if I sing it an octave below (but ... my vocal is rather bland at best ... not withstanding the fact that I'm not much of a vocalist anyway :-) . I guess that is why I originally thought Lennon was a tenor, i.e. I was singing a octave below at first attempt. Anyway ... so in the interest of just trying to allow my baritone voice to sing Beatles songs comfortably, I decided to start using a capo on my acoustic guitar to more quickly transpose to a different key. This decision is wrought with some disadvantages not least of which is that transposing to a different song key often changes the color of a song whether it be the vocal or the guitar tone, etc ... as PaulsBass pointed out as well. That includes tuning the guitar to Eb or lower. I did try If I Fell in Eb flat which helped me a little in reaching those notes that John sings above C4. But the song timbre really suffers in Eb (tuned down) in my opinion. I'm going to try You're Gonna Lose That Girl next in Eb tuning, although that song may have been written/recorded in Eb anyway. Ben ... as for I'm A Loser ... I see now that that song at the intro and chorus hangs around C4 (just above and below) a lot and I believe goes as high as F#4. Unfortunately ... my voice strains in that area so I transposed to C which not only allows me to sing the intro and chorus w/o straining but maybe most important I can just barely hit the C2! And I'm doing it w/o the capo now, i.e. I'm playing the guitar in standard tuning and just playing in the key of C. In fact, I may shed the capo in a few other Beatles songs, but when initially learning a new song it is awfully convenient to use a capo to quickly transpose to a key so I can sing along comfortably. 

Paulsbass ... I should have clarified that I'm not actually interested in peforming Beatles songs live. But I am trying to figure out how to play and sing Beatles songs so I can improve my singing in general and probably more importantly study Beatles compositions to improve my song crafting. I've always preferred Beatles songs that John took the lead vocal on. That is just a personal preference really. I don't necessarily agree with you that John's melodies are not that complex. Lennon vocals are often more difficult for me to hear and sing than Paul's. Paul always seems ABOVE the mix so I can hear and sing along fairly well albeit an octave below since he I can't get near his notes in the higher range. I love John's lower melodies in particular, such as in If I Fell and This Boy. And I find it harder to hear those vocals in the mix than Paul's. But maybe that is just me ;-) I do agree that John sang with a lot of a soul and passion which is very difficult to replicate ... and I wouldn't even presume :-) I also agree with you that anyone interested in performing Beatles songs live needs another singer ... otherwise it seems rather pointless :-) Also ... your suggestion to try to find songs that fit my natural voice range and tibre is well taken. I only hope that doesn't eliminate too many songs :-)

BTW ... my reference to my belief that most pop singers were probably tenors in my original post was indeed misguided. However ... I do think that a lot of pop choruses are sung in a high enough range that an average baritone like me cannot reach. And this is something important to understand, I think, if you are a song writer. Primarily because the chorus is such a big selling point for a song (in more ways than one). So now when I try to compose a song I make a conscious effort to remember to write in a key that I know I can sing the higher notes ... which are usually in the chorus. It sounds like a simple thing but it took me awhile to realize this when I first started composing. In the past I tended to write in a guitar friendly key ... since I am a guitarist by training ... and didn't think too much about the song key as far as vocalizing.

Anyway ... sorry for the long ramble. Again ... thanks for all the feedback!

8 October 2016
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CSyde65
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Personally I consider John Lennon to be a low tenor, myself. He may have reached a high baritone in some songs, but overall, I'd classify him as a low tenor. Although I've heard some people that consider George Harrison to be a tenor, I'm having a tough time agreeing on that. He sounds more like a high baritone to me. I'd consider Paul McCartney to be in the middle between a high tenor and low tenor, hmm I'm not so sure. Maybe a middle tenor, but a little bit on the low side of the tenor range. And for Ringo Starr, maybe I'd classify him as a low baritone. Maybe a high bass at the lowest, but certainly not a low bass.

25 October 2016
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What about Sexy Sadie?  I thought the A4 was pretty effortless and he seemed to go as high as a D5 in some phrases, which sounds like a head voice rather than a disconnected falsetto on that song.  

BTW, some songs like Lucy in the Sky were recorded at a lower speed so his voice got pitch shifted slightly higher. 

25 October 2016
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The D5 is pure falsetto, but Lennon does have strength in that department.. The A4 fits well into the phrase, which is one of his greatest abilities (phrasing). Hitting an A4 is a lot harder outside of the "You made a fool of everyone" phrase in Sexy Sadie. I have performed it multiple times, and I always surprise myself at my ability to sing that note with ease.

One of John's greatest gifts was his ability to project his voice into his songs in unique ways. I love experiencing his vocal and dynamic range in Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Nobody else could sing his songs the way he could.

The highest I've heard him go is an A4 in multiple songs, sometimes in a very screamy way. The lowest I've heard him go is I'm A Loser.

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25 October 2016
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jreality
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The D5 at 2:15 into the song is clearly falsetto, but isn't the D5 that is 2:26 into the song a regular head voice?   Sounds like he managed to yell out a D5 at 2:26, or am I mistaken?

25 October 2016
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At 2:26 you can hear his voice weaken as he descends, leading me to believe that its fasetto as well. Plus it would be out of character for John to sing a D5 in that tone

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30 October 2016
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I made an incomplete set of notes on John's highest notes a while back and I wrote that John hit proper B5s on 'New York City', 'Woman Is The Nigger Of The World' and the live version of 'Come Together'. I'm sure that there are more (eg. things like 'What You Got' go pretty darn high) but I couldn't be bothered to do all his songs.

After a lot of deliberation, I also noted that 'Mother' reaches a D#5 in the screaming bit at the end (obviously not a sung note but I thought it was worth mentioning).

I'll keep you updated if I ever bother to go through all his songs. john-lennon-salute_gif

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@pepperland said
After a lot of deliberation, I also noted that 'Mother' reaches a D#5 in the screaming bit at the end (obviously not a sung note but I thought it was worth mentioning).
 

I am now picturing pepster listening to the screaming bit over and over whilst plunking around on a guitar, trying to find the note. a-hard-days-night-paul-7 

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Silly Girl said

@pepperland said
After a lot of deliberation, I also noted that 'Mother' reaches a D#5 in the screaming bit at the end (obviously not a sung note but I thought it was worth mentioning).
 

I am now picturing pepster listening to the screaming bit over and over whilst plunking around on a guitar, trying to find the note. a-hard-days-night-paul-7   

That's exactly what I did... I had it on a loop. a-hard-days-night-john-6 'Twas good procrastination actually and I could kid myself that I was doing something useful.

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In my mind, Mother doesn't count towards John's vocal range because he cheated with all of the emotion he was implementing into the music.

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1 November 2016
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@sir walter raleigh I would say Mother doesn't count because a lot of those notes were screamed/shrieked and not properly sung, but how the heck is implementing emotion into your performance 'cheating'? There are notes in my range that I have to be in the right mindset to sing properly. It's just a matter of performance, it doesn't make your range automatically better. 

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