6 Things You Can’t Ignore to Make Your Voice Sound Feminine 

What makes a voice sound “Feminine?”

We often get asked the question, “What makes a voice sound feminine?”  What are the exact characteristics that allow someone to confidently say “ma’am” when speaking to another person on the phone? 

Even with so much variability in feminine voices, how can that happen? Some voices are low and raspy like Scarlett Johanson while some are bouncy and flirty like Kristen Schaal, but both can be considered “feminine.” So, what characteristics do they share?

The purpose of this article to outline aspects of what makes a voice sound feminine, and highlight all the shades of gray that pass. We are all different! Voices are different! Our voice should be true to us and our identity. 

Only you can decide what aspects you need to change to unlock your authentic voice. That said, our ears intuitively label voices as feminine and masculine in an instant before we consciously realize - and they affect our brain differently.

 

Here are 6 typically feminine qualities to consider when attempting to unlock your own personal and authentic voice.

1) Higher Pitch

Let’s start with the obvious one; a higher pitch. Duh..did you need a Speech Language Pathologist to tell you that one? The measurement we use to identify average vocal pitch range is called the fundamental frequency. The average fundamental frequency during conversation for speech perceived to be more masculine ranges from 100 to 150 Hz, whereas for more feminine speech, it ranges from 180 to 250 Hz.

 
If you can’t hit that high note - don’t stress! Also, we can help.

If you can’t hit that high note - don’t stress! Also, we can help.

 

HOWEVER, like I said earlier, higher pitch isn’t the only avenue to achieve a more feminine voice. Transgender actress, Lavern Cox, presents with a lower overall fundamental frequency, but her voice has many feminine qualities.

 
Laverne Cox, from Orange is the New Black

Laverne Cox, from Orange is the New Black

 

She demonstrates breathiness, fluidity, clear speech, and increased vowel space. One thing that should be mentioned is that for those that were assigned male at birth may have anatomy that is larger, and this often restricts them from achieving a very high pitch.. But, don’t worry! You’ve surely heard someone only altering their pitch - it sounds like a falsetto choir boy rather than an authentic feminene voice. Luckily this is only one small piece of the puzzle when it comes to achieving a passable feminine voice. 

 
This is video five in a series of voice feminization videos that will teach you the basics of achieving a gender neutral or female voice as well as increase your overall feminine communication patterns.
 

2) Light Articulatory Contact

Have you ever seen the show forensic files? (Am I the only one that loves to watch murder mysteries?) 

Listen to how the late host Peter Adden Brooke spoke when talking about an important or fascinating part of a case. He would hit each word with a great intensity. 

This is probably to create some sort of shock value for the viewers, but this is a good example of what we call a hard glottal attack. Speech perceived to be more feminine typically does not have this, but has more “softness” or what we call light articulatory contact. This entails lightly touching your tongue, lips, and other articulators very gently when producing consonant sounds in conversational speech.

 
light_contact_rose.png
 

HOWEVER, Veteran Los Angeles comedian and actress Riley Silverman takes a different take when it comes to her voice:

“I’ve been told that part of what makes me so effective as a performer is my stage presence and my command of a room,” she said. “I feel that if I change my voice too much, I’ll lose that. It’s like being a golfer and switching to a different putter—and suddenly you can never putt like you did before.”

“Sometimes there’s a voice in the back of my head that’s like—no! I should be punk rock and be in their face. This is who I am, and this is a part of it,” said Silverman, whose transition has taken place entirely in the public eye.

If your intensity is something you like about your voice, then keep it and scream from the rooftops, girl! (Just kidding, don’t scream. It’s not good for your voice…but you get what we mean…)

Speaking of intensity…

3) Vocal Intensity

Do men typically talk louder than women?  According to a study conducted by Coleman, Mabis, & Hinson (1977), normal speakers should be able to produce minimum intensities of around 50 dB and maximum intensities of around 115 dB and that through their research they were able to find that intensities for males are slightly higher than for females. 

As mentioned earlier, softness and light articulatory contact typically result in an overall lower intensity during conversational speech. We use apps that have sound level meters (as well as many other strategies) as an informal way to help you self-monitor your speech intensity. 

 
Vocal_Intensity.png
 

HOWEVER, if you’re like me, I am from a loud family and feel like loudness is something that is a part of my identity. Check out this funny SNL skit about “The Loud Family”  

There are many different factors that can lead to a louder voice; biology, pathology, personality, or culture (and sometimes someone cutting you off in traffic). 

  • Vocal anatomy and intensity: Let’s zoom in on anatomy for a second: Everyone is born with a different size larynx and set of vocal folds. Also, people may have smaller lungs that cannot generate enough airflow to have a louder voice. 

  • Pathologically speaking, volume can be changed due to changes in the tissue or vibratory rate due to age, or damage to the vocal folds (e.g. from smoking or recurring vocal abuse). 

  • Personality: Some people are shy and withdrawn naturally, which gives them their softer voice. While on the other hand, some people feel that being lout is a part of their identity; like comedian Silverman who feels like she isn’t as funny unless her speech is loud and “in your face.”

  • Culture: Some cultures view speaking loudly as disrespectful and improper. Other cultures celebrate by raising the roof with your voice. For example, in my family, if you ever want to be heard at one of our get-togethers, you have to speak up! 


4) Clear Speech

Do you identify with the masculine mumble

Typically perceived masculine speech has been categorized as being rapid and slightly unclear at times. This was from a study conducted at the University of Utah to explore gender perception. It aimed to determine whether adopting clear speech could help transgender people who would like to sound more feminine. 

As part of this study, participants listened to sentences and were tasked with rating them on a scale from masculine to feminine. Males read a sentence in their typical speech and then read a sentence while concentrating on speaking more clearly. 

Once they analyzed the results, they found that speaking clearly positively correlates with increased perceived femininity.

"While the effect was small…individual talkers showed larger changes in perceived femininity when they spoke clearly," Booz explained. "Higher fundamental frequency, greater pitch variability, and increased vowel space were all correlated with an increased perception of femininity." 

 
Practice over-enunciating in the mirror

Practice over-enunciating in the mirror

 

HOWEVER, it’s important to note that attitude and emotions can play a role in this too. We had a client that claimed that when she was talking about something that is really technical, or if she’s annoyed that she has to explain something over and over, that her speech becomes more mumbled or unclear. 

Clear speech varies with our mood; Our voice is tied to our emotions and identity! It requires a bit of awareness in these times to make an effort to speak clearly, but you’ll feel more aligned when you take your time to clear your mind AND your speech. 

5) Resonance

This is the big one. Our practice is spent mostly on working on resonance with our clients. Perceived feminine speech resonates in the oral and most forward focused part of the body. In contrast, perceived masculine speech resonates more in the throat and chest. 

If you just bring the resonance up, it naturally raises pitch and gives the voice a brighter and clearer sound. 

Our “voice box” is an instrument, capable of playing different tunes. A lot of your practice will be training the muscles around the larynx to hold it in a different way in order to produce resonance. It’s hard work and requires a lot of practice, which is the same for all areas of voice feminization therapy. But with diligent practice, motivation, and consistency, you will see results.

 
resonance_cave.png
 

HOWEVER, although a forward focused resonance is one of the best ways to achieve a more feminine sounding voice, there are STILL other ways to be gendered correctly when speaking.

 

6) Body Language and Social Aspects of (Mtf) Communication

You can have the most feminine sounding voice, but if you “manspread” and carry yourself like Connor McGregor before a UFC fight, something will seem off.  With all this focus on your voice, it’s easy to forget the importance of fine-tuning body language and social nuances of nonverbal communication. 

The claim is that 65%-90% of human messages come through nonverbal communication. Within 30 seconds of meeting someone, we draw an average of six to eight conclusions about a person before a single word is uttered (Nelson & Golant, 2004).

For example, in the area of responsiveness, it is perceived as more feminine to use nonverbal communication behaviors to show engagement, emotional involvement and empathy with others. In therapy we may target other nonverbal communication behaviors such as mirroring a partner’s movements (tilting and moving the head), using fluid gestures, leaning in while talking or listening, or practice condensing your body to lake up less space.

 
feminine_body_language.png
 

HOWEVER, maybe you don’t want to take up less space. Yas girl! Take up that whole love seat! You deserve it. The goal of treatment is to bring awareness to what you are presenting to the world and whether that is in alignment with how you feel on the inside. If you are not there yet, then we can guide you through this process.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many aspects that can be addressed if you want to pass as feminine, but not ALL of them are necessary. In fact, none of them are necessary! 

Some trans woman find themselves obliged to present in whatever way is deemed acceptably feminine according to cisgender norms, whether it’s wearing stereotypically feminine clothes, mastering makeup, or changing their voice! These may help to reduce your gender dysphoria and affirm a trans woman gender, but sometimes trying and failing to conform can be painful and may not be true to you and your personality. The key is to be connected to your own inner authentic voice to know which areas you would like to address and where you want to put your efforts. 

When you are ready, we have plenty of strategies in each area to help you through this process and give you individualized treatment to fit your own personal and unique voice. 

Schedule Your FREE Consultation today!