Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A low female singing voice; a contralto.
  • n. A countertenor.
  • n. The range between soprano and tenor.
  • n. A singer whose voice lies within this range.
  • n. An instrument that sounds within this range.
  • n. A vocal or instrumental part written in this range.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A musical part or section higher than tenor and lower than soprano, formerly the part that performed a countermelody above the tenor or main melody.
  • n. this sense) A person or instrument that performs the alto part

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Formerly the part sung by the highest male, or counter-tenor, voices; now the part sung by the lowest female, or contralto, voices, between in tenor and soprano. In instrumental music it now signifies the tenor.
  • n. An alto singer.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Literally, high: an element in terms relating to music and art: as, alto-ripieno, alto-rilievo.
  • n. In music: Same as contralto.
  • n. The instrument called in England the tenor violin, and by the Italians the viola.
  • See all, adv., 1.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. the highest adult male singing voice
  • n. the pitch range of the lowest female voice
  • adj. (of a musical instrument) second highest member of a group
  • adj. of or being the lowest female voice
  • n. a singer whose voice lies in the alto clef
  • n. (of a musical instrument) the second highest instrument in a family of musical instruments
  • adj. of or being the highest male voice; having a range above that of tenor
  • n. the lowest female singing voice

Etymologies

Italian, from Latin altus, high; see al-2 in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Italian alto ("high") (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Note 271: Nello spiraglio dello sportello si intravede in alto una piccola tavola squadrata.

    Architecture and Memory: The Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro

  • An alto is supposed to sound a certain way - darker, fatter, richer, perhaps more matronly, than a soprano.

    Archive 2007-05-01

  • Aside from this blogger's discenrning ear and dry wit, I happen to know that she is a kickin 'alto, herself.

    Blogprops to Irontongue

  • On the bright side, I have the piano that my parents bought for this purpose and one day I’m going to learn how to play it properly (if only the music came in alto clef, I’d be set)!

    2008 July « TalentedApps

  • For all I know Ayers has relief sculptures of their likenesses in alto-rilievo style over the portal of his seminar room, and I don’t doubt for a minute that he’s a terrific classroom teacher).

    April « 2007 « Bill Ayers

  • The fourth class, called alto-stratus, is a thick sheet of gray or bluish color, sometimes thin enough to let the sun shine through.

    The Boy with the U. S. Weather Men

  • The mere fact of having high tones does not necessarily make one a soprano, neither is a voice always to be classified as alto by reason of not being able to sing high.

    The Head Voice and Other Problems Practical Talks on Singing

  • It was new to me not to hear the higher voice rise above the compass of the alto, that is to say, without touching the soprano, thereby imparting to the sound of the chorus a manly youthfulness hitherto unknown to me.

    My Life — Volume 2

  • The terms alto and contralto are sometimes used interchangeably but it's not that simple.

    News

  • The 11 musicians who joined Mr. P é rez for his most recent album, " Providencia " Mack Avenue, include his trio mates as well as newer associates, such as alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

    A Jazz Mission Statement

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