Thursday, November 4, 2010

An Introduction to the Issue of Fach

One of the thorniest issues in vocal production can be the issue of fach. Fach is a German word which literally means "compartment" or subject of study. In singing, fach refers to the issue of categorizing voices. We all know the major categories: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass. But beyond that, there are numerous subcategories which refer to specific issues such as weight, agility and the like within each major category.

Fach is used worldwide, but originally grew out of German opera houses. If a singer was categorized as a full lyric soprano for instance, that singer would only be asked to sing roles within that category.

Many voices clearly fall into one fach or another. But often, a voice will have qualities of more than one fach. Categorizing those voices can be difficult. What do you do with a woman who has a lot of smoky color in her mid range a mezzo-soprano, but has the full range of a soprano, or a male who comes into the studio who sings in the tenor range, but with a lot of "chestiness" in the midrange.

The issue is important because singing out of fach, can not only be a failure to live up to the potential of the voice, but can be damaging to the voice. A person whose voice "rings" in a higher range, but who chooses to sing in the lower range without access to much resonance can often sing with a depressed larynx, which can cause a host of problems.

So how can we determine fach in our students or for ourselves? Sometimes it is clear. A young soprano comes into the studio and she is clearly a soprano. The problem is most often faced by voice teachers in regard to "middle" voices or voices with clear tensions such as jaw and tongue tension. I think the most clear indicators of fach lie in vocal timbre and vocal tessitura.

Look to where the vocal passaggi lie when the voice is cleared on tension and the throat open. If the voice is not free of tension, work on relieving tension and correcting breath before worrying about fach.

Renowned teacher, David Jones, explores this issue (along with many others) on his website. His articles are clear and quite informative. I value and respect his opinion. You can find more information at:


  1. This is fascinating, Audrey~! I had no idea we share singing/love of singing although I'm certain you're far more accomplished than I. I call myself a "closet coloratura"-- I have a largely self-taught and very small repertoire I dared for a time to unleash in churches but now, I sing to the wind-- and on the page. Thanks for stopping by my blog! xxxj

  2. Thank you Audrey for this interesting article. Nice to meet other musicians who write poetry. The counter tenor is my fascination. Alfred Deller who really started the ball rolling on this.. modelled his voice entirely on the contralto Kathleen Ferrier.Something you may not have know.I heard this from the horse's mouth so to speak.Sorry Alfred darling,I'm not referring to you as a horse.

  3. I had no idea about this, very interesting. Leave it to the Germans to come up with something like fach.

  4. Thanks for this lesson in voice. I am
    eternally mesmerized by vocalists.
    Glad to have found this blog.

  5. I am glad to connect with you over a similar love of singing! I taught the choir in my school for several years and agree with the concept of Fach. A singer who sings in a ranger other than what his natural voice is made for tends to damage it! Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information!

  6. Wow! So much information about singing range; fascinating. My mother took music studying voice, Hawaiian guitar, clarinet and organ. My father refused to allow us to study music as he considered it a frill, but mom would sing with us and taught us to harmonize. She would sing soprano and sister and I tenor, but we can sing soprano. I find though that singing soprano can give me a sore throat. I wish I had learned to breathe properly so that I did not just sing with my voice.

    1. I love teaching voice and I love when families make music together. Singing with good breath support and using the body is important and is a healthy way to be active physically