Definition of alto in English:



  • 1(especially in church music) the highest adult male singing voice (sometimes distinguished from the countertenor voice as using falsetto).

    • ‘Usually there were four professional singers filling out the solo roles with amateur choirs singing choruses and kids from Boys Grammar doing some male alto singing.’
    • ‘The opposing sides in this duologue are represented by two female soprano voices portraying Beauty and Pleasure, and by two male altos, probably super - rather than sub-human castrati, who signify Time and Disillusion.’
    • ‘In the latter part of the 20th century the male alto voice became closely associated with the revival of Baroque opera, especially the works of Handel.’
    • ‘Linwood sings male alto as well as soprano but he also has an additional, very attractive qualification: a Masters degree in Romance Languages and Linguistics from Harvard University.’
    • ‘The cor anglais and violin obbligato in the duet for male alto and tenor, Wie selig, with its thirds and lyrical highlights was particularly effective.’
    1. 1.1 The lowest female singing voice; contralto.
      • ‘Her voice trembled, rising from her normal alto to a shivery soprano.’
      • ‘This she held out before her now with both hands as one does with an offering and, after another silent pause, she began to sing in a clear alto, the song of her own making, which Forest around seemed to understand, listening intently.’
      • ‘This time she changed her voice into a deep alto.’
      • ‘The music was fun and in that situation I liked singing soprano better than singing alto, although I do love the inner harmonies, too.’
      • ‘The older is a soprano but people tend to make her sing alto.’
    2. 1.2 A person with an alto voice.
      • ‘A lot of people have said that we do have similar singing voices, although in fact I'm a mezzo soprano and Sandy is an alto.’
      • ‘As the main emphasis of the courses lies in the choir made up of all participants, space is limited to approximately twenty sopranos, twelve altos and counter-tenors, and sixteen basses.’
      • ‘She was an alto trying to sing soprano and missing.’
      • ‘The society is currently looking for tenors basses, altos and sopranos to join the adult choir.’
      • ‘I'm an alto, but people keep making me sing soprano.’
    3. 1.3 A part written for an alto voice.
      • ‘There is an overdependence on unison writing between the alto and bass, and most of the drum lines are unimaginative and monotonous.’
      • ‘Soprano, alto, tenor and bass parts are all ascribed to him.’
      • ‘The soprano melody above it has been heard several times by this point in the piece, yet it sounds unnatural to ignore it completely in favor of the alto, a newly added contrapuntal element.’
  • 2as modifier Denoting the member of a family of instruments pitched second or third highest.

    ‘alto flute’
    • ‘Nothing so simple for the oboes as piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor or bass.’
    • ‘All the pieces I receive are put onto our waiting lists for performances, and we have an open call for scores for any chamber works using the alto or bass flute.’
    • ‘On the positive side, there is Shore's scrupulous instrumental characterisation, with a troubling French horn and a pure alto flute representing the moral struggle within the mysterious main character.’
    • ‘The three smaller works are a duo for cello and piano, Six Days in Jericho, a duo for alto flute and piano, Spilliaert's Beach, and a piano solo, A Haunted Heart.’
    • ‘The bass flute has an especially prominent part, and the composer suggests that alto and bass players may exchange parts between movements to rest the arms and the embouchure.’
    1. 2.1 An alto saxophone.
      • ‘Ornette also tries his hand at several other instruments besides alto.’
      • ‘His alto saxophone exerted a powerful influence on early free jazz in Britain, if not across Europe.’
      • ‘He was primarily self-taught beginning on trumpet before switching to alto sax.’
      • ‘I headed to the end of the hall, where all the saxophones had congregated, and saw three out of the four different types of saxophones; the baritone, tenor and alto.’
      • ‘I put it in the bank until I saved up another £210 and bought a lovely alto saxophone.’


Late 16th century: from Italian alto (canto) ‘high (song)’.