Finding Your Voice as a Trans Femme
Recently, I was asked to help a friend get started with voice training. Sometimes, I enjoy going overboard when I am asked for help, so I created a document that she could use as a reference going forward. Converting it to a blog post seemed like an obvious choice, because i’m asked all the time about how I trained my voice to be cispassing. This blog will give you a brief overview of everything you need to know to begin vocal training. I hope it helps!
Disclaimer: Training your voice is a completely optional part of transitioning and many trans women choose not too. You are not more or less valid as a woman based on if you change your voice or not. However, many trans people do what to pass as cisgender in the world to protect themselves and they want to alleviate dysphoria.
In my case, my voice was a high priority. I think I’ve been training my voice nearly two years longer than I’ve been undergoing HRT. Trans Men often have the ability to gain the voice of their dreams through HRT and some mild training. However, for us trans women, it can be very difficult to train your voice back into a pre-puberty higher and more feminine voice, but not impossible! There is so much that goes into voice training, but the results are worth it. If you are able to train your voice, you also avoid the extra transition cost of voice surgery, which can lead to a complicated recovery time, with variable results. Training your voice gives you full control over how your final voice will sound.
There are three main areas you will need to work on to sound more like a woman.
The chambers of your mouth and throat make up a volume that determines how your voice resonates. People who have gone through male puberty have a larger chamber leading to a lower resonant frequency. Think of it as pulling resonance out of your chest and into your head through the raising of the larynx, making your mouth smaller with your tongue and vibrating in your nasal cavity. You will need to learn to hold your larynx up 24/7. The muscles will retrain as you do that and it will default to this position. But remember, you will need to make sure you're not straining your neck muscles to do so. Keep it as relaxed as possible. If done right the muscles on the outside of your neck should not be activated.
According to Wikipedia there are 4 main types of resonance:
- Head resonance should not be confused with head register or falsetto. It is used primarily for softer singing in either register throughout the range.
- Mouth resonance is used for a conversational vocal color in singing and, in combination with nasal resonance, it creates forward placement or mask resonance.
- Chest resonance adds richer, darker, and deeper tone coloring for a sense of power, warmth, and sensuality. It creates a feeling of depth and drama in the voice. (Note: This is the resonance, you will work to remove)
- Nasal (mask resonance) is present at all times in a well-produced tone, except perhaps in pure head tone or at very soft volume. Nasal resonance is bright and edgy and is used in combination with mouth resonance to create forward placement (mask resonance). In an overall sense, it adds overtones that give clarity and projection to the voice.
Find out your Resonant Frequency!
You can find out your resonant frequency by putting white noise on your phone and then putting the speaker near the opening of your mouth. If you have a woman nearby, you can have her do it too to hear her resonant frequency. You should hear a stark difference. You want to eventually build up to something similar to hers.
Women typically have a pitch around 165 to 255 Hz, while a man's is 85 to 155 Hz. As you are training, work towards comfortably speaking over 150, but not much more. Your voice won’t be ready for it yet in the beginning. The more time that passes by with you talking over 150, you will naturally begin to rise further up. If you have a high resonant frequency and your pitch is above 150, you will be 2/3rds of the way there.
- Intonation and musicality:
Women typically have a more musical and sing-songy rhythm to their voices, while men tend to speak more monotone. Feminine voices also have a much larger range to them in every day speaking. For example, If they get excited their pitch may go so high it breaks. But this can only be practiced so much and you really need to just observe and absorb. If you observe that you exclusively listen to, watch, and are only friends with men, it will be really difficult to learn how to speak like a woman.
Note: All of these things can be worked on using voice recorder apps, pitch tracker apps and vocal training such as with Trans Voice Less. But, it’s important to record yourself as your voice is now and as you are practicing. You won’t know how far you’ve come without being able to compare, but more importantly, you can’t really hear what your voice sounds like unless you hear it recorded.
Additional Areas to Address:
- Hard Voice vs Clear Voice: Based on the techniques you are using to shrink the volumes within your mouth to change your resonant frequencies and pitch, you may notice certain trends that you need to be careful about. If you feel your neck straining to be able to reach your desired pitch you need to remember to relax. It should be comfortable to keep your voice at that range. If you feel like your voice sounds raspy or airy there are techniques to help avoid that, but mainly it takes practice. An airy voice can sound unrealistic and you need to push less air through per word to avoid that effect. And a raspy voice will damage your vocal folds so try to find the balance between the two.
- Sneezes and Coughs: Yes, you will need to practice your sneezes and coughs and any other sounds you might make. Having a perfectly feminine voice can be thwarted by a masculine and deep sneeze or cough. When you sneeze or cough, remember the feeling of your voice when your larynx is raised and your chambers are smaller.
- Socializing: It may feel embarrassing to try and use your new voice in real life, but you can practice when you're not around people you know if that’s more comfortable, ordering at drive-thrus and on the phone with customer service are the perfect place to practice! I remember the first times I was ma’amed on the phone and in the drive-through and it was magical!! But, if you are training in a healthy way, you wont reach your voice goals for a few years and your voice will not noticeably change over night. Most of my friends didn’t even notice my voice changes but, if they compared to how it was 3 years ago, they might be quite shocked.
- Observation: Also, don’t underestimate the power of observation and subconscious absorption. You know how people who go to a different country come back with a slightly altered accent? That’s because we learned to speak the way we do by listening to other people. Surround yourself with women’s voices, pay attention and observe and you’ll start sounding more like them. For example, listen to podcasts, hang out with women, etc.
- Practice: Practice makes perfect. When you retrain any muscle in your body, you want it to become muscle memory. You will need to practice your voice every chance you get. If you play DnD, play only female characters with your female voice. Any time you're in the car, at a drive through or using the phone, practice. If you're comfortable practicing with some friends get some feedback from them! It may take months or even years to perfect your voice. And much of the progress you will make will be made subconsciously as well.
Trans Voice Lessons:
This list is no replacement for the expertise of a vocal coach. You likely have vocal coaches locally that can give you practice with mastering control over your voice, but there are some voice trainers that are available online that are unmatched in their abilities to help guide you in transforming your voice. Zeanna Erose is a virtual voice training coach. She has a log history of helping train trans people in their voice work and I know many people personally who have worked with her to gain amazing results! I couldn’t recommend her more!
Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to schedule a training session with her, keep in mind, she is always booked far in advance and will need to schedule you a few months ahead. She charges $155 per session and even one session with her is worth it.
Before you begin training your voice to be feminine, you need to master your vocal folds and functions. At this point the simplest and most efficient preparation would be vocal function exercises. Below are a few suggested ones. Additionally, I would recommend learning to get very comfortable speaking around or above 150Hz. I have provided a pitch tracker below. You can use that in a browser and visually watch your pitch.
Refer to her youtube channel for some detailed videos and training. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBYlEnfAUbrYSwF0VujcmHA
Here is a link to a simple pitch tracker: Pitch Tracker
Advice from Trans Voice Lessons:
- Try to speak comfortably above 150 Hz.
- Keep the voice relaxed. Shoot for a physically comfortable boyish sounding voice.
- Don't go above 250.
The app EvaF was never completed, but it has some modules worth working through on your phone. This is a phone app that has paid modules for around $2.50 per module.
Clyp it is a really great online tool for you to use to practice and play your voice back as you are training.