Mixing Choir Vocals in Live Music:Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass, Baritone

by: EMERSON MANINGO on January 15, 2011

I received an important question from a reader:

“I have been using your idea’s for EQing and it seems to be working in a live setting. I was wondering what your ideas are for mixing background vocals even to the point of the different parts, Alto, Tenor, etc. Any idea’s here would be appreciated. Thanks, Garth.”

Hi Garth,
You indeed ask a very important question about vocals EQ particularly its application in choir and background vocals live performance. OK here is a great idea on how to mix this situation.

First, you need to know the frequency range occupied by these voice types:

a.) Soprano
b.) Tenor
c.) Alto
d.) Bass
e.) Baritone

The following are the voice range chart in terms of musical notes and frequency:

Frequency range of different choice voice types

Source/Credits: Recorder frequency ranges

Based on the above chart, the following are the estimated frequency ranges (inside the red box on the screenshot provided above):

a.) Soprano (female) =500Hz to 4000Hz
b.) Alto (female) = 300Hz to 2100Hz
c.) Tenor (male) = 250Hz to 2000Hz
d.) Baritone (male) = it is not indicated clearly in the chart but a baritone voice is between the bass and the tenor. However based on the chart above, there are three types of bass below tenor. These are: bass, great bass and contrabass. The baritone would ideally fit above “great bass” so the range will be: 175Hz to 1000Hz.
e.) Bass (male) = this has the lowest frequency. The range would be 87Hz to 500Hz.

It would be doubtful if anyone can still sing at 87Hz except for talented bass singers. However the voice frequency range is around 20Hz to 20,000Hz and based on the data above, only 87Hz to 4000Hz are effectively used by the choir voices.

That would also support why the telephone bandwidth is between 300Hz to 3000Hz, but obviously you cannot hear bass voices in a telephone. That range is where the ear is very sensitive to human voices.

So how would you mix this in live setting? In EQ, combination of cutting and boosting is more preferable than relying on boosting alone. So the following settings are suggested (as a start but you can further tweak it for best results in live setting):

Mixing/EQ for soprano voices:

Boost at 2.25 KHz +3dB, Q=2.0
Apply low shelf filter with shelf frequency at 400Hz, -6dB (this will drastically reduce frequencies below 400Hz which is not needed for soprano voices)

Mixing/EQ for Alto voices:

Boost at 500Hz +3dB Q=2.0
Apply low shelf filter with shelf frequency at 250Hz, -6dB
Apply high shelf filter with shelf frequency at 2.1 KHz, -6dB (this will reduce “masking effect” with soprano voices, for frequencies above 2.1 KHz)

Mixing/EQ for Tenor voices:

Boost at 1 KHz +3dB Q=2.0
Apply low shelf filter with shelf frequency at 200Hz, -6dB
Apply high shelf filter with shelf frequency at 2 KHz, -6dB

Mixing/EQ for Baritone voices:

Boost at 400Hz +3dB Q=1.4
Apply low shelf filter with shelf frequency at 175Hz, -6dB
Apply high shelf filter with shelf frequency at 1 KHz, -6dB

Mixing/EQ for Bass voices:

Boost at 150Hz +3dB Q=1.0
Apply high shelf filter with shelf frequency at 500Hz, -6dB

Update: Thanks to Grace (below), for providing these relevant websites on choir vocal mixing:

1.) Vocal ranges
2.) Equivalent frequencies of different musical notes

Content last updated on June 16, 2012

  • Emerson Maningo

    Yes because of the echos or reverberations within the church. You cannot make it to sound dry because I assume that the church space would be so big that it will sound as distant.

    Below are some suggestions that could improve clarity:

    1.) Try miking them very closer to the singers.
    2.) Turn off any reverb or delay effects on the mixer (some of them are built-in)
    3.) Don’t cut too much between 800Hz to 3000Hz using EQ, if you cut them at that range, the voice would obviously sound distant.
    4.) Increase the gain of the microphone but never clipped it.
    5.) Listen to the resulting mix but gradually decrease the main volume of the mixer if the vocals are too loud.
    6.) Face the monitor/speaker farther from any bouncing walls.

    I am not if you can do Item #6 because the monitors are already mounted in the church sound system, well you can still do items 1 to 5.

    Sorry I reply you for so long. I check my post one by one for missed comment replies and I found yours. Cheers!

  • Lesean Rowe

    We have about 8 overhead mics 4 in front row 4 in the back. When i turn then up in the mix everthing sounds distant im not sure if its eq or what. im not sure of the model. they came installed in the church