Alto is a musical term, derived from the Latin word "altus", meaning "high", that has several possible interpretations.

When designating instruments, "alto" frequently refers to a member of an instrumental family that has the second highest range, below that of the treble or soprano. [ [ alto - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ] ] Hence, for example, the term "alto saxophone". In other "families", such as the trombone, there is no soprano, the alto having been the highest, although it is absent from the standard modern symphony orchestra.

In choral music, "alto" describes the second highest voice part in a four-part chorus. As well as being the modern Italian word for "high", in the present context it is an Italian abbreviation derived from the Latin phrase "contratenor altus", used in medieval polyphony, usually to describe the highest of three parts, the line of which was in counterpoint (in other words, against = contra) with the tenor (which "held" the main melody; this word itself originates in the Latin verb "tenere", meaning "to hold").

The alto range in choral music is approximately from G3 to F5. In common usage, alto is used to describe the voice type that typically sings this part, though this is not strictly correct: alto, like the other three standard modern choral voice classifications (soprano, tenor and bass) was originally intended to describe a part within a homophonic or polyphonic texture, rather than an individual voice type [Stark (2003), Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy] ; neither are the terms alto and contralto interchangeable or synonymous, though they are often treated as such. Although some women who sing alto in a choir are contraltos, many would be more accurately called mezzo-sopranos (a voice of somewhat higher range and different timbre), and many men countertenors (this latter term is a source of considerable controversy, some authorities preferring the usage of the term "male alto" for those countertenors who use a predominantly falsetto voice production). The contralto voice is a matter of vocal timbre and vocal tessitura as well as range, and a classically-trained solo contralto would usually have a range greater than that of a normal choral alto part in both the upper and lower ranges. However, the vocal tessitura of a classically trained contralto would still make these singers more comfortable singing in the lower part of the voice. A choral non-solo contralto may also have a low range down to D3 (thus perhaps finding it easier to sing the choral tenor part), but some would have difficulty singing above E5. In a choral context mezzo-sopranos and contraltos might sing the alto part, together with countertenors, thus having three vocal timbres (and two means of vocal production) singing the same notes. [Smith (2005), Choral Pedagogy]

Alto is rarely used to describe a solo voice, though there is a plethora of terms in common usage in various languages and in different cultures for solo singers in this range. Examples include contralto, countertenor, "haute-contre", and "tenor altino" among others.

The term alto is also used to designate a specific kind of musical clef. See alto clef.


Further reading

* cite book
title= The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application
last= Appelman
first= D. Ralph
year= 1986
publisher= Indiana University Press
isbn=13: 978-0253203786

* cite book
title= Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias
last= Boldrey
first= Richard
year= 1994
publisher= Caldwell Publishing Company
isbn=13: 9781877761645

* cite book
title= Coloratura, Lyric and Dramatic Soprano, Vol. 1
last= Coffin
first= Berton
year= 1960
publisher= Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
isbn=13: 9780810801882

* cite book
title= Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer
last= Peckham
first= Anne
year= 2005
publisher= Berklee Press Publications
isbn=13: 978-0876390474

* cite book
title= Choral Pedagogy
last= Smith
first= Brenda
year= 2005
publisher= Plural Publishing, Inc
isbn=13: 978-1597560436

* cite book
title= Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy
last= Stark
first= James
year= 2003
publisher= University of Toronto Press
isbn=13: 978-0802086143

ee also

* Contralto
* Countertenor
* Fach, the German system for classifying voices
* Voice classification in non-classical music
* Voice type

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • alto — alto …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • alto — [ alto ] n. • 1771; mot it. « haut » 1 ♦ N. f. Contralto. 2 ♦ N. m. (1808; d ab. appelé quinte ou haute contre de violon) Instrument de la famille des violons, d une quinte plus grave et un peu plus grand. ♢ N. Instrumentiste qui joue de cet… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • alto — alto, ta adjetivo 1. (ser / estar; antepuesto / pospuesto) Que tiene mucha altura o una altura más importante de lo normal para su clase: nivel alto. Le gusta llevar tacones altos porque es muy bajita. alta mar*. cuello* alto. Antónimo: bajo. 2.… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Alto — steht für: Alto (Band), eine deutsche Band Alto (Heiliger), ein Einsiedler, auf den das Kloster Altomünster zurückgeht Alto (Piemont), eine Stadt in Italien Alto (Währung), eine Regionalwährung in Hamburg Altona El Alto, eine Stadt in Bolivien… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • alto — ta 1. ‘De altura o estatura por encima de lo normal’: Me gustan los edificios altos; Pedro es un joven alto; ‘situado en un plano elevado’: Los pisos altos tienen más luz; dicho de una magnitud, ‘de valor o grado elevado en relación con lo normal …   Diccionario panhispánico de dudas

  • ALTO — Cette page d’homonymie répertorie les différents sujets et articles partageant un même nom …   Wikipédia en Français

  • alto — ÁLTO s.m. 1. Voce (de femeie sau de copil) cu timbru grav, situată ca registru între sopran şi tenor. 2. Instrument de suflat a cărui scară corespunde vocii de mai sus. 3. Violă1. – Din it., fr. alto. Trimis de ana zecheru, 13.09.2007. Sursa: DEX …   Dicționar Român

  • alto — adj. 1. Que tem maior altura que a ordinária. ≠ BAIXO 2. Elevado. 3. Excessivo. 4. Erguido. 5. Profundo (olhado ou considerado de baixo para cima). 6. Forte. 7. Crescido, cheio. 8. Superior, insigne. 9. Nobre, ilustre. 10. Difícil de compreender …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • alto — alto, alto copete expr. importante. ❙ «...un caballero portugués, dejó traslucir que de alto copete, pero...» Gonzalo Torrente Ballester, Filomeno, a mi pesar, 1988, RAE CREA. ❙ «Parecían extraños pájaros de alto copete...» Arturo Uslar Pietri,… …   Diccionario del Argot "El Sohez"

  • alto — [lat. altus, propr. part. pass. passivo di alĕre nutrire, far crescere ]. ■ agg. 1. a. [che si eleva dal suolo con uno sviluppo verticale notevole: un a. monte ; alberi d a. fusto ] ▶◀ elevato. ‖ eminente, prominente. ◀▶ basso. b. [di statura… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

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