What is Baritone in Music?

Posted on February 26, 2024

The tone and voice of a song or a composition has a vital impact on the audience. One of the lower voices in traditional Western music is the baritone voice. However, the word “baritone” has additional meanings as well. Read below to learn more!

What does baritone mean?

The term “baritone” has its roots in the Italian language, where the similar word “baritono” means a low-pitched and deep voice. In the musical world, “baritone” is both a vocal range and a category of instruments, more precisely a type of brass or woodwind instrument. On the voice spectrum, baritone is a common male voice type, and the term can be used to describe both the singer and his voice.

Defining characteristics of a baritone voice

The male baritone voice is generally described as deep, warm, and rich. The tessitura, or the range of notes where the singer is most comfortable, ranges from G2 to G4. In other words, baritones sing higher notes than bass voices, but lower than tenors. Thanks to their rich and powerful voice, baritones are suitable for a range of music and often perform in operas.

Differences in baritone range

The baritone voice is on the lower range of the spectrum, but different baritone voices can vary in their tonal characteristics. Let’s look at some differences among baritone voices:

  • Light baritone – brighter sound and more lyrical voice
  • Lyric baritone – milder and higher tessitura
  • Bass baritone – includes low notes like the typical bass singer, but with the ability to also sing baritone
  • Verdi baritone – dramatic voice with the ability to sing difficult music with stamina
  • Kavalier baritone – metallic voice for lyric and dramatic phrases
  • Noble baritone – balance of smooth vocalization and forceful declamation

The baritone voice is most common among male singers, but there are also female baritones that can sing contralto in a lower range.

Baritone instruments

As mentioned above, “baritone” also refers to low-pitched brass or woodwind instruments. Some examples of baritone instruments are the baritone horn, baritone saxophone, and baritone clarinet.

What is a baritone horn?

The most familiar one is the baritone horn, which is part of the saxhorn family. A baritone horn is curved, with the tube widening upward toward the bell. The bell then flares outward for optimal resonance.

You can find different sizes of baritone horns, but they are generally smaller than euphoniums and larger than trumpets. Players can adjust the three valves of the baritone horn with their fingers to redirect the airflow through different lengths of the tube. Songwriters usually compose music for baritone horns in bass clef or treble clef.

What is a baritone guitar?

Compared to regular guitars, a baritone guitar produces lower-pitched sounds. The most commonly used tuning for a baritone guitar is a B or C, compared to the standard E tuning for a traditional guitar. The design of the instrument varies, and a baritone guitar can be acoustic, electric, or semi-hollow. A baritone guitar has heavier gauge strings and a longer scale length which allows for lower tuning without reducing string tension. The baritone guitar is a versatile instrument and can be used in various musical styles, such as jazz, blues, rock, and country.

Baritones in different musical styles

Baritone singers often play roles as generals and noblemen, since those require a strong vocal presence in operas. German composers were among the first to choose baritone singers as key soloists. Usually, the honor was reserved for tenors.

Nowadays, baritone voices and baritone instruments are present in various musical genres. Baritones give depth and resonance to pop and rock melodies, and in classical music, baritones contribute with diversity and dramatic expressions. When it comes to jazz and blues, baritones provide rich and emotional nuances to the genre.

Learn to sing or play the baritone with Yousician

To learn how to play baritone instruments or sing in the baritone range, check out Yousician. It’s easy to download the app on your phone or computer. Learn more about different voice types and musical terms in our full Musician’s Glossary.

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