Definition of alto in US English:


nounPlural altos

  • 1The highest adult male singing voice; countertenor.

    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘This time she changed her voice into a deep alto.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Her voice trembled, rising from her normal alto to a shivery soprano.’
  • 2as modifier Denoting the member of a family of instruments pitched second or third highest.

    ‘alto flute’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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 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.’
    • ‘Nothing so simple for the oboes as piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor or bass.’
    1. 2.1 An alto instrument, especially an alto saxophone.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘His alto saxophone exerted a powerful influence on early free jazz in Britain, if not across Europe.’
      • ‘I put it in the bank until I saved up another £210 and bought a lovely alto saxophone.’
      • ‘Ornette also tries his hand at several other instruments besides alto.’
      • ‘He was primarily self-taught beginning on trumpet before switching to alto sax.’


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