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Celebrating Canada’s LGBTQ2+ Community

Finding Your Voice

These simple exercises for trans and nonbinary individuals will help develop your gendered voice to match your gendered expression…

By Sam Malone

In the world of spoken voice, there are traditionally three types of professionals.

1) Speech and language pathologists deal with medically related vocal issues. This includes swallowing issues, stutters, vocal rehabilitation after an injury, etc., but focuses less on the expression of the voice in terms of gender and oration/performance.

2) Public speaking/elocution coaches teach you how to present; however, they can’t address issues with the voice such as audibility and monotone sound.

3) Spoken voice coaches are professionals who work with actors, politicians, lawyers, teachers and many other people who use their voices a lot. The spoken voice coach combines the skills of a speech therapist (but is not medically focused) with the skills of an elocution coach, and adds a level of vocal development and artistry found in the dramatic arts to make expert speakers and performers. For example, the Obamas, Hillary Clinton and other major politicians have had spoken voice coaches. As well, many actors have had spoken voice training to be more expressive with their voices, as well as help them to reach the back of a theatre without yelling or injuring their voice because they’re trying to project without using a microphone.

Recently, with more people coming out as trans or nonbinary, spoken voice coaches have taken their skills in vocal development, character voice and gender expression to help create the field of gender-affirming voice. Some speech therapists are learning and working in gender-affirming voice now as well. However, as this is a new and dynamic field and each person’s voice and circumstances are so vastly different, there is much to learn in this new field of expertise. As well, it is very difficult to access gender-affirming voice work outside of major cities, and arguably outside of the UK. This article will provide a few basic exercises to help individuals begin their gender-affirming vocal journey.

To start gender-affirming voice work, it is important to start with the basics. Although these exercises may seem very basic, they will help condition your voice for later, more demanding work. That conditioning is important, because jumping ahead with gender-affirming voice work without knowing the basics can lead to serious injury, as your voice may not be ready for the vocal demands you are placing on it. This could lead to issues such as a larynx that is stuck in one spot, vocal nodes or loss of voice.

The first thing to consider when doing any form of speaking is your posture. If you are slouching, and/or jutting your chin forward, you will unlikely be able to support the vocal demands of voice work, and this may cause vocal injury. Yes, when your parents went on about your posture, it was actually for a reason.

Here we go!

Step 1: Find your posture

Sit comfortably in a chair. Notice if your habit is to slouch, or if you push your chin forward (which is usually caused by prolonged time on mobile devices). After you notice your habit, sit up nice and tall, in a relaxed manner. It may take time to build the muscles in your back to support this kind of seated position.

Step 2: Find your breath

While seated, uncross your legs, and place one hand on your belly button. As you inhale, feel your belly button push outward, and as you exhale, feel your belly button pull towards your spine. This does not need to be an aggressive movement, nor should it be overly forced. The goal is to let your breath drop deeper into your body, in a relaxed and natural fashion. This breathing is very similar to the diaphragmatic breathing found in yoga and other Eastern traditions. Spend a few breaths breathing into your belly, noting the difference in how you feel as you breathe deeper.

Step 3: Activate your breath

After breathing into your belly, now begin to exhale on a loose ‘F’ sound as in ‘France.’ You do not want this F sound to be too audible in the beginning. It should be loose and barely audible, but you should also have a good amount of air pressure behind your exhale. Repeat inhaling into your belly, and exhaling on a loose F sound, for one to two minutes. Then slowly start to make the F sound more audible, so a bit tighter. See if you can extend your F exhale to five seconds, then 10 seconds, 15 seconds and 20 seconds. It may take time to build up to a 20-second F exhale. This also shows you will need to work on building your vocal support muscles to help with gender-affirming voice work.

Step 4: Hum gently

To start, recheck your posture and your belly breathing. Now slowly begin humming gently on an ‘M’ sound. Start at a comfortable pitch for you. Where can you feel the vibrations of your voice in your mouth? It is normal not to feel any vibrations at first; it will come with time and practice. Once you are humming, gently play up and down in your pitch. Don’t go too high or too low; we’re looking for a comfortable practice. Voice work should never feel hard: if it is, you are doing something wrong, and are likely to get injured. 

We will now break down the humming practice into two sections: feminizing and masculinizing.

Feminizing the voice

Gently hum at a comfortable pitch. Try to feel your voice on the roof of your mouth. Can you direct it there? If not, that’s okay. Sometimes it helps to put a few fingers on your upper lip, and direct your voice to your fingers through your upper lip. What happens if you gently go up in pitch? Is it easier here for you? Try to find a comfortable pitch that allows you to feel your voice on the roof of your mouth. Do not go to the top of your range at this time. Remember, voice work should feel easy. Try a few times, feeling your sound here for five to 10 seconds. If you are successful, try sending your voice into that spot while speaking.

Masculinizing the voice

Gently hum at a comfortable pitch. Place one hand on your chest. Try to place your sound into your chest where your hand is, while maintaining a comfortable pitch. If you cannot feel your sound there, then you can try slowly lowering your pitch. This may help a bit. However, make sure you are not at the bottom of your vocal range; you could injure your voice if you try to force your voice down. Try a few times, feeling your sound here for five to 10 seconds. If you are successful, try sending your voice into that spot while speaking.


SAM MALONE is the main spoken voice tutor on the Musical Theatre programme at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, UK. He has also taught at Guildhall, Leeds Conservatoire, Manchester Metropolitan University and many others. His students have gone on to work on Netflix, the West End and the National Theatre of England. Sam also works with Gendered Intelligence, the largest charity for gender diversity. Sam is passionate about helping people reclaim their voices in all walks of life. For more information, visit www.elevatevoice.co.uk.

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