Hi, I’m Amy! My pronouns are she/her. I am a speech therapist specializing in areas including orofacial myology, brain injury, speech generating devices, and transgender voice therapy. The first blog post in this series covered anatomy, diaphragmatic breathing, and pitch. This second post is about prosody, inflection, and resonance. Part three will include information on articulation, and nonverbal communication!
We will be discussing “traditionally feminine” or “traditionally masculine” characteristics. They are typical, but they are in no way a standard or a must. Various factors are at play in your voice and mannerisms that help you present as masculine or feminine.
The information offered here has been compiled from the resources found below. Feel free to check out the recommended books and websites for more in-depth information, straight from the source!
One Weird Trick: A User’s Guide to Transgender Voice by Liz Jackson Hearns with Patrick Maddigan
Prosody & Inflection
Rhythm and intonation in speech
Pitch variance or melody of the voice
- Emphasize words using a wide pitch variance and elongated syllables
- No noticeable change in volume
- E.g., “Wow, this is awesome! The sun is shining, the bees are buzzing, it’s fabulous!”
- Upspeak: phrases end with a pitch glide up
- Create emphasis in a phrase with changes in volume and rhythm
- Less pitch changes
- E.g., “Dude. This is awesome. Check out that huge bee.”
- Barking: percussive way of speaking that uses volume for emphasis rather than melodic changes
Masculine-perceived voices tend to rely on volume change and percussive or simplified rhythm for emphasis rather than wide pitch range. Adding pauses between phrases and increasing volume on important words help others perceive your voice as masculine.
Feminine Voice Exercise 1: Glide & Slide
- Use the phrases below. Hum your target pitch and say the first word at your target pitch.
- Glide the pitch up on the second word in the phrase, hold the pitch of the third word steady, then slide the rest of the phrase down in pitch.
- We glide then slide.
- I want to go.
- I love your shoes.
- Where is my car?
- Let’s meet at five.
- Turn left ahead.
- Try these longer phrases.
- The weather is wonderful.
- It isn’t quite finished yet.
- I’d like the blue one please.
- I’ll have a small coffee.
- Is this one yours or is it mine?
- This has extra cheese on the side.
- I never knew you spent a year in Spain.
*Note: Watch out for the glide and splat! Move your pitch gently and slowly while practicing, especially when sliding down. Try not to end too low and use a pitch app to help you slide more slowly and evenly.
Feminine Voice Exercise 2: Inverse Glide & Slide
Sometimes glide and slide doesn’t fit the sentence or phrase, like in questions or leading phrases.
For the following sentences, try starting with a higher pitch, slide down, then glide back up.
- We slide then glide.
- Could I use the phone?
- Have you seen my keys?
- Where are we going?
- Did Alex get my note?
- You are going, right?
- Table for two, please.
Feminine Voice Exercise 3: Complex Glide & Slide
For longer phrases, there is a two-part emphasis with a pause in the middle that creates an expectation for the rest of the phrase (similar to a two-part musical phrase like “Twinkle, twinkle little star… how I wonder what you are”).
When saying the following sentences, note that the first slide down will be shorter and have less pitch variance than the final slide down.
- I’ll have a small coffee, and some sourdough toast please.
- First I went to the store, then I took a break for a snack.
- The sky that morning was just beautiful.
- Alex came home on Tuesday, and the house was a total mess.
- I think I prefer this one, and I know you’ll love that one.
- Turn left at the stop sign, then a quick right.
- We took the 5:00 train, and met at our favorite restaurant.
Masculine Voice Exercise 1: Pausing
Using the phrases below, try adding short pauses where there are punctuation marks. The pause adds emphasis.
- I’ll have a small coffee, please.
- I like this song, it reminds me of my friend.
- Hey Sam, did you see this?
- Alex drove, it’s a big car.
- Turn right there, at the next light.
Masculine Voice Exercise 2: Finding Your Target Pitch
Using the phrases below, choose a word to emphasize and add volume to that word. Notice if your pitch also rises and see if you can isolate the volume change without changing pitch.
- That movie was great!
- I want the blue shirt in a size medium.
- I just saw Sam on the 42nd floor.
- Did they go out last night?
- What do you want for dinner?
The color or tone of your voice
(pronounced TAM-bur) refers to the color of a sound, similar to how various instruments have a unique, recognizable sound
- Brightness in voice quality
- Amplified high frequencies
- Slight breathiness
- Forward-feeling resonance
- Head resonance vibrations
- Darkness or brassiness in voice quality
- Amplified low frequencies
- Little or no breathiness
- Center or back-feeling resonance
- Chest resonance vibrations
Exploring different parts of your vocal tract can help you gain awareness of how each part affects your resonance. You may find that some parts are easier to control than others or have more of an affect on your resonance.
Exercise 1: Exploring Larynx Position
Note: These exercises are meant to be for exploration and are exaggerated. Manipulating the position of your larynx daily can lead to chronic muscle tension and may cause a voice disorder. Future exercises will help you change your resonance in ways that are sustainable.
- To lower your larynx: Make yourself yawn and gently place your hand on your neck to feel your larynx lower. While holding the position, say “I like pie”. Your voice should sound darker because the vocal tract is longer
- To raise your larynx: Make yourself swallow, but stop just before or after the swallow happens. You should feel your larynx move up. In that raise position, say “I like pie”. Your voice should sound brighter because the vocal tract is shorter.
Exercise 2: Exploring Tongue Position & Shape
- Say the phrase “I like pie”.
- Say the phrase, but replace all the vowels with “ee” (as in “feet”) – “ee leek pee”. Your tongue position will he higher and more forward while making your voice sound brighter.
- Say the phrase again replacing the vowels with “r” – “urr lurrk purr”. Your tongue position should be lower and farther back while making your voice sound darker.
Exercise 3: Exploring the Soft Palate
- Use a mirror to look inside your mouth. Your soft palate is the soft part after the hard roof of your mouth (hard palate). Using that yawn-like strategy, see if you can lift your soft palate. This is usually easier to do while inhaling. Say “ah”. It is hard to keep the soft palate up while vocalizing, but the sound should be open and harmonically rich.
- Try to lower your soft palate by making the “ng” sound as in the phrase “I hung my coat”. Nasal sounds like “m”, “n”, and “ng” all occur with the soft palate down.
Exercise 4: Exploring Your Lips
- With your lips spread into a smile, say the phrase “I like pie”. The sound should be bright and high in frequency.
- Now say the same phrase with rounded, pursed lips. The sound should be darker and low in frequency.
Exercise 5: Putting It All Together
- Trial various combinations of the previous exercises to see how they affect your voice.
- What happens if your larynx is lowered and your lips are puckered? What if your lips are spread wide?
- What happens if your larynx is up and your soft palate is down? What if your soft palate is up?
- Are there certain speech sounds that change your vocal tract configuration?
- Can you make more subtle changes and notice the difference in your voice?
- Write down the pitches where…
- For feminine voices: your resonance is in your head or face. Don’t go so far up that you are in falsetto (like Minnie Mouse). Are the pitches you wrote down similar to your target pitch? What small adjustments can you make to align those pitch ranges?
- For masculine voices: your resonance is in your chest or throat. Check for tension and don’t push all the way to your bottom limit. Are the pitches you wrote down similar to your target pitch? What small adjustments can you make to align those pitch ranges?
Exercise 6: Pitch Matching Long Paragraphs
Humming and using nasal consonants like “m”, “n”, and “ng” can help increase your awareness of your resonance. Use this in daily practice with your pitch practice to improve your control over your voice.
- Hum at your target pitch. Notice the vibrations in your chest, mouth, or face.
- At your target pitch, chant the words “my my my my my” and try to keep that buzzing sensation.
- Chant the following phrases at your target pitch:
- Number one, number two, (continue to twenty).
- Meet me Monday, Mandy
- Many manic mice are making mozzarella.
- Never mind, Nancy.
- Feminine/bright resonance: meet, meal, mere, meager, meaning
- Masculine/dark resonance: more, modal, monkey, motor, mobile
Exercise 7: Imitating Voices
Use some phrases to try to make character voices. How did you change your vocal tract to make that voice? Where is your voice resonating? Are there certain aspects of that voice that you would like to incorporate into your own daily speech?
Character voices to try:
- Old person
- Opera singer
- Radio announcer
Identify 3 voices (characters, celebrities, radio/podcast hosts) that you like and try to imitate them. How did you change your vocal tract? Where is your voice resonating? If there are some aspects of that voice that feel natural for you and you like it, try to use it in your daily speech.