Alto (thing)

The voice

The alto vocal range is between the tenor and soprano ranges. It is generally the lowest female range and the highest male range. The term is also used interchangably with contralto and countertenor, though the typical ranges of each of these terms differs depending on the definition. The typical 'alto' range is just over two octaves, from the F below middle C to the D a ninth above it. The alto part in four part harmony is the second highest, as it is lower than the soprano part but higher than tenor and bass.

In open score and other choral sheet music, alto parts were originally written in the alto clef. These parts are now written in the treble clef in modern scores. In short score, the alto part is written on the treble clef below the soprano part. The stems on the alto notes always point downward.


The term 'alto' can also be used to classify certain instrument ranges. Like the vocal classification, the instrumental 'alto' classification also falls between the 'tenor' and 'soprano' classifications. The most popular alto instrument is arguably the alto saxophone, which is in the key of E flat and produces higher sounds than other instruments in the saxophone family because it has less inner tubing. The alto horn is also an E flat instrument, though it belongs to the brass family (as opposed to the woodwinds). Alto clarinets, flutes, recorders, and trombones are also used.
Music Theory Online: 13 June 2004
Alto: 11 March 2004