Related Questions



alto, singing voice the range of which is lower than the soprano by the interval of a fifth. More generally, the term refers to the register in which this voice sings, i.e., the second highest part in a four-part musical texture, and to instruments utilizing this register. See countertenor.

Orchestral woodwind instrument, a large oboe pitched a 5th below the ordinary oboe. It has a bent metal crook, to hold the double reed, and a bulbous bell. It is a transposing instrument (its music written in a different tone than it actually sounds) in F. It is neither English nor a horn; in its original name, cor anglais, cor (“horn”) referred to its original hornlike curved shape, but the source of anglais (“English”) is a mystery. It has remained a basically orchestral instrument since its first appearance circa 1750.

Learn more about English horn with a free trial on

or contralto

Voice or register that extends approximately from the F below middle C to the second D above it. The second-highest part in four-part music, it is normally sung by women. The name derives from contratenor altus, the part above the tenor part. It is used for some instruments that play principally in the alto range (alto saxophone, alto flute, etc.). Seealso countertenor.

Learn more about alto with a free trial on

formerly (until 1947) Venezia Tridentina

Autonomous region (pop., 2001 prelim.: 937,107), northeastern Italy. Its capital is Trento. A mountainous area covering 5,258 sq mi (13,618 sq km), Trentino–Alto Adige has some of the highest peaks in Europe, cut through by passes into Switzerland and Austria. Historically it included the medieval ecclesiastical principalities of Trento and Bressanone. Austria annexed it in 1815. It was the scene of much fighting during World War I, and it was ceded to Italy at the end of the war. The population is a mix of German speakers in the north and Italian speakers in the south; the regional parliament alternates German-speaking and Italian-speaking chairmen. The region grows grain and grapes, raises cattle, and mines zinc, lead, and other minerals. Tourism is a major industry.

Learn more about Trentino–Alto Adige with a free trial on

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. 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; 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.

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

  • Appelman, D. Ralph (1986). The Science of Vocal Pedagogy: Theory and Application. Indiana University Press.
  • Boldrey, Richard (1994). Guide to Operatic Roles and Arias. Caldwell Publishing Company.
  • Coffin, Berton (1960). Coloratura, Lyric and Dramatic Soprano, Vol. 1. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc..
  • Peckham, Anne (2005). Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singer. Berklee Press Publications.
  • Smith, Brenda (2005). Choral Pedagogy. Plural Publishing, Inc.
  • Stark, James (2003). Bel Canto: A History of Vocal Pedagogy. University of Toronto Press.

See also

Search another word or see altoon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature