There are an estimated 1.4 million adults across the country who identify as transgender, according to recent reports. That means that nearly 0.6 percent of the adult population share – to some capacity – the struggle to transition their voice to match the gender with which they identify.
But why is this such an important issue?
The sound of the human voice plays an incredibly important role in our identity, which is why vocal transition is so important in the lives of transgender men and women. However, many transgender men and women are not able to properly transition their voice from male to female or female to male due to underlying or undiagnosed medical conditions.
So where can you go to for help? Where do you even start?
Here is one fabulous resource…
Feminization of the Transgender Female Voice
Kathe Perez, The Exceptional Voice
Our voices—the primary means of expression in our fast-paced verbally ubiquitous lives. The voices on the radio. The voices on TV. The voices in our heads. In combination with our facial expressions and gestures, our voices tell people who we are, what we want and how we feel.
Socially and occupationally, we use our voices to express ideas, to influence others and to gain acceptance. During the course of our lives, our voices change to reflect our culture, personal habits, and conditions of health, age and gender. Gender identity is heavily weighted in our self-conceptualization and the outward expression of self.
Let’s begin your vocal journey with a little understanding of your voice. Your physical voice is produced by your vocal cords (or folds) which are encased in your larynx. A fascinating thing about the larynx is its location in the body. It’s positioned in the front of the neck right in the middle of a busy freeway of supply lines (airway, blood vessels, and nerves). Therefore, the voice is a unique witness to the many events that occur in the body. Poor health or disease often leaves some kind of “footprint” on the voice. Your uncertainty about who you are may be revealed in your voice. When you’re angry, anxious or upset, your voice shows it. When you feel joyful, your voice trumpets the news to others. Voice scientists, speech-language pathologists and ENT physicians (otolaryngologists) organize voice production into five components. They are:
- Respiration– power source
- Phonation– sound source
- Resonance– sound modifier
- Articulation– speech modifier
- Prosody– melodic aspects of speech
In order for there to be sound, the vocal folds vibrate and phonation (voicing) occurs. To achieve this sound air must travel upward from the lungs through the opening of the larynx called the glottis. Once the vocal folds have been set into motion by this air stream, the sound is modified by chambers of the throat and mouth, creating resonance frequencies. The size of the chambers directly affects these frequencies. The bigger the size, the deeper (or lower) the formant frequencies. We call these deep resonant overtones. Cis-gender females have a smaller mouth and throat and therefore does not have that deep rumble that you hear in most cis-genetic male voices. These chambers play a very important role in the perception of the timbre of the voice—whether it’s perceived as a rich, or nasal or thin voice.
The articulators (tongue, lips, jaw, and soft palate) shape the sound into recognizable speech. Then it’s the prosodic features (speaking rate, inflection, pauses) which make your speaking style uniquely your own. In training your feminine voice, all five components must be included.
Try rating your use of the voice training techniques (the things you’ve been doing to achieve a more feminine voice). Use the 10-point scale below to rate your skills. For example, have you learned abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing techniques? Are you aware of the sensation of your belly pulling in as you speak? If you feel very skillful about your breathing techniques, score yourself six or above. If you have no idea what abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing or airflow techniques are, rate yourself five or below.
To rate your voice quality, first consider your pitch–do you feel it’s in an appropriate feminine range? Or are you getting “sir-ed” a lot. The quality is the clarity of your voice, meaning not breathy or raspy. Your ability to control loudness is often affected by your airflow skills. If you feel you have very good techniques for controlling the pitch, quality and loudness of your voice, rate yourself six or above and if you feel very limited in your skills and techniques, rate yourself five or below.
To rate your resonance, listen to your voice in terms of whether or not you hear a deep rumbling sound, even though you might feel your pitch is in a good range. Or consider if you have a thin, tight or nasal sound to your voice. Score yourself the same as above, if you feel you’ve developed very good techniques for improving your resonance, rate yourself six or above and if you feel very limited in your skills and techniques, rate yourself five or below.
Articulation differences exist between the genders. Listen to your own and carefully listen to genetic women. Generally, consonant sounds are a bit more crisp and precise in cis-gender females. Cis-gender men tend to mumble. If you feel you’ve developed very good techniques for feminine articulation, rate yourself six or above and if you feel very limited in your skills and techniques, rate yourself five or below.
Finally, observe the prosody (melodic intonation, rate of speaking, and tempo) features of your voice. Research has shown, that on average, cis-gender women use ten thousand more words per day. Women speak quickly, use more words per phrase and have more varied inflection patterns. If you’ve developed very good techniques for with the prosodic features of your voice rate yourself six or above and if you feel very limited in your skills and techniques, rate yourself a five or below. Research has revealed numerous gender differences in communication styles. One recent paper examined communication style in computer mediated communication (emails, message board postings). When there are no visual or voice cues to determine gender for the reader, it was the communication style (word choice, length of phrase, use of questions or words of thanks) that identified the gender of the writer. Listen carefully to your prosody and word choices and phrase length. It may ultimately add to or detract from your feminine style.
Score yourself, with 1 being “Poorest” and 10 being “Best.”
|Voice Quality: pitch, quality, loudness||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10|
|Prosody: rate, inflection, pauses||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10|
Your total score: _______
The highest you could score is 50 and the lowest is 5. Most of you will be somewhere between 25 and 40. If you scored less that 20 you DEFINITELY need help from someone. It means that whatever you’ve been doing needs to be re-focused and re-worked. If you scored 40 or higher you probably have a passable voice and others perceive you as female much of the time. However, the phone might still be a problem for you ladies who scored 40 or above.
The single most important thing you can do is learn to effectively warm-up your voice, and “set” or “tune” your feminine voice. We’ll focus on pitch level and breathing. The warm-up is divided into four sections.
Warm-up Routine Elements:
Breath control — the secret is in the breath control
Finding the correct pitch – be able to feel and hear your best pitch zone
Feminine Inflection – use the full range of your voice dynamics (pitch & loudness)
- Feminine Articulation – crisp, clean consonants
Breath control It’s important to learn to feel the movement of your belly when you speak. It is your skill and control of airflow that will eventually give you an exceptional feminine voice. Begin by placing a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. Imagine a candle about six inches out in front of you—about the length of the tip of your thumb (placed on your chin) to end of your stretched index finger. As you pull your belly in, blow out. Imagine that the flame of the candle flickers a bit.
Anchoring Breath Exercise
Blow out gently five times; feel your belly come in as you blow out.
Produce /s/ sound gently five times and again feel your belly come in as you blow out.
Produce and /sh/ sound gently five times as your belly comes in.
Repeat this exercise five times daily or until your awareness of the feeling of using your belly to control airflow improves.
Finding your correct pitch This might seem difficult at first, but it’s absolutely achievable! It requires that you develop your sense perceptions so that you can both hear and feel the correct pitch. I encourage transgender women to download Eva (my iOS mobile app) which provides a free pitch tuner (and one free lesson). Or you can use any of a number of free online tuners or apps for Android). For you non-technical ladies, you might consider an electronic chromatic tuner like BOSS TU 80. You’ll regularly want to determine (or tune) your pitch for isolated vocal sounds, words, phrases and conversation.
- Adjust your posture to a “tall relaxed” feeling so you have an internal sense of length from your bottom to your head (and by-the-way, a tall posture is definitely more feminine).
- Place one hand on your belly and the other just below your larynx.
- Pull your belly in gently (just like the last exercise) as you “sing” the sound /he/ at a pitch in your male voice. Use a softer, slightly higher male voice (about musical note F3, which is about 175 Hz). Hold that note for a count of five.
- Now, on that same note, slide your voice up in pitch until you pass over the “bump zone” into your falsetto voice. Repeat this slide from F3 to above the “bump zone” or “register break” five times gently. Feel that there is less vibration in your throat the higher up your pitch raises. Become very aware of the feeling of sliding over the register break into your falsetto voice.
- Slowly, very slowly begin the ascending pitch slide on each of these three sounds /he/, /ha/, or /hoo/. You might find that one sound is easier than another. Use the vowel that feels easiest.
- Next, as you slide your voice pitch up, stop just below the break (please note that your voice will likely crack at G3 (196Hz) or A3 (220Hz). Check your tuner to see where your pitch is. Feel in your throat that there is less vibration than when you are in your deep male voice, but still more than when you’re in your falsetto voice.
- Most people find that a good speaking female pitch is somewhere between F3 (175Hz) and B3 (247 Hz).
- Repeat this pitch-slide exercise (stopping just under the “bump zone”) five times for each sound, five times a day.
- Words: create a list of words; say each word five times. Check your pitch with your tuner.
These exercises (and more) are provided for you in our 30 Day Crash Course Program
Habits are Thoughtless Repetitive Actions
What are you going to do today–right now–to discover your true voice!
Your action plan How will you get from where you are today to where you want to be? It is important to practice a little everyday. In addition to the warm-up exercises, it is necessary that you practice words, common phrases (make a list of phrases you typically use) and conversation. Get help if you need it.Record yourself weekly so you can see your progress. Get feedback from friends about your voice. There are many steps and the exercises presented here are just a few that you’ll need to master a feminine voice. Determine each day the one simple thing you’ll do to transfer the use your voice techniques to daily communication. The phrase “keep it simple” is especially useful in establishing your daily goals. You’ve learned what is needed to improve airflow and pitch. Each day select an opportunity where you’ll practice out in the world. Go out today and live your life in accordance with your true self and bring your exceptional voice along with you!
Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,
Kathe Perez firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the original article via Exceptional Voice.
If you are interested in learning more about transgender vocal therapy or help with any ENT conditions, contact your ENT specialist. If you live in Colorado, get in touch with the team at the Colorado Voice Clinic.