Transgender Voice Training
How to Develop a Female Voice
If you’re transgendered and want to develop a more feminine voice, this is the starting point for you. Whether you’re transsexual, crossdresser or otherwise identify yourself as transgender, there is a wealth of information on the Internet that will instruct you on How to Develop a Female Voice.
About Transgender Voice Training
Many transgendered people struggle with their voice. Indeed many pass flawlessly in appearance and mannerisms, only to be given away by their voice. With work, most of us can succeed in attaining a passable feminine voice. It does take work, perhaps a lot of work; but the rewards are well worth it. Bookmark this page and begin your journey to finding your feminine voice. You have found everything you will most likely need to have the perfect voice you need to complete your feminine persona, without the need to pay for any of it.
Early in our transitions, most of us have difficulty with our voices. While hormone therapy will change the voice of a FtM transsexual, hormones will not change the voice of a MtF transsexual. Based on this reality, this transgender voice training article will focus on MtF transgender people who want to develop a female voice. We will also assume the reader is MtF transsexual, however, these techniques apply equally for cross dressers, drag queens and all MtF transgender folks who want to pass successfully as females in public settings.
The voice is frequently the last thing we perfect in our transition. We work hard to develop our physical appearance and feminine body language but voice can be a bit tougher. It’s frustrating when you’ve done all that work just to be betrayed by your voice. It’s true that transgender voice training can be frustrating, but it really doesn’t have to be so difficult. It’s worth a little effort to perfect your female voice and it really makes life much better when you can blend in and pass flawlessly.
We’ve boiled it down to a few voice training techniques you can practice at home. Where possible we include audio and video samples to demonstrate the techniques. We also list online resources to help you with your vocal training. Let’s get started with your transgender voice training!
Female Vocal Training Tips
Vocal Pitch Overlap – There is significant overlap between the pitch of male and female voices. You don’t have to develop a “perfect” female voice to be passable. The pitch overlap between genders allows virtually anyone to fall within acceptable pitch levels to achieve a female voice. Youtube user “sourskiddlez” talks about this in her transgender voice video #1.
Practice Daily – Everybody has to practice and there will be lapses, but be patient. Practice daily and don’t give up. You’ll eventually find your female voice and it will become second nature.
Record Your Voice – Record your voice and play it back. Does it sound feminine? This is critical for your success.
Practice on the Telephone - Some of your best feedback can come from telephone calls. When you call a store to check the price of a new music CD, try out your female voice. Did they call you ma’am? When your female voice can pass on the telephone, odds are that you’ll have absolutely no problem in person.
Methods of Transgender Voice Training
Warm Up Your Voice - Warm up your voice using a technique actors are taught. Start by saying the vowels (a-e-i-o-u) over-emphasizing them by making exaggerated mouth movements. This helps relax your mouth and jaw muscles, and helps achieve the clear enunciation and modulation of the female voice.
Try Singing – Loosen up your vocal chords, extend your range of pitch and develop control of your voice by singing. Choose a female artist, preferably with a deeper voice. Sing along and pay attention to inflections and do your best to match pitch, without going into a falsetto voice. You can also sing musical scales to help develop your female voice.
Finding a feminine vocal range by singing along with female recording artists
Here is a very interesting voice exercise designed to help you quickly raise the pitch of your voice.
Raise the Laryngeal Cartilage – You can easily locate the laryngeal cartilage on your throat. Sing a musical scale (doh, re, me…) while placing your hand on your throat in the Adam’s Apple area. The laryngeal cartilage will rise and fall as you sing. Practice and notice how pitch is higher when the laryngeal cartilage is raised. In your normal “male” voice say “doh.” Now shift the laryngeal cartilage upward and repeat. You should hear a higher pitch. Don’t overdo it — talking in a pitch too high for you will give you a falsetto sound that does not sound female.
Emphasize Pitch Rather Than Volume – Men place emphasis in speech by varying loudness (but within a narrow vocal range) whereas women place emphasis by varying their pitch for upward intonation. Women tend to speak in melodic tones, sometimes referred to as a sing-song voice. Women frequently add a syllable to the end of a word such as hello-oh or hi-ee with the pitch starting lower on the hello and highest for the end syllable. Contrast that to the hard sounding, almost monotone male “hello.”
Enunciate Clearly – Speak slowly and enunciate your words clearly. Women have a tendency to enunciate words much more clearly than men. For example, a man is more likely to say “I dunno” where a woman will say “I don’t know.” Think for a moment how differently that sounds.
Speak Properly – Women tend to speak more properly, using less short cuts, colloquialisms and bad words. What you say can have a big impact on whether you’re perceived as male or female. Women also tend to be much more polite and less direct with their speech. They are much more likely to begin or end a sentence with a question such as, “This pie tastes great, don’t you think?”
Tongue Position – Women’s tongues are higher and flatter when speaking. Say T in your male voice and then say S. Now find the position halfway in between. This is the approximately female position for the letters T and D and TH. If you pay attention you’ll notice that a woman’s voice tends to be much more breathy. Marilyn Monroe was a great example.
Smile While You Speak – A slight smile will help give your voice a more pleasant and feminine sound.
Use Audio Feedback - Record your voice and then listen objectively. Just talk about something you enjoy, tell a story or read text from a book. Review these points and make adjustments. With a little time and practice you’ll refine your voice for a natural female sound.
What do Susanne Pleshette, Marline Detrich, Cher, and Bea Arthur have in common? They all have VERY low voices! In fact, they have voice LOWER in pitch than most of the male population. However, we would never mistake them for men! In fact at least three of the four are generally considered rather sexy. When women have low voices they are not considered masculine. Rather, their voices are referred to as “husky”.
How can they get away with that? Because the difference between the average male voice and the average female voice is only about 1/2 octave. That’s right! Just 1/2 octave! It is not the pitch that makes them sound female, but the Resonance!
Because each of us has at least a 1 1/2 octave range to their voice and most of us have two octaves or more, there is a lot of overlap between the pitches of the two sexes if there is only a 1/2 octave AVERAGE difference. That means there is just half an octave higher that some women can go that no men can and only a half an octave lower that some men can go that no women can.
My voice now is only 2 or 3 notes higher on the scale than it was before I started. But the audible impact is quite difference. That is because it is not how HIGH you pitch your voice, but where you pitch it FROM that makes all the difference! Once you get your voice coming from the right place, it doesn’t really matter what pitch it is at all. And the added bonus is, with the Resonance secret we will discover, you get 2 or 3 notes of increased pitch as well (which, though not crucial, doesn’t hurt!)
So let’s move on to that area without further delay!
What is Resonance? Imagine an orchestra. Now imagine the same not being played by a violin, a trumpet, and an oboe. They all have different sounds, even though they are all playing the same note. This is because the tone they play is “modulated” differently. Each has its own unique Resonance.
In a trumpet, that resonance is created in the coils. It is created in the body of the violin or in a cello. That body is a chamber in which the sound can vibrate, mixing and intermixing to create complex wave forms with many striking and identifying harmonics.
That chamber is like our own voice box. Men have a larger voice box. That’s what makes their Adam’s apple larger and their voices add more low-end resonance. Women have a smaller voice box and as a result have less low end resonance. So, in a sense, men have MORE harmonics than women. This is fortunate for those in the masculine gender who wish to be perceive in the feminine. The whole trick is to learn to us LESS of your voice. You’ve got it already, you are using it already. Its not something you have to add to sound female, but something you need to suppress. The problem is, that when men go into a falsetto, they suppress ALL of the harmonics, resulting in that silly high-pitched voice that is surely a dead give-away.
Let’s try an experiment to drive the point home. Put your finger of one hand on the top of your larynx, at the top of your Adam’s apple. Place the fingers of your other hand at the very bottom of your larynx, below the Adam’s apple. Now, speak aloud in your normal masculine voice. You will note that both the top AND bottom of the larynx vibrate almost equally as you speak.
Keeping your fingers in place, go into a falsetto and speak. You will note that there is hardly ANY vibration in either the top OR bottom! The exercises we are going to learn will allow you to create a voice that vibrates ONLY at the bottom and NOT at the top. This effectively cuts the part of the voice box used in half and thereby loses the lowest of the harmonics, leaving almost EXACTLY the same range of harmonics as a genetic female voice.
The female voice I’ve discovered feels like it sits “behind” your normal speaking voice. After I had used it for a while, I found there were two easy to get to this place – a place your voice does not usually go while you are speaking. The first way is with Falsetto, the second way is by gargling.
Start with your highest falsetto. If you sound like a cartoon character with big round ears that lives in Anaheim, you’ve got it! Now take that voice and bring the pitch down as low as you can WITHOUT BREAKING YOUR VOICE. You see, if you break your voice it will “come out front” again, and you’ll be using the full voice box for modulation – just what you don’t want.
Take your voice down as low as you can go in falsetto. That’s the spot. You will notice that neither the top nor bottom of your larynx is vibrating very much, if at all. Now, before I explain what to do once you get to that spot, let’s examine the other method of arriving there. If you try both methods, one will work best for you. Also, by trying both, you will have a better sense – a “cross reference” of where your voice needs to be.
Just go back in your throat the way you do when you gargle and make that standard gargling sound. When you do, you will automatically tighten up your throat. You will find that your voice is resonating from exactly the same place either with the lowest falsetto or the gargling. However, with the gargling, you can actually feel both the top and bottom of your larynx vibrating.
The point you want to reach for this voice is the center between where you put your voice to gargle and the lowest falsetto you have. Some people like to do character voices for fun. If you can do a little old man or old woman, say “The Alludium Q38 Space Modulator, or do the Wicked Witch of the West, you are very near the spot.
As I mentioned before, the first time I found this voice I hit it by accident. Then I got stuck. So if you try this exercise and are not living full-time as a woman, make sure you have an hour or so to find your way back to male voice just in case.
Now, what you are actually learning to do is develop one set of the muscles on your larynx while not using the others at all. This is a tough trick – kind of like wiggling your ears or patting your head while you rub your tummy. It takes practice – LOT’S of practice.
But don’t practice too much right at the start. Once you find the voice it is such a magical experience that you want never to come back. But you will find that using the lower set of muscles to do all the work leads to hoarseness at first. This is your body’s way of telling you that you should knock off for a while.
I found that during the first week I used this voice, I could only go about half an hour or so before I got hoarse. Then, I had the good sense to rest my voice. Just like doing exercises for the body, you don’t want to do too much too fast of you will injure yourself.
For me, it took about six months to fully develop my voice to the point I could use it all day long. Then, it took another six months to fully develop loudness and dynamic range. But these things did come with practice and patience. I imagine that eventually, the other muscles at the top might atrophy if, like me, you just don’t use them at all. However, for those of you switching back and forth, both will stay in tone and like me, even now after four years, I can still call up the old voice if I have to. For me, that’s about once a year when I need to demonstrate to a friend that it is possible to do this.
So, don’t push it. I’m no medical doctor. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going on physically, nor can I guarantee you won’t cause yourself problems. I can merely say that for me, I have been using this voice for over four years with no apparent ill effects.
Now, trying to describe a voice in a text article is a bit difficult. I understand this. That is why I’ve created a VHS video tape called “Melanie Speaks!” where I demonstrate these techniques so you can hear them, copy them, and learn to do them on your own.
Having covered Resonance, and discounted Pitch, its time to move on to the other five steps that can feminize your voice. Remember, Resonance creates a FEMALE voice, these other well-known steps are useful in FEMINIZING whatever voice you have.
When I first started using my new female voice, the muscles were only developed enough to create a very monotone sound. In fact, it took me six months to get a good Dynamic Range.
As I mentioned earlier, Dynamic Range is the difference between the highest pitch and the lowest pitch used in conversation. Women use this range to put emphasis into their conversation. It brings extra meaning to the words beyond their normal definitions by putting a different “spin” on them.
Men use a different technique for emphasis: they get louder or softer within a narrow range of tones. So, in conversation, a man will “punch” some words and hold back others. In this manner they “make their point”. In contrast, women will rise and lower in tone while keeping roughly the same amplitude or loudness. This is a striking difference in speech patterns and is a key identifier of a masculine or feminine personality. Keep in mind that masculine women will adopt the loudness approach in monotone, and the feminine man will rise and fall in tonality with even amplitude.
You’ll notice the difference in the way women speak when you call them on the phone. If you are a man and call a company getting the female receptionist, her voice will be up in the scale, high in note so as to be cheerful and non-threatening. If she hears a man calling her she will stay there at that range of pitch. But if you are a woman calling in and get the same receptionist, she will answer the phone the same way, but as soon as she hears that it is a woman calling her, she will lower her tonal range.
This happens because men control the power in the world, especially in business. As a result, as a woman, unless you are very assertive by nature, you don’t want to appear threatening. Men in business compete with men and also with women who are threatening. However, since women have to stick together to get anything done in a male world, they must form a conspiracy.
When men in business get together its a competition, when women in business get together its a conspiracy. And this difference in approach and status is reflected in the higher or lower tonal range that a woman adopts depending upon the gender of the other party. Similarly, if a woman IS assertive and using amplitude to punch her emphasis, a non-assertive woman will keep her voice high to show she is not a threat.
Now, this is easily seen in women because they naturally use a wider dynamic range. But have you ever noticed how a man’s voice goes up a few notes whenever he fears a superior is angry with him?
Now another aspect of Dynamic range is “stair step tonalities”. What I mean by this is that in every group of several words a woman will string together in a sentence, usually no two are spoken at the same pitch. This is what makes women’s voices sound so “sing song”. In fact, they ARE singing!
Sometimes the stair steps go down to lower into that conspiratorial tone. Other times they go up to raise the emotional stakes. Often they rise and fall like sine waves to rush up under a phrase, then retreat like a wave on the sand. Speaking in stair step tonalities is best learned by listening to others, but it is learned, not intrinsic. Just like Dynamic Range, it is a function of conditioning rather than biology.
So, Dynamic Range is largely a masculine/feminine issue rather than a male/female one. How to learn it, however, is best covered in our next area.
Enunciation describes the shape into which words are formed. Men lean toward denotation rather than connotation. In other words, men get the job done as quickly as possible with the most focus. When speaking they hit the edges of words like square waves, cutting each one like they were chopping carrots.
In contrast, femininity is more connotation oriented. Women are not as concerned with the meaning of a word so much as its context, and that context is expressed in a more flowing, graceful manner. Women will round the edges of their words to avoid cliffs and walls.
Believe it or not, the best source I’ve found as an example of this is with Valley Girls. Val Speak for girls puts an envelope on the words that sing songs with stair steps, rounds the words and flows the hidden agenda of meaning in the background context.
I suggest that you rent either Whoopi Goldberg’s stand up comedy routine on video tape or the movie “Valley Girls”. Both of these have the feminine dialect down pat.
It is MUCH easier to go overboard to an extreme and then tone it down than to try to build up from where you are now. There is so much initial embarrassment trying to speak female AND each step requires addition work and additional habits to be broken. You learn one level of success then have to unlearn that to get to the next. But if you jump all the way to the extreme and use that, it will begin to average out with the annunciation you are using now and will tone itself down until it is right on the mark for normal conversation as today’s woman.
Now, I referred above to the “feminine dialect”. But it is much more than that. IN fact, the ennunciation and dynamic range of femininity is applied to every language and every culture in the world. The words and grammar may change, but the connotation of the feminine meaning is a universal language that can be understood from woman to woman in times and worlds apart.
Still, it is not stilted or defined. In fact, it is quite flexible. Women do not live a single role, but many, as mother, wife, career woman, friend. As such, she plays variations of the feminine dialect depending upon the role without ever losing the femininity. This can be accomplished by realizing that the feminine dialect is not one thing but several blended together. As a woman shifts from role to role, she uses the same tools, but with different emphasis depending upon the situation.
The voice that I use with my girlfriends is different than the voice I use when lecturing at work to my interns. The voice I use with my boyfriend is different than the voice I use with my wife. Get away from the binary, free yourself from definition. Go with the flow, be flexible, and play with variations on a theme.
Think about the phrase, “I Got a pain in my gut.” Who would say that, a man or a woman? A woman might say, “I have a pain in my stomach.”, or, if she really wanted to be obnoxious, “My tummy hurts…” (GAK!)
The point is, that some words are more masculine or feminine that others. Part of this again derives from the brokering of power. For example, a man usually “wants” something while a woman “would like” something. “Want” means “lack” and implies “need” which further implies the right to have. This reflects the aggressive side of the power equation.
On the other hand, “would like” states a preference, not an intent, and therefore runs the idea up the flagpole to see if anyone is against it before acting. This reflects the submissive side of the power equation.
You can notice the difference in the way men and women will order at the speaker of a drive-through fast food restaurant. A man will say, “I want a Big Mac.”, whereas a woman will say, “I’d like a salad, please.”
This point was driven home to me when I was working on a movie as a Director of Photography. When I worked this position as a man, I would just tell the crew exactly what I wanted and they would hop to! But on the first day of this two day shoot I was working with a crew I had not met before. AND it was my first D P job as a woman.
So, I went to work as usual, telling everyone exactly what I wanted: “I want a 1K mini in that corner as a set light and a half K kicker with a yellow filter as a hair light.” Nobody moved. I looked around wondering why nothing was happening. Finally I just said, “Okay, let’s go to work”, and they did. But they went ever so slowly. And the more I told them what I wanted, the slower and less precise they became.
At the end of the day, we had only accomplished half of what I had wanted to. We were WAY behind schedule. These guys had moved five times slower than I was used to. So I went home and thought about it and then it hit me… What if they didn’t like being told what a woman “wanted”?
So, the next day, I brought the crew together and said, “Today I’d like to put a little light back there to light up the set and could you rig something to get some yellow light on her hair?” They looked at each other wondering if this was the same person, then the crew captain said, “Okay, let’s get to work”, and they moved twice as fast as the previous day.
By the time we were finished we had made up all the lost time. Somehow by my telling them what I “wanted” I had emasculated the crew, because I was putting myself above them in skill. But by telling them what I’d like, they worked to give it to me. Of course, they still worked only half as fast as they would have when I was a male DP, but at least it was twice as fast as the day before. So, as a woman, you’re going to have make workers not give you the same effort you would get as a man, but at least you can limit the damage by telling them what you’d like, even though you know exactly what you want!
Now another thing men do is slur. They might say, “I hafta gota the store”. “Hafta” is not a word! “Gota” is not a word! A woman might say, “I have to go to the store.” Or even more, she might say, “I ought to.”
“Have to” is driven by need.” “Ought to” is driven by should”. Its really a question of Instigation vs. Obligation and is yet another example of the Power Equation in our society. Look for those power words and if you want to be feminine, avoid them like the plague.
Grammar deals with sentence structure and parentheticals. Keeping on the Power Equation concept, men are supposed to be assertive in our society, women submissive. Women can have moods, but not opinions. Men might say they were “going to do” something, but women would say “I’m thinking of doing” something.
Now, I use the terms “men” and “women” because those are the standards for our society by sex. But it is really (like all of these points) a matter of masculine vs. feminine. It is the issue of cooperation vs. conflict. This article is not about breaking stereotypes, but becoming a stereotype. Once you have arrived, BELIEVE ME, you will find LOT’S of reasons to break them!!
But first you must go to the extreme and then tone it back. Keep in mind that there is hardly a woman alive who does all these things. But by using most of them regularly in different combinations, you can have your overall speech pattern fall more within the feminine range than it does now.
The last area we will explore is Body English. This is simply the way you move when you speak. Body English supports voice and voice supports Body English. If a feminine voice is like a song, feminine Body English is like a dance. When you put the song and the dance together, they create harmonies between them that underscore and counterpoint, making the entire process a symphony.
The most interesting part is that voice and Body English actually change each other. Try saying something while standing absolutely still. Then try speaking with broad gestures. You will hear a difference in your voice just because you are moving.
Many gender folk using the phone get so nervous they freeze up physically and it can be heard loud and clear in their voice. But if you move in rhythm to your thoughts, your voice will follow. Even on the phone you will sound more feminine AND more human!
More transgender voice training videos
Transgender Voice Training Resources:
TS Voice - Extensive site covering physiology and techniques for transgender voice training
Female voice techniques – Practical suggestions and tips for development of a female voice
Male to female voice training – A MtF voice training blog