“Oh, I’m an Alto.”
I hear it all too often. And my body’s ‘truth meter’ indicates false. Unless you’ve worked with a voice teacher after you reached 35 years of age, and she or he assessed that you are truly an ‘alto,’ then you’re a soprano who doesn’t know it.
What is ‘an alto’, anyway? In classical singing, there is the contralto vocal ‘fach’ – the fancy German word for classical voice categories. There’s lots of confusion about this among lay people… we’ll deal with the variations on “Soprano” in another blog. Back to the Alto. A contralto voice has a dark, covered tone, and can generally cover the range of F below middle C to the G an octave and a fifth above middle C. That’s right, ladies… that ‘high G’ that you don’t think you can sing? Think again!
It would be more accurate to say
“I sing Alto” when referring to what voice part you sing in choir – you can sing in the lower register without vocal fatigue or stress, you are able to hear the harmony parts, and maybe don’t have the polish on your high notes that sopranos have.
In my experience, most women who are singing alto are either mezzo-sopranos, or sopranos who don’t know how to hit high notes yet. You’ve heard the phrase, “Sopranos are a dime a dozen,” right? Most female voices are soprano. It has to do with the timbre or tone color of the voice, not the range.
You protest: “I thought it took talent to sing high notes.”
It takes training.
Think about it. If you decide you want to play tennis, do you go buy your racket and some balls, and immediately you can hit an accurate forehand and backhand? No, not if you’re most people. You sign up for a class or get some coaching. With singing, it’s the same thing. Singing is a muscular activity, and if you don’t ever challenge the muscles to be used in a different way, you won’t ever progress beyond the octave and change range of your youth. The notes are there – waiting to be accessed. It’s time to access them!
You have to start simply. Humming. Vocalise (vocal patterns repeated at ascending and descending pitch levels) specifically designed to strengthen the hundreds of muscles involved in proper vocal production.
Yes, hundreds. Maybe even thousands. From your feet to your hips to your abdominal wall, through your rib cage to your larynx (the one most people focus on) to your tongue, the inside of your mouth, your cheeks and your eyes. You can do more than you thought possible, I bet. Won’t you come find out?