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NYT: "Learning to Talk Like a Woman (or Man)"

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This is an interesting Times article from last Spring. I'm quite lucky to be working with Sandy Hirsch who is quoted in the article. 

Learning to Talk Like a Woman (or Man)

Sandy compares learning a feminine voice to learning a new language, like French. At first I didn't understand since for me most of my language study has been focused on learning vocabulary with nominal attention to pronunciation and accent. She speaks French like a native after spending years practicing all of the nuances of her accent and intonation.

I've been seeing her weekly for the last four months and at this point she assures me that I have all of the tools for pitch, intonation, and resonance. Now we're are focusing on fluency and... confidence... which is sorely lacking. There is no timeline for when one graduates from her training and she hesitates to provide a date when we'll be "done." I'm assuming that by the end of February or March that I'll be on my own and maybe return to see her intermittently if I feel the need. 

My friend Joanna Santos (who has a blog "Musings From My Everyday Life") often writes that she's comfortable and easily connects with other women as a woman - that her presentation and voice are about as good as it can be. She told me that she didn't work with a professional therapist to achieve her voice. Instead, she patiently and very regularly recorded herself at home and then worked on all the nuances she heard so she gradually improved. She is an accomplished amateur musician so I suppose she applied those study techniques to her voice work. Still, I'm a bit awe-struck.

What I've learned is that achieving a recognizably feminine (or masculine) voice takes a fair amount of dedication and patience. Like so many things in life everyone needs to really consider how important it is to her or him.  And if it is important then get started practicing.

There are a couple of apps we use on the iPhone (presumably also available on Android):

  • Tuna Pitch: This one is very helpful for practicing the baseline pitch that you want to aim for that is comfortable for you. I believe it's typically either G3 or G#3 for people AMAB. The key is to hum the pitch with a light constriction of your lips and mouth.
  • Voice Analyst: This one is so helpful as you can record your voice and see how the pitch varies vs. time. You want to be careful that you don't overuse it. It's a tool. But it does provide a visual illustration that you can follow on playback of your pitch and you can hear your resonance problems to work on. As a simple guideline, for AMAB you want to generally keep your pitch above 145Hz. I actually worked with the developer recently to provide bug reports and feedback on a new version he was creating. 
  • Voice Memos: This one may be iPhone only but I'm sure Android has something similar. This one is handy to just record yourself speaking longer phrases and sentences so you can play them back for critical listening. Wash, rinse, repeat!

Good luck and have fun with it. 

P.S. I don't recommending buying Sandy's book. It's quite expensive! I borrowed it from her several weeks ago even as she insisted that it was really targeted at voice therapists. I skimmed it expecting to find some nuggets of wisdom. I guess there were a few but in the end I returned it to her, thankful that I hadn't spent the cash.

Edited by Emma
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Thank you Emma. This is great information which I need help with badly. I have been struggling with my voice a bit and find myself quitting because I’m frustrated. It just keeps cracking. I will keep on practicing though. Never give up never surrender ! I do have a lot more fun with it and life in general these days. 



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“Never give up, never surrender”!!! Galaxy Quest is one of my most favorite movies!

On your voice: don’t go up so high in pitch that it cracks. That can irritate and damage your vocal chords. The trick is to determine for you, the average pitch you can handle which leaves you room to go down to, say, 145Hz, with some range for upward inflection into the low 200s or so. For example your basic pitch might be about 170 or 180Hz, or lower if you have to. You just need to stay above 145 - and - pronounce your vowels and consonants in a more feminine sounding way, which is entirely independent of pitch.

Its still hard, though. I think I’m getting better but for most of us we need to accept that our voices will never sound as feminine as we’d like.

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