First, let me say it is a personal choice to change your voice when transitioning, and is not a requirement. You may already have a voice you are happy with; if so, that’s great! However, if you do wish to develop a voice that you feel is better suited to the new you, you can do this by working at it with the right vocal coach, or even by yourself with carefully chosen video tutorials on YouTube.
Whether you are transgender or working as a female impersonator, you may want your voice to match your appearance. There is no ‘right’ tone or pitch to the female voice. It’s about what’s right for you and what suits your personality (and, to a lesser extent, your body type). Voice usually matches build and height, because your larynx and chest cavity are proportional to the rest of your physical makeup (there are many exceptions to this rule).
When you start to live as your true self, there can be times when you feel uncomfortable with the sound of your voice. This can be particularly important to you in new social settings. If you wish to raise your vocal pitch and develop a more feminine voice – if you have been speaking all your adult life in a deep voice, you’re not going to magically develop a higher voice overnight. This takes regular, consistent practice.
The first thing you have to do is listen to yourself. This sounds simple, but we are so used to hearing our voices as they are, we don’t really LISTEN. Record yourself talking and listen to any nuances in your vocal rhythm and pitch, pick out things you like, things you don’t, and get to know your voice. Be aware of your tone when speaking and singing.
You should aim for a natural sound, not falsetto high. Lots of women have low voices – mine is very low! – as low as some males, but there is a brighter tone to their sound than men’s voices. Listen to famous females speaking, particularly women with low voices. Become acquainted with the melody of their voices, how they rise and fall on certain words or syllables.
Lavern Cox (below) doesn’t speak at a particularly high pitch, but she has a feminine quality to her voice. Going too high can sound like a caricature of a female voice, and you don’t want that. You want something you are happy to live with and that isn’t tiring to produce every day. You want your voice to become natural. When you were a baby and you learned to walk, you had to focus and concentrate on balancing and putting one foot in front of the other, but now you walk without thinking about it. That is the result you should want to achieve from developing your new voice. Your age will also determine a comfortable pitch for you; our vocal pitch drops slightly as we age.
The video below features Isis King and Janet Mock in conversation. They speak at different pitches and tones. Find your signature sound and work at it. When you find it, you will know.
Practice speaking in different pitches and tones. Mimicking can help you to explore your voice and use it in ways you’re not used to. Switch to your favourite daytime soap and repeat dialogue the female characters say. How high are their voices? Do they pause in particular parts of their sentences? Do they have any particular characteristics to their voices that are their vocal signature? How is their body language?
A lot of times, people emphasise what they are saying with their hands or other body parts while speaking. Become a conscious observer of human behaviour. Listen to lots of people, sit at a cafe and eavesdrop on conversations around you. Your ultimate goal is to develop your own signature sound, but this is a fun exercise that opens you up physically and mentally to hearing your voice sound differently to the way it has always been.
If you are looking to develop your female voice solely for performance purposes, you might want to focus on soft whispery, overly-feminine voices such as Marilyn Monroe and Dolly Parton. If you impersonate a particular celebrity performer, pay special attention to the melody of their voices and body language while talking. Vocal imitation is a small part of being a great lookalike/soundalike performer.
Think higher! Focus on your voice sitting right in front of your face, in the space between your nose and lips, rather than in your throat. We call this area the ‘mask’ and speaking from here, instead of your throat or chest, helps you maintain a higher pitch with less effort by the larynx.
If you still find it difficult to raise your pitch, think higher still! imagine your voice is coming out of your third eye (in the centre of your forehead) like a unicorn horn! Imagine the sound is already outside of your body. You are not trying to push noise out of your mouth, the sound already exists and you are merely maintaining it at the right pitch.
Practice reciting poems or short proverbs, and each time you say them, take less breath before talking. You want to make it so even when you are taking a smaller breath, it is still easy to speak. Try not to speak in a false accent, unless you intend on changing your accent altogether. Just focus on the pitch; you want to sound natural.
Relax your jaw and do some siren sounds (like an ambulance) while vibrating your lips as you exhale. Keeping your jaw muscles relaxed enables you to add volume and increase resonance in your mouth cavity. Keep a light tone and say a long yawning ‘mi’ sound. Imagine your voice is at the top of a slide or rollercoaster and sliding down.
These are just a few suggestions you can start with. If you would like to work with me in developing your voice, either in Palma or via Skype, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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