The meaning of alto in music is “high” as interpreted in the Italian language. In Latin, it’s “altus”, referring to the 2nd highest voice in a contrapuntal music texture. It is also applied usually in associated vocal range, especially in the case of choral music. It is very seldom that it is described as the highest male voice type in solo. Most frequently, it is also being associated to contralto which is the lowest female standard voice type. In using instruments, it can also likewise refer to the vocal range of alto trombone and alto flute.
These are the lowest and highest form of instruments in their category, or to musical role that refers to alto recorder or treble, and alto clarinet. In choral music, the alto range is from G3 referring to G below key of C middle to F5 which is the F in 2nd octave above the C middle.
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Vocal Characteristics of an Alto Singer
When used commonly, alto describes the type of voice that sings this part typically. However, this is not absolutely right. Just like the other 3 standard choral voice types; namely, soprano, bass and tenor, bass was intended originally to describe a polyphonic or homophonic texture instead of a solo type of voice type.
Neither alto nor contralto is synonymous or interchangeable, although they are often considered as such. Women whose voice is alto in a choir are actually contraltos. Many of them should be more appropriately called mezzo-sopranos with a kind of voice that is somewhat higher in range and different in timbre.
A lot of male voices that are mistakenly being associated to countertenors are more of a “male alto” according to some music authorities. This is because these countertenors are usually producing falsetto voice. Actually, a contralto voice is simply using a vocal tessitura, timbre and range.
A solo contralto that is classically-trained usually has a kind of range which is greater than a standard choral alto, both in the lower and upper ranges. But the vocal tessitura possessed by a classically trained contralto still makes the singers more comfortable in singing the lower parts of their voices.
A non-solo contralto singing in a choir may be considered as having a low range of D3. This makes him find it easier perhaps to sing tenor in a choir, while some may be having difficulty in singing higher than E5. Contraltos and mezzo-sopranos singing in a choral context may be able to sing the alto along with countertenors to produce 3 vocal timbres, and 2 types of vocal production that can sing the same notes.
It is very rare that Alto is used in describing a vocal solo, although there are numerous terms that are used commonly in different languages. Examples of these are contralto, haute-contre, countertenor, tenor altino, etc.
Steps on Learning How to Sing Alto
Below are the 4 simple steps that you can begin to learn alto singing. For initial training session for beginners, try to find some very easy songs to sing in Alto. Then you may choose more challenging Alto songs to train your Alto vocal for better and faster improvement down to the road.
Step 1: Find the Suitable Music Instrument
Piano is the best music instrument for Alto. In this session, try to sing an easy alto song to determine whether you can sing in alto range. Normally, altos sing from the “G” located below “Middle C” to the “E” a 1/10 above “Middle C.” Just search for the key below the name of the piano brand to located the “Middle C” if you unsure where is it.
Step 2: Vocal Test
Perform a simple vocal test. Test it by following the octave ranged from “G” below “Middle C” to the “E“. Try to match your vocal voice to each single note of the octave with the piano. Observe whether you are able to finish all the notes in range comfortably.
Step 3: Learn to Read Music Notes
For better understanding and handling in singing alto. Space out some valuable time to learn reading the music notes as it’s the fundamental knowledge of the music education. It may hard to learn in the beginning, but it’s worth struggling through it as it will be your stepping stone in your singing journey. Furthermore, you will find yourself very easy to learn and absorb any style of music in a minute. Try to build up your alto singing ability from the fundamental trainings.
Step 4: Join Vocal Group
Join a vocal group and try to sing alto in the group if you have an opportunity. You have your alto voice right now. Join the vocal group in church, school or community that sings 4 part harmony. The main advantage of singing in a vocal group is that you are able to listen and discuss with the various singers who are singing in the same notes and part as you. Therefore, you will have chances to learn how to sing alto by determine which alto right or wrong in the positions of the audience.