al·​to | \ ˈal-(ˌ)tō How to pronounce alto (audio) , ˈȯl-\
plural altos

Definition of alto

 (Entry 1 of 2)

2 : the second highest voice part in a 4-part chorus
3 : a member of a family of instruments having a range lower than that of the treble or soprano especially : an alto saxophone



Definition of alto (Entry 2 of 2)

: relating to or having the range or part of an alto

Examples of alto in a Sentence


She sang in her school choir as an alto.


He plays the alto sax.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Williamson speaks in a husky alto with a cadence that is part meditation guide and part preacher. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, "Marianne Williamson won’t make you feel better about America, but you’ll feel better about yourself," 27 June 2019 His alto has a big broad tone, at times reminiscent of the bluesy tenor saxophones that came from Chicago in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Martin Johnson, WSJ, "‘Stomping Off From Greenwood’ by Greg Ward Review," 17 Jan. 2019 Não é fácil, mas juntos nossas vozes soam mais alto equanto mais barulho fizermos, mais difícil será para ignorarem nosso pedido de igualdade. Pabllo Vittar, Billboard, "Pabllo Vittar: Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community," 26 June 2018 The alto cirrus indicate a change in weather, the mare’s tail mean high-altitude winds, the cumulus means building moisture. Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle, "Nature’s fortune-tellers predicted wild weather for Memorial Day weekend," 28 May 2018 Dawn McCarthy, whose Faun Fables opens the evening, lends her dark alto to the song and is answered by distant, ghoulish laughter. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Chicago prog-rock icons Cheer-Accident achieves a new creative apex nearly four decades into its career with Fades," 31 May 2018 At the beginning of the Mass for Double Choir by the Swiss composer Frank Martin, simple, flowing lines for the altos evoke the purity of Gregorian chant. Barbara Jepson, New York Times, "Interest Grows in a Master of Choral Mystery and Power," 25 May 2018 Mikell, an alto, is staying with family in Philly during the run. John Timpane,, "It's a joyous 'Gospel at Colonus' reunion at First Unitarian Church," 21 May 2018 Countertenors, males of the species who sing in the range of a female alto, continue to be the growth industry in classical music. John Von Rhein,, "There's a hot new countertenor in town. And he breakdances.," 17 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

With a searing alto tone that can flare from blue flame glow to bright orange grit within a phrase, Fuller has emerged as a formidable bandleader over the past decade, with four impressive albums on Mack Avenue Records. Andrew Gilbert, The Mercury News, "Beyonce sax player Tia Fuller lands in SF Bay Area for 3 shows," 5 June 2019 Thomas Brill knew how to play the piano, organ, violin, flute and alto saxophone, his sister said. Michael Williams,, "Inmate at Seminole County jail dead in apparent suicide, authorities say," 3 June 2019 Both saxophonists evoke the concise, often clipped, syntax of Mr. Threadgill’s playing without resorting to mimicry: Mr. Filiú (who also plays alto flute) with an urgent intensity, and Mr. Macdonald through more of a narrative arc. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "‘Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus’ and ‘Dirt… and More Dirt’ Reviews," 22 May 2018 Dexter took up the alto sax at 14, switching at 15 to the tenor that his mother bought him to fit his tall frame. Clifford Thompson, WSJ, "‘Sophisticated Giant’ Review: Long Tall Tenor Man," 1 Nov. 2018 For this evening’s performance Willitz is joined by guitarist Rami Atassi, drummer Raul Cotaquispe, and Ward, who rather than playing alto sax will sing through a loop station to produce wordless textures. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Caleb Willitz perpetually refines his pensive folk-rock sound by working with some of Chicago’s strongest improvisers," 12 July 2018 Ah Young Hong and Kiera Duffy, sopranos; Michael Hersch, and Amy Yang, piano; Gary Louie, alto saxophone; Members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Chronicle Staff Report, San Francisco Chronicle, "Classical music and dance listings," 7 June 2018 With a new lineup solidified — and Diaz, guitarist Keith Whatley, alto saxophone player Tony McCullough and drummer Audi Jones still at the core — Groove 8 got to work. Courtney Devores, charlotteobserver, "With A-list connections and new lineup, Groove 8 is back at it with new EP," 21 June 2018 Both will feature soprano and alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra, trombonist Jeb Bishop, pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, and bassist Nate McBride, with Luther Gray on drums for the first and Eric Rosenthal for the second., "The Ticket: What’s happening in the local arts world," 8 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'alto.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of alto


1611, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1724, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for alto


Italian, literally, high, from Latin altus

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Dictionary Entries near alto

Alt key




Alto Adige

alto clarinet

alto clef

Statistics for alto

Last Updated

10 Jul 2019

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The first known use of alto was in 1611

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English Language Learners Definition of alto

 (Entry 1 of 2)

music : a singing voice that is lower than the voice of a soprano and higher than the voice of a tenor also : a singer having such a voice



English Language Learners Definition of alto (Entry 2 of 2)

: having a range that is lower than a soprano and higher than a tenor


al·​to | \ ˈal-tō How to pronounce alto (audio) \
plural altos

Kids Definition of alto

1 : the lowest female singing voice
2 : the second highest part in harmony that has four parts
3 : a singer or an instrument having an alto range or part

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More from Merriam-Webster on alto

Spanish Central: Translation of alto

Nglish: Translation of alto for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about alto

Comments on alto

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characterized by aphorism

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