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

Noun She sang in her school choir as an alto. Adjective He plays the alto sax.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Like musicians everywhere who were stuck off the road, staring into the abyss of their bank accounts, Shah — whose dark alto and eclectic songs have brought her critical acclaim and a niche following — began to examine her livelihood as an artist. New York Times, "Musicians Say Streaming Doesn’t Pay. Can the Industry Change?," 7 May 2021 The passenger-side clown, with a wide, crooked smile and a shock of red hair, blows hard on an alto saxophone, his long, skinny fingers maneuvering with the agility of Krusty tying balloon animals. Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times, "52 songs, four hours, one album: How jazz trickster Sam Gendel made a pandemic opus," 24 Mar. 2021 Mezzo-soprano Dianna Grabowski performed the alto part with a rich low register that explored a range of colors. Tim Diovanni, Dallas News, "Review: Lumedia Musicworks gave a mixed account of Pergolesi’s ‘Stabat Mater’," 16 Mar. 2021 With blistering speed and endless ideas, alto saxophonist Parker helped create bebop, which transformed jazz from danceable music to a more cerebral art form. USA Today, "25 essential jazz songs that trace the quintessential American artform through history," 22 Feb. 2021 Such inclination was evident in the sound of his alto saxophone (at the time, a white plastic one)—bold yet fragile, almost unbearably human, unlike anything else in modern music. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "An Album to Liberate a Genre," 18 Dec. 2020 Tune in for a New Year’s Day live-streamed concert by Triple Threat Brass — a group featuring Jordan Hendrick on alto saxophone, Brandon Midgette on trombone, Cyrus Mackey on trumpet, Lowrider James on tuba and Devron Dennis on drums. Angela Roberts,, "Things to do in Baltimore and online Jan. 1-7," 31 Dec. 2020 While stationed in Paris, Allen performed with the likes of pianist Art Simmons, saxophonist Don Byas and alto reedist James Moody. Washington Post, "Marshall Allen is 96 years old and still leading one of the most visionary jazz groups of all time," 30 Oct. 2020 As an interpreter of Puerto Rican folk songs and popular fare, the alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón has made a case for the richness of that island’s musical traditions, without fundamentally upending his own personal compass and style on the way. New York Times, "5 Things to Do This Weekend," 26 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Lee Konitz, 92, was an alto saxophonist who was an innovative figure in jazz for more than 70 years. Washington Post, "This is how they lived — and what was lost when they died.," 24 Apr. 2020 Kristen Dubenion-Smith possesses a lyric-mezzo of uncommon beauty, her flickering vibrato and the amber cast of her tone making something special out of the alto arias. Joe Banno, Washington Post, "One aria sums up a joyful Washington Bach Consort ‘Christmas Oratorio’," 23 Dec. 2019 At sunset, a mix of alto cirrus with mare�s tails and cumulus provide a backdrop to pristine Forester Lake at 10, 240 feet, nestled in the Great Western Divide. Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle, "Nature’s fortune-tellers predicted wild weather for Memorial Day weekend," 28 May 2018 And my uncle is an alto saxophonist named Donald Harrison Jr. who is a legendary figure in creative improvised music, or jazz music. Vann R. Newkirk Ii, The Atlantic, "Floodlines: A Q&A With New Orleans Musician Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah," 12 Mar. 2020 Her strong alto voice was a good fit for the song, and the montage was only undercut by the ever-tacky clapping caught on the mic for some of the late artists and not others. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, "Brutally honest rankings of Oscars 2020 musical performances, from Eminem's shocker to Elton John," 10 Feb. 2020 The alto saxophonist Mthunzi Mvubu is also deeply in the mix, often entwined with Mr. Hutchings’s lines. Giovanni Russonello, New York Times, "Shabaka and the Ancestors Are Making Their Own Jazz History," 11 Mar. 2020 Tenor Rodrick Dixon, soprano Alfreda Burke and alto Karen Marie Richardson are the soloists. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Detroit Opera House. Greg Crawford, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit's Top 10: Cool things to do this weekend, including Jeezy, Grizmas, 'Richard Jewell'," 11 Dec. 2019 They were joined by pianist Michael Carabello and alto saxophonist Konrad Dziemian. Susan Dunne,, "Parkville Sounds and Hartford Dance Collective join forces to create 4,500 feet of shared space," 26 Sep. 2019

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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Last Updated

15 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Alto.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for alto



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

More from Merriam-Webster on alto

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

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