So. Vocal ranges and vocal types. What do they mean?
It's quite simple. Some people squeak quietly, some people have employment opportunity as a foghorn.
But unless you have no voice at all (even then you can get a Steven Hawking robo voice) you make noise from vibrating parts of your anatomy and project that noise usually via the mouth (although through the ass may also be valid in some cases). The pitch and frequency of the noise an individual makes is classed as their range.
Vocal anatomy is not all that interesting, however.
What is vocal range? Edit
Your range, for vocal classification purposes, is what notes you can hit without fry or falsetto. That is to say growling and poor impressions of women are out. Range and weight of the voice make up vocal types for people who are pedantic enough to pigeonhole the musical world into neat little boxes. Typification is not just what notes you sing, but how powerful they are. This anally retentive system serves only two purposes: to prepare someone either to sing opera or join a choir.
The truth, however, is that a vast majority of people are just bog standard middle-ranged singers. What a surprise indeed.
But don't be fooled by names; these parts actually translate as baritone 1 and baritone 2, because neither ventures out of baritone range; and since most men are baritone it would be pointless to throw in high (real tenor) or low (real bass) notes into any choral music. Basically the man simply chooses whether he wants to sing the slightly lower or slightly higher part. The same goes for women. Alto and soprano in a choir both mean mezzo because mezzo is by far the most common female voice.
Opera, however, is elitist.
Since tenor and soprano voices are actually pretty hard to come by in the wild, those who have those voice types go straight into the music business. A tenor will usually find his way into a boy band or somewhere else equally drippy in the pop music industry. If a tenor has rich parents, however, they will go into opera. All female soprano singers go into opera too, unless they are Kate Bush or Mariah Carey.
If you are not one of those two types, in an opera, they will cast you as a tree, a dog, a slave, a criminal or the cocaine dealer...
Voice types Edit
Here are the standard vocal types. Generally it's like this:
Voice type: Tenor
Quality range on keyboard: C3 - C5 (and higher)
Sounds like: Light and emotional. Somewhat feminine.
Job description: Pop music, McCheesy rock bands, boring romantic opera plots, keeping old women happy.
Voice type: Baritone
Quality range on keyboard: G2 - G4
Sounds like: Ordinary male voice. Nothing special. If trained, the best can sound like Frank Sinatra
Job description: Standard goth male and crooner voice, anything miserable, plain or flat sounding.
Voice Type: Bass (voice)
Quality range on keyboard: C2 - C4 (If lower, they class as contra bass or Thor)
Sounds like: Booming, earthquake-inducing
Job Description: Singing Chocolate Rain, being Barry White, singing death metal.
Voice type: Mezzo/alto
Quality range on keyboard: F3 - F5
Sounds like: Any female in the popular music industry, most women
Job Description: Manufactured McDonald's pop music. Simply that or Take That.
Voice type: Contralto
Quality range on keyboard: C3 - C5
Sounds like: Listen carefully. It is actually a woman not a man... or is it a man?
Job description: Either like Cher or like K.D Lang - it's how the cookie always crumbles.
As always, though here are mutant exceptions to the male/female thing:
You can listen to the radio and become totally unsure of what gender actually sang that song; usually it's confusion between contralto and tenor because they share the same hermaphro-range...
But there are two types of voice that exist outside the set system.
The male soprano and the female baritone.
Male (or "bald") Soprano Edit
The male soprano used to be called castrato; but that is now an incorrect term in most cases, as male castration for the purposes of singing fell out of fashion; and women's liberation meant that eunuch places in the choir were easily taken over by actual born females. The last employer of castrato singers was the Pope.
Castration aside, however, there are a small amount of men who are unfortunate enough not to have enough testosterone to make their voice change in puberty. You can tell those men by their annoyingly high squeak and R2-D2 whistles.
This means you cannot have a serious conversation with one unless you have a bat detector. Castratos are the mice of men.
Female Baritone Edit
There is no term for this other than whaaaaat the heeeeeeell? These women are physically incapable of singing anything near a high note or indeed remotely feminine, and may be found singing the Volga Boatwomen's song at a bar if supplied with enough vodka.
These Russian women may also have excess body hair and tattoos and wrestle bears. They will make you cringe by singing Johnny Cash in the correct octave and in a booming manner. These boatwomen make men worry about their own sexuality when they hit a bass note in A Boy Called Sue.
There is no place for them in normal music. They only exist to frighten men, women and children alike.