Here's a report on my third voice lesson. I have been amazed by the interest this has generated! I'm so pleased that all of you find this so useful!
Due to scheduling problems, I missed a lesson last week because it was either see Dom or have a lesson. Guess which one I picked? But I did practice every day and my coach was very pleased with my progress. Even more than that, our Dom was very excited by the changes in my voice. That is so motivating! I don't know about you but I find it so rewarding and stimulating when she gets excited as I become more feminine. It just totally runs my head and soul when that happens. I get hooked on it and want it to happen again and again.
The lesson started with a review of what we covered up to now. She stressed that I need to always focus on the basics of breathing and posture. She said that she knew it was boring and as a result many people neglected it. She told me that, in her experience, neglecting these basic elements was the biggest cause of failure. So I made a note to myself to really focus on those at all times, no matter what. She asked if I had been recording myself (which I had) and we talked about how I felt. I said I thought my pitch and clarity of speech is much more feminine now, but I sound a lot like a little old lady. She laughed at that and said that everyone starts that way, and in fact today she was going to start working on voice quality with me.
More Voice Physiology and Elements of Speech
This week she further broke down the elements of speaking and how that related to you physically.
1. Power Source
The first element is the power source, which is your air. She kept stressing "breathe from the belly, breathe from the belly". She broke the power source down into these elements:
- Lung volume
- Abdominal Breathing
- External Intercostals
- Posture and Breathing
The thing to remember about lung volume is that as a man you have more of it, but that's not the important thing to focus on. What you want to focus on in your efforts to feminize your voice is to keep a steady stream of air flowing. That's what will set the stage for your voice. I have already noticed that the more airflow I generate, the less masculine I sound.
Abdominal breathing and the diaphragm are what propels that steady air flow and that's why it is so important to focus on those and make that your new, habitual way of speaking. If you need to speak as a man, don't worry, this will also improve your male voice. It's win/win, as they say.
The external intercostals are the outer muscles between your ribs. Put your hand on your ribs so your little finger is just on the top edge of your belly, just below your lowest rib. If you then breathe from your belly, you can feel these expand and contract. These muscles can help push out more air, and make your voice louder. So if your voice is too soft or if you need to do any public speaking, these can help add some strength to your voice.
Your posture affects your breathing, which affects your voice. So if you collapse, you can't possibly speak well as a man or as a woman.
2. Phonation or the Source of your Sound
This is the basic sound you make, which you shape to produce words. It's divided into these parts:
- Vibration quality
- Phonation = vibration = voice
- Vocal fold and vocal cord health
- Pitch, voice quality and volume.
Adduction is the position of the vocal folds. They have to come together (adduct) in order to vibrate and produce a sound. If they are too loose, your voice will sound "breathy", if they are close together your voice will sound 'tight' or squeaky. If they are irregular, you can sound scratchy. So the manner of vibration of the vocal folds is something to be aware of, even though you control it indirectly because those are what phonate and that means vibration which creates your voice. The health of the cords is crucial, so once again you don't want to strain or overdo your training. Always be aware of your limits. Patience will get you there faster, so if your voice gets tired, rest it.
All of these elements contribute to the pitch, voice quality and loudness of your voice. She had a fascinating video of a stroboscopic examination of a young woman's larynx while she was vocalizing. I found a copy of this on YouTube:
When you watch this, remember that you are looking down at the throat from the front. So the top of the screen is the back of the throat, the bottom of the screen is the front. Left is the patient's right-side (since you are 'facing' her) and vice-versa. It's a 'strobe light' film, so you get a 'freeze-frame' effect like you do when you watch someone run in a strobe light. Notice when she goes down in pitch, the folds "shorten" and "thicken", vice-versa for the opposite. Notice also the whiteness of the folds. This is a sign of a healthy larynx. If you have laryngitis, these will be 'red' and inflamed, they actually look like your eyes when they are bloodshot. You want to avoid that.
3. Resonance (Sound Modification)
- Size and shape of the 'tube'
- Pyriform Sinuses
The Oropharynx is what you see when you yawn in the mirror. The laryngopharynx is down by your 'voice box'. These, along with the pyriform sinuses are what you are shaping in your efforts to change your voice. She had two images from an article by Dr. Ingo Titze which I found on the web and reproduce below:
These are 'models' of the voice mechanism which were made by using an MRI on many different subjects and generalizing the results into a straight 'tube'. The top picture is masculine, the bottom is feminine. Those narrowed shapes are what we want to produce. Remember that S.C.M. muscle from the last lesson? That is how we get it. We use it (somewhat unconsciously) to raise the larynx, which reduces the space of the pyriform sinuses. Interesting. By the way, Ingo Titze is a pretty interesting fellow. I recommend you Google him. You can spend a lot of time reading about all the interesting things he has learned about human speech and singing.
4. Articulation (Speech Modification)
- Tongue Position
- Clear Talk Practice
This is related to the clear speaking techniques we have been practicing since the last lesson, but it works in an interesting way with resonance. For consonants, she suggested I should start being aware of how consonants vary as I continue to practice 'clear speaking'. Some are quick "pops", like "t" "p", others are longer like "mmmm" or "nnn" that can go on forever.
Working with vowels helps shape resonance. One of the reasons she uses an 'e' sound is that it is one of the best for resonance. It is called a 'front' sound, which means that it is produced towards the front of your mouth and helps raise the larynx naturally. Compare this with "ah", which is produced in the back of the throat: the tongue is lower and it is much easier for the resonance to be 'dark'. The "ooo" sound is produced high in the back of your mouth. She had me vocalize "eee ahh ooo" on our standard A pitch so I could "feel" the differences. I suggest you do that also. She also gave me a really interesting article by Ingo Titze that compared these vowels (which he calls "corner vowels") to the three primary colors of painting (red, green, blue) from which all other colors are created. Interesting stuff. I couldn't find a free version of that article on the web, but your library might have it.
- Pacing (tempo)
- Melodic Intonation
Prosody is a fancy word for the 'musical' or 'melodic' quality of spoken words. A simple definition of
Pacing is how fast you talk and how rhythmically. This is pretty obvious.
Melodic intonation is how you change your pitch as you talk. You can get excited and your pitch will go up ("I'm going to see Dom today!") or down if you are unhappy ("I'm not going to see Dom today."). Fluency is how well you speak, how naturally. Obviously, if you are trying to do this, especially at the beginning there is a lot to think about. And your 'natural' way of speaking uses none of these new techniques. She encouraged me to try to go 'off-script', which means practicing your voice talking to someone, like our Dom or just random people on the phone. Practicing your exercises will help you develop muscle memory and going 'off-book' will help make it available to you in all settings in your life.
New Stretch She introduced an isometric stretch this week:
- Tip your head to the right.
- Reach over the top of your head with your right arm, until you can touch your left ear with your hand.
- Feel like your head is trying to go to the left (gently) while your right arm is stopping it. Do a few of these, releasing and relaxing (with your hand still over your head) between each one.
- Remove your hand, still having your head tilted to the right, and move it front and back gently.
- Put your head back to the central (neutral) then look to the left, feeling the stretch, then back to neutral.
- Repeat this on the opposite side, with the opposite arm.
This is all an attempt to relax the neck and S.C.M. muscle. If this makes you tighter, then don't do it.
Then do the breathing on "fffff, sssss and shhhhh"
New vocal warm-up No more 'gliding' between pitches. This is a more complicated warm-up. To make it easy for you I've produced two small videos with a musical score. It's just the kind of girl I am. If you don't read music, just listen to the soundtrack. As before, we go between 'A3' and 'E4', but this time in a chromatic way. Repeat 3 times as usual, on 'E' 'AH' and "OOO". Even though I show these as separate movies, you should perform them as one exercise. When you get to the top note, proceed immediately to the next one to go down.
If you're a musician, these will make you a little crazy. Try to ignore that. My voice has (pretty much) stopped cracking now when I go up these scales. If your voice still does that, just keep at it. Eventually, it will get used to it and you will be up there with the rest of the girls.
Remember as you warm up to be constantly aware of your breathing, posture and all the other basics.
The big emphasis this week is on voice quality and resonance, with a gentle push to go "off-book". The first exercise is to practice changing from an unvoiced sound to a voiced sound. This will help with the 'quality' of your larynx's vibration. An unvoiced sound doesn't use the larynx, while a voice one does. An example would be 'ssss' as opposed to 'zzzz'. Saying "sss' doesn't use your larynx, your throat won't vibrate at all. A 'zzz' sound is made in just the same way as a 'ssss' sound, but with the larynx getting involved. These are called "cognates", incidentally. Doing this will help get a nice airflow and a nice, easy, free vibration of the larynx at the female 'A3' pitch, with no tightness or other vocal problems.
Exercise 1 Practice changing from an 'sss' to a 'zzz' sound. Start without a pitch, on the 'ssss'. Then, one count later, change smoothly to a 'zzzz' on the 'A3' pitch. Repeat this 3 times and do it to a count of four, with the fourth count silent, so you can take a breath. You want the change to be smoothly made, not abrupt or effortful.
Repeat this same pattern with 'SH' changing to 'ZH'. There aren't words in English that use the ZH sound, it's like the sound in the French for "I love you": "je t'aime."
Exercise 2 This one is for resonance. You want to have your nicely vibrating vocal cords working, but start to feel the 'vibration' in your face: lips, nose, cheeks, eyeballs, forehead. This will help you to develop a real 'feminine resonance' to your voice. As you do these, think of bringing the sound 'up' and 'forward' in your body. You can't really feel your face vibrate with your hands, but you will be able to feel it once it starts to work. It might tickle a little, that's just fine.
To perform this exercise, vocalize on our A3 pitch as always, but use the sound "mmmmmm" as in Mary, trying to feel it in your lips, cheeks, eyeballs, nose. Repeat this 3-5 times, using the same '4-count' as in the previous exercises (with the fourth count the 'breathe-in' count).
Now do the same thing but with a "nnnnn" sound as in Nancy. I found this one easier to feel on my tongue-tip, teeth and nose somehow. As before, do it on our A3 pitch, with our four-count pattern.
For the final sound, use a 'zzz' sound, like a bee buzzing. Definitely, try to feel it buzzing, and do it as before, on A3, with our four-count, 3-5 times.
Word and Phrase Exercises
The word exercise this week is a combination of 'sing-talk' and 'clear speaking' techniques. There are two groups of 16 words, the first eight are done with the 'sing-talk' technique, the second group of eight are done with the 'clear speaking' techniques, but at pitch. (Before this, the pitch was optional.) Before each group, check your pitch with your tuner to make sure it is on point, but use the 'resonance' sounds of 'm' 'n' and 'z', rather than the 'ah eee ooo' of previously.
In case you don't remember the sing-talk technique, this is where you 'sing' the first sound of the word then 'speak' the rest. Make sure you don't sing the entire word! As before, she asked me not to tell you the word lists. But I can say they all start with the 'resonant' consonants (M,N and Z) to work on your resonance. So find 16 words like that, with different syllable counts, and go for it.
Finally, there are 16 phrases of 7 and 8 syllables in length. Practice them as you usually would, but focus especially on trying to keep the resonance of the entire phrase forward and up in your face. You will find that it's easier to change the pitch of the phrase as you do it. And then go through them a second time, saying something additional and spontaneous. For example, if one of the phrases was "What time is the party?", the second time through, you would repeat that phrase, then say something else like, "Do you have a lot of parties like this?". The idea is to go "off-book" and start making this new voice more habitual and natural. Practicing your voice with a friend or with Dom would also be a great way to do it.
I'm completely amazed by the popularity of these articles. I hope you continue to find them helpful. I have two more free lessons, not sure what I will do after that, but if I do more, I will definitely write about them. Like I said before, if you are serious about changing your voice and need more help, you might want to look in your city and see if you can find one. There might be someone who would work with you on Skype as well. As always, feel free to message me on Twitter