Singing in the contralto range is not the same as singing in an alto range, although they often get confused.
Many professional music theorists will say that there is actually no such thing as an alto range since it is a term better suited for choir classification and not an actual voice type.
But in the traditional choir sense and in instances of solo singing, there is definitely a contralto range.
The contralto vocal range is the lowest that a female singer can be classified by. This can be quite confusing when you consider that the root word "alto" describes a man's high voice and is a derivative of the Latin word, Altus, or 'high'.
But the funny thing is, the highest male range, known as the countertenor range, is identical to the range of a contralto.
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Contralto singers have notes that usually fall between an F below low C (which is F3) and an F above high C (which is F5), but they often can go even lower.
Surprisingly, this range is pretty low when compared to a range of a mezzo or a lyric-soprano, for example. But if you find that you can sing in this range and a bit outside of it, you can still be classified as a contralto.
This voice type often comes with a very rich color or tone, which is often referred to as the vocal timbre. Basses and contraltos alike often have dark timbres, while tenors and soprano singers are likely to have bright and light timbres, but it can vary by the singer.
The contralto voice type is a truly rare thing to come by. Most female singers that sing on the low side still fall under the category of a mezzo-soprano rather than a contralto.
Many singers who refer to themselves as mezzos or altos (like me) can sing lower notes than most other women, but it gets thin around a low C. True contraltos can hit near that F below the C, and I am extremely jealous of that fact!
As someone who grew up singing in a variety of choir types, including school, church, and professional, I've only met less than a handful of singers that fall into this voice range.
When I do come across such a rich voice, it is often an older singer that used to be a mezzo, but their range deepened with time.
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A mezzo-soprano singer has a range that falls somewhere between an A below middle C (A3) and an A above high C (A5). You'll find many pop songs fall into a mezzo range, making it a bit difficult for contraltos to sing covers without having to transpose the key.
Contraltos often stay in their chest voice for songs, while mezzos more often sing in their head voice to extend their range at the top.
Contraltos also have a lower vocal break or passagio point, meaning their vocal register changes from chest to head voice at a lower note, which may make mezzo songs more of a challenge and likely to crack on as a contralto.
The range of a countertenor (a male singer with a high range) is nearly identical to the range of a contralto, which means that songs in this range can often work for both.
A countertenor's notes often fall between G3 and D5, which makes it one of the smallest vocal ranges you can have. There is a subset of countertenors called sopranists that actually have a range closer to soprano (C4-C6).
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Some of the most legendary singers of all time have ranges that fall within the category of a contralto. Many of the names I will list came around in more modern times, but there are some classic legends that I want to give a shout-out to as well.
The video above features my all-time favorite contralto singer. Get into that tone and depth!
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