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What is an alto voice?
What key do altos sing in?
Explore tips to develop alto voice.
When it comes to singing voices, you’re probably familiar with glass-shattering sopranos like Mariah Carey or deep and rich baritones like Frank Sinatra. Alto voices can seem so rare, especially since most modern female singers tend to have bright and high voices.
That doesn’t mean you have to stay clear of anything that involves singing though. Like any vocal range, altos can sound beautiful once they find the right key that maximizes the best of their voices. So, in this article, we’ll be reviewing the best key for alto singers and the ways to further their potential.
What Is an Alto Voice?
An alto voice is the lowest type of female (or boy’s voice).
The word “alto” means “high” in Italian, and it goes back to the 16th century when alto parts in choirs were typically sung by men. It is usually used to refer to the lowest part normally sung by women in choirs. In choral music, the alto is the second highest vocal range, above the bass and tenor ranges but below the soprano.
Unlike sopranos who strive to hit the highest notes, singing alto is going for those low notes with a warm and open tone. Alto voices generally are described to be rich and almost buttery with an androgynous quality to them, though this depends on the singer.
Alto Vs. Contralto
Alto and contralto are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between those two terms. While both terms refer to low vocal ranges, contralto is the lowest range of the female solo voice in opera whereas alto is the lowest female part in a choir.
However, the true contralto vocal range is pretty rare, which is why most people prefer to use “alto” instead.
What Key Do Altos Sing In?
The vocal range of a typical alto usually lies somewhere between the E note below middle C (E3) to the 2nd G note above middle C (G5).
Most altos can go between F3 to F5, though some can either go above or below this range. Altos generally can comfortably sing up to D5. Alto soloists also generally have a bigger range compared to the choral alto in both the upper and lower ranges.
What Key Is Best for Alto Voices?
Like any vocal range, no key can be considered best for altos. It really depends on how you train your voice to reach certain notes. That said, the musical keys that altos can comfortably reach would be A, F, and G.
Knowing the best key for your voice can help you decide how you’ll go about a song so it brings out the best of your singing abilities.
How Do I Know If I’m an Alto?
The ideal way to find out your voice type is to take singing lessons and have your music teacher test your vocal range and train it.
Another way would be to use a keyboard or piano. To find out if you’re an alto using a piano or keyboard, start with middle C and play the note while matching your voice to it. Once you reach a note you cannot hit, that’s when you can assess how wide your vocal range is and your voice type.
To use this method, you have to sing toward the bottom of your register first. Then, work your way down from middle C and continue octave by octave down the piano until you’ve determined your range. The note you can hit consistently and hold strongly is the end of your natural range. This means that you are able to sustain that note without running out of breath.
If you don’t have any of those instruments, you can also record your singing on your phone so others can hear the tone of your voice or give you a description of what your voice sounds like.
The faster and easier method, of course, would be to download a free online MIDI keyboard through your phone, tablet, or laptop. You can install Anvil Studio, a free program for Windows, or the Android app MIDI Keyboard.
If you regularly sing, you probably have an idea what your voice type is and where you’re most comfortable singing in.
Developing Your Alto Voice
Even if you have a different voice type, it’s not impossible to develop an alto voice. Here are a few tips you can keep in mind.
Doing warm-ups before singing is very important as they help protect your vocal cords over a long period of time. A proper warm-up clears your throat and improves your breathing, allowing you to reach notes that might not be open to you if you start singing immediately.
Some of the warm-up exercises you can do are singing scales, humming, or even stretching your body to relax your muscles.
Develop Your Range
You can’t have a good alto voice without developing your vocal range. To do so, you can start by challenging your range. Try bringing your vocals down to learn those lower notes. Remember not to force yourself if you’re unable to hold one whole note, otherwise you’ll hurt your vocal cords.
This can be a challenging process, but it ensures that you’re developing your voice to hold those lower notes consistently. It takes time to make progress with your range, so try taking it slow and avoid straining your throat.
Practice With Your Favorite Songs
While vocal exercises are a great warm-up, you’ll find yourself getting bored doing them all the time. To actually get that warm and rich alto resonance, you need to practice with songs and learn them perfectly.
A few modern alto singers would include Cher, Tracy Chapman, and Annie Lennox. But most true alto pieces usually come from musicals and operas, though these might not be within your musical interests. Of course, there’s no harm in pushing your limits and exploring classical music.
The best musical keys for alto singers generally would be A, F, and G. Some altos can even hit much lower notes. Generally, as an alto singer, you should be able to hit those bottom notes easily with a warm, rich tone.
Even if you have a different voice type, you can still train your voice to sound like an alto. Some tips to develop your alto voice would be to do warm-ups before singing and to develop your vocal range by consistently practicing until you can hold a whole note without going out of breath. Practice makes perfect after all.