Definition of alto in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈaltō/

noun (plural altos)

1A voice, instrument, or part below the highest range and above tenor, in particular.
Example sentences
  • Conveniently, there were four of us, suitably arranged into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
  • This order has been converted to the modern score order of soprano, alto, tenor, bass in the music examples below.
  • Having listened to a cassette of their music, Simon was captivated by the stirring sound of bass, alto and tenor harmonies.
1.1The highest adult male singing voice; countertenor.
Example sentences
  • 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.
1.2The lowest female singing voice; contralto.
Example sentences
  • The music was fun and in that situation I liked singing soprano better than singing alto, although I do love the inner harmonies, too.
  • 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.
  • The older is a soprano but people tend to make her sing alto.
1.3 [as modifier] Denoting the member of a family of instruments pitched second or third highest: alto flute
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
1.4An alto instrument, especially an alto saxophone.
Example sentences
  • I put it in the bank until I saved up another £210 and bought a lovely alto saxophone.
  • 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.


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

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: al·to

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