Even though an alto is a woman with a relatively low singing voice, the word 'Alto' actually came from describing a man's voice who sings high. You know, back in the day, they were weird about having women perform sometimes, so you would often have boy choirs or all-men choirs where guys took the higher parts. So 'alto', originally describing a man's high voice, is from the Latin root, Altus, or 'high'.
As an alto singer, I pride myself on having the best of two worlds when it comes to vocal range. On one hand, I can sing some sweet angelic high notes in my head voice like a soprano. And on the other, I can give strong, thick, powerful belts in my lower range. Think of singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Adele, who are simply unmatched when it comes to singing with intense emotional inflection and a rich tone. The alto range is where it's at!
Many will say that the range of an alto is usually from F3 to F5, but I like to think of it closer to F3 to D5, especially when we're talking about belting range in the style of pop or musical theatre. If your range is slightly lower, you may want to label yourself as a contralto, which is sometimes even cooler! I'm always jealous of women who can hit low notes around the C3 range in a tone that really resonates (my tone is thin down there). If your range is a bit higher, you can consider yourself a term called mezzo-soprano.
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Keep in mind that all of these terms stem from more classical styles of singing, so there's no need to get too hung up on it if you're not a classical singer. Also, the term also is really more for choir voice classifications; most females in a middle-to-low range are labeled as mezzo-soprano, and the lowest range is more accurately referred to as the contralto range.
Here are some alto voice examples if you want to get a better idea of the range and vocal timbre that comes with it. Some altos prefer to sing softly and smoothly like Sade, and others can be powerhouses like Adele. While most of them sing beautifully in the mid-range, altos can hit high notes with their head voice quite often.
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In a choir setting, female singers that are soprano often get to sing the melody, while the alto singers often get a harmony part to sing. This can cause alto singers to really strengthen their ear training skills for harmony parts and better pitch accuracy over time. We can really hold our voice part down more often than those who get babied with easier lines!
Tenor parts often sing notes that are in the lower part of an alto's range (around C3) or sing falsetto parts that are comfortably in the middle or mid-high section of an altos range (around G4). Many songs that are made for tenors can also be sung by an alto, especially if you raise the song by a few keys. Duets between altos and tenors where you can both harmonies, sing unison, or switch parts are always a great thing to hear.
If you are an alto or a mezzo-soprano singer that is cast in a singing role in an opera or musical theatre, you may be put into a darker role due to the darker tone of your voice in comparison to soprano singers. This also happens to bass singers when compared to tenors. A deeper voice somehow translates to you becoming a character that has bad intentions or is in 2nd place in comparison to a lead soprano role. It sucks sometimes, but it's also really fun to act out sometimes as well.
In choir settings, an alto line can sometimes be a drone with the same note over and over, similar to a bass note. These types of vocal parts are key to the harmonies but really boring to sing in comparison to the melody or more challenging harmonies. But don't be too worried, because the other large part of your voice part reading will be very challenging and filled with accidentals and jazzy notes. I happen to love alto lines like these, but some altos dread the challenge, especially when they are newbies.
Next Post: The Contralto Voice Range And Capabilities
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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