Sing! To loosen-up the voice box, extend your pitch range, and help develop good control, it can be very helpful to choose a female vocalist that you like, preferably one with a relatively deep voice, and sing along. The musically-minded may also wish to perform singing exercises, such as singing scales.
Raise the position of the laryngeal cartilage: up raises your voice pitch and decreases the characteristic male resonance. (The laryngeal cartilage is the ‘movable’ piece of cartilage that you can feel rising if you place a hand on your throat and sing a rising scale ( “doh, re, mi, fa, sol, lah, ti, doh” )). The point of this is to try to gain a higher ‘baseline’ pitch than you have previously used, and then increase the pitch further when placing emphasis. For example you might decide that if you pitch the “doh” as your baseline male pitch, raising your basic pitch to about “fa” or “sol” would be sufficient. But do not overdo the pitch-raising: a squeaky, falsetto voice sounds very inappropriate on an adult woman. The pitch adjustment is a compromise — for the technically-minded you should aim for above 160Hz; if you have access to a musical instrument that’s about the G below middle C.
Of course, everyone starts out with a different original voice and some will be able to raise it more than others without sounding squeaky. You might find it slightly tiring on your voice-box at first, as you are unused to speaking in that register, but it should become comfortable with a little practice. If it does not, then you are probably trying to force your pitch up too high.
Partially open the glottis when speaking: The position of the glottis controls how much air passes through the vocal cords. When breathing rather than speaking, when whispering, or when producing an ‘unvoiced’ sound (where the vocal cords do not vibrate, like ‘hhh’ or ‘sss’ ), the glottis is fully open and all the air bypasses the vocal cords. With the glottis firmly closed, all the air is forced over the vocal cords, producing a fully-voiced and typically male voiced sound. You need to try to find a ‘semi-whispering’ position that eliminates the fully-voiced sound with heavy resonance in the chest, and imparts a breathy quality to the voice. You can hear the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds by comparing S and Z sounds (say ‘sss’ and ‘zzz’ , and feel how your vocal cords vibrate on the Z but not the S). You’re trying to find a midpoint between an unvoiced (whispered) sound, and a fully-voiced ‘male’ sound.
Try saying the word ‘hay,” and pay attention to how you change between the unvoiced H sound and the voiced A sound: say it very slowly ( ‘hhhhhaaaay’ ) and feel the change in the vocal cords as your voice slides from the unvoiced ‘hhh’ sound to the voiced ‘aaa’ vowel sound. Then try to stop before you reach the fully-voiced point, and you should be producing a soft, breathy (feminine) ‘aaa’ sound.
Then try to learn to always use that half-open position for all voiced sounds. This is simply a matter of practice.
Place emphasis with pitch, not volume: Upward intonation places emphasis. Men place emphasis in their speech by varying the loudness, but keep their pitch within a very narrow range; on the other hand women tend to keep their loudness much more constant but vary their pitch a great deal to express emphasis.
Speak slowly, enunciate clearly: Especially consonants at the beginning and end of words. Don’t mumble; clear voice requires fairly big lip movements. On the whole, women enunciate much more clearly and precisely than men.
Pace your speech carefully: Start and end sentences slowly and gently; do not sound clipped. Do not ‘swallow’ pronouns, articles or other ‘little words’ at the beginning or end of sentences. Male speech tends to be characterised by what speech therapists call ‘hard attack’ — the first syllable is pronounced very hard, and quickly. Women usually start a sentence more softly.
Use appropriate content: Men and women tend to talk about the same things in different ways; what you say contains gender cues, just as much as how you say it. Women tend to concentrate more on thoughts and feelings, while men concentrate on objects and actions. Men generally use more ‘short cuts’, colloquialisms and bad language, too. A simple illustration is to imagine someone asking a friend if they are going to go for a drink after work. A male might say something like ‘Coming down the pub?’– rather abrupt, using the minimum of words and concentrating on the desired action in a rather impersonal way. A woman might say ‘Do you feel like going for a drink tonight?’ — concentrating on her friend’s feelings and desires, personal, and not abbreviated.
Pay attention to tongue position: The tongue is higher and flatter for female than for male. This gives ‘dental’ sounds (ones that involve the teeth, like T and D) a softer, breathier, almost sibilant quality in the female. Say ‘tttt’ in male mode, then ‘ssss’; find the halfway position, that is the female position for the letters T and D; likewise for a TH sound, etc. Use plenty of air to get a breathy sound.
Hold your mouth in the right shape: A slight smile helps, and is the ‘resting’ facial expression for a woman anyway. ‘Rounder’ lips (a slight pout), and good lip movement, help produce a clearly enunciated voice.
Develop head resonance: One of the biggest problems facing TS women is, after learning to produce a soft, feminine voice, to then learn how to speak loudly when necessary without the voice returning to a masculine sound. Women gain loudness by using the cavities inside the head as a ‘sounding box’ whereas men use the chest. Women speak from the front of their mouths, not from their throats or chest. To gain a louder feminine voice, develop forward head resonance rather than chest resonance — open your mouth a little more, use more air, and ‘push’ your voice up into your head.
Use Feedback: Record samples of your voice and listen to yourself. Read a passage of text, listen to yourself and keep practicing. It can be helpful to actually read these notes aloud, practicing each point as you read it. Then listen to yourself and successively refine your voice.
Mr. Mitnick,MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech pathologist practicing in the South Florida areas of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. His practice specializes in voice modification therapy for MTF and FTM individuals who want to change their voice to match their true gender identities and not be outed by their voice. You may contact him for a free 15 minute telephone consultation at: 954-687-4631 or email him.