Meaning of alto in English:


Pronunciation /ˈaltəʊ/

See synonyms for alto on

Translate alto into Spanish

nounplural noun altos

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

    ‘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.’
    • ‘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 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. 1.1The 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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Her voice trembled, rising from her normal alto to a shivery soprano.’
      • ‘This time she changed her voice into a deep alto.’
    2. 1.2A person with an alto voice.
      ‘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.’
      • ‘The society is currently looking for tenors basses, altos and sopranos to join the adult choir.’
      • ‘She was an alto trying to sing soprano and missing.’
      • ‘I'm an alto, but people keep making me sing soprano.’
      • ‘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.’
    3. 1.3A 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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Nothing so simple for the oboes as piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor or bass.’
    • ‘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. 2.1An alto saxophone.
      ‘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.’
      • ‘Ornette also tries his hand at several other instruments besides alto.’
      • ‘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.’


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