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[al-toh] /ˈæl toʊ/ Music.
noun, plural altos.
the lowest female voice; contralto.
the highest male voice; countertenor.
a singer with such a voice.
a musical part for such a voice.
the second highest of the four parts of a mixed vocal chorus, or the voices or persons singing this part.
the second highest instrument in a family of musical instruments, as the viola in the violin family or the althorn in the cornet family.
of, relating to, or having the tonal range of the alto.
(of a musical instrument) second highest in a family of musical instruments:
alto saxophone.
Origin of alto
1775-85; < Italian < Latin altus high


variant of alti-:
altostratus. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for alto
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • While the first voice is singing the first half, the second voice sings the second half as the alto part of the first half.

    How Music Developed W. J. Henderson
  • But there was one spot thrown into alto relievo by the sombre drapery of woe.

    The Story of My Life Egerton Ryerson
  • Primarily (besides the bass clef), in Italy and Germany, only the tenor clef was used, and the alto clef in France.

    The Violoncello and Its History Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski
  • Drusilla Osborn was first, then Lettie Burley, an alto, came next.

    Blue Ridge Country Jean Thomas
  • The soprano was incessantly quarrelling with her colleagues, and the alto was an intriguing vixen quite without talent.

    The Goose Man Jacob Wassermann
  • I will alto make it a possession for the bittern, and pools for water.

    Bible Animals; J. G. Wood
  • The basso sculpture of the Altar would, also, indicate an earlier erection than the surrounding "Idols," which are in alto.

  • Charlie took tenor, and Sybil treble, and I alto, and the sexton bass.

    Dodo, Volumes 1 and 2 Edward Frederic Benson
British Dictionary definitions for alto


noun (pl) -tos
the highest adult male voice; countertenor
(in choral singing) a shortened form of contralto
a singer with such a voice
another name for viola1 (sense 1)
a flute, saxophone, etc, that is the third or fourth highest instrument in its group
denoting a flute, saxophone, etc, that is the third or fourth highest instrument in its group
Word Origin
C18: from Italian: high, from Latin altus


combining form
high: altocumulus, altostratus
Word Origin
from Latin altus high
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for alto

1784, "man with an alto voice," from Italian alto (canto), from Latin altus "high" (see old). Originally a "high" man's voice, now more commonly applied to the lower range of women's voices (which is more strictly the contralto), an extension first recorded in 1881.

The alto in a man is totally distinct from the contralto in a woman. The tone is utterly different -- the best notes of the one are certainly not the best notes of the other; and although in certain cases a contralto may sing with good effect music written for a male alto (e.g. in some oratorios), yet the converse is scarcely ever true. ["How to Sing," 1890]
As a type of saxophone, from 1869.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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alto in Culture

alto definition

The lowest range of the female singing voice, also called contralto. (Compare mezzo soprano and soprano.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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