Alto Session Singers: Where to Find Them and How to Become One
Today’s topic is the all-important Alto. Instruments can be Altos as well (such as a saxophone), but in my book, I referenced Toni Braxton. I’ve loved her since I was a kid and if you don’t know her work, please check her out if you love amazing R&B! Toni Braxton actually has an incredible range (I know because I own all of her albums) but I used her as an Alto example because I think most people know her by her lower range. I included this in the book because I’ve been contacted by clients asking me to sing an “alto” song, but it was actually for sopranos. It was fine and most people can handle two parts, but I wanted to include it just so we all end up on the same page!
Anyway, let’s discuss the term Alto and why it’s important.
First: What is an Alto?
Alto actually means “high” in Italian, but if you’re in a choir and you’re an alto, you sing the lower female parts. Most choirs follow the SATB format (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) with females on the top two and males on the bottom. There are other terms I didn’t put in the book, such as Contralto (the lowest of female voices) and Countertenor (which would actually fall into the Alto range at times). I didn’t include these because if you’re into the voice types so much that you need to know them (such as a choir teacher or a classical performer), then you already know about those terms anyway so we don’t need to get into it.
Typical alto vocal range is between F3 – F5, give or take. Here is a view of a piano showing middle C and where the alto range falls:
How do I know if I have an Alto voice?
There are tests to tell which part you sing, but you can kind of tell without them. Are you more comfortable in the higher notes or lower? Is your voice richer and fuller on the lower notes? If you’re curious to really find out your type, this website is a great reference. When you find your voice, let me know!I just found out my singing range! Click To Tweet
I’m a songwriter and need an alto singer for my song. Where can I find one?
Let’s stop here for a sec. Are you SURE you need an alto? I consider myself an alto, but I’ve had clients contact me looking for an “alto” and the song is actually more of a soprano (or even a tenor if the original writer is male). I find it much easier to just ask the singer for their range. You could also send them a rough copy of the song and have them see if it fits. The label here is not very important, as long as the singer is right for your project. Here is a post I made about important things to consider before hiring a session singer.
The internet has made it pretty easy to find session singers. You can check YouTube, SoundCloud, or Reverbnation for starters. Find someone with a sound you like and see if they’re within your budget. You can also try posting an ad if you can’t find any there!
How do I become a session singer?
Start with the three sources I posted above! Those are great to show your range and style. Perform live when you can. Develop a reel. Create business cards. You’ll want to treat it like a business in order to become one! Start there and learn about entrepreneurship as you go along.
Common Problems for Alto Singers
1). The song is out of my range
This is obviously the most common problem. You have multiple options, some better than others. Ideally, you can change the key to comfortably fit your range, but that’s not always possible. You can ask the songwriter to alter the melody in places that go out of range for you (although this may be a long shot, as songwriters tend to marry their songs). Lastly, you could use tips and tricks to help your voice reach high or low notes. Here is a video on hitting high notes:
In my Christina Aguilera Masterclass series (see that here), she suggests focusing on the note just *after* the high note. It will make you sail through the high note easier.
Important note: Please do NOT try to sing out of your range without working on it carefully. This is one of the fastest and easiest ways to injure your voice!
2). My part never gets the melody!
This is true if you’re in a choir. The honor of the lead melody usually goes to the sopranos, leaving alto singers to support them with harmony. There isn’t much you can do about this, other than see if you can try out for a solo sometime. I don’t recommend trying to be a soprano in order to get the lead melody, it’s just not worth it! If you’re feeling depressed about your singing part, just try to envision the song as a whole. While your part may not be in the spotlight, you’re still important to the listeners!
3). I can’t remember (or hear) my part
This is tough when the sopranos are screaming the lead melody, and you’ve already forgotten your part and can’t hear it. Preparation is everything here. You’ve got to know your part SO WELL that no screechin’ soprano will throw you off. Practice until you know your part more than the lead. I still remember my alto parts to almost every Christmas carol because I had to practice them so much to remember them!
If you’re in the middle of performing and forget, well…I would just say to blend as best you can, or lip sync and go silent. If you know harmonies well, you can go off of that. I took a class on learning harmonies by ear if you want to see that here. Knowing harmonies by ear will help you out tremendously in the long run!
If you’re curious, I’ve made posts about other session singing voices and types as well. You can check them out here:
Here is a great article about all of the voice types and goes into a lot of detail about each one!
Really the rules are the same regardless of your voice type. Just know your range and style and you’ll be fine. Best of luck, whether you’re looking to hire a session singer or become one!
This post was originally published on 5/1/2016.