There are many ways to sound more feminine, and you are likely familiar with one or more of them. Below is a brief explanation of different aspects of feminine communication:
While pitch is not the only feature used to achieve more feminine speech/voice, it is indeed the most critical part. Without a higher pitch, it is very difficult to sound feminine. Studies show that the average masculine pitch is about an octave lower than feminine pitch: 120 Hertz (Hz) (B2 in musical notes) for masculine, 220 Hz (A3) for feminine, and 155-185 Hz (D#3-G3) for gender-ambiguous. I typically target an average pitch of 196 Hz (G3) in training. This pitch allows you to move your pitch around even higher when you speak in conversation.
Besides having a higher pitch, a feminine voice also involves a wider pitch range (146 Hz vs. 82 for masculine), see pitch chart above. So, in addition to raising your pitch, you need to be more expressive by moving your pitch more, with higher highs. But don’t overdo it! Just bring out the meaning a little more than you normally do. Here are ways to shape your pitch movement:
Many people have heard that resonance can make the difference between sounding naturally feminine and sounding like a man with a high pitch. But what IS resonance? It is the reverberation of sound in a space. For humans, that space is in our chest, neck, and head. Since males are typically bigger physically, with a larger neck and head, the voice sounds larger or fuller. An analogy is the difference in tone between a cello and a violin. To sound more feminine, then, you must utilize less of your vocal space, so that your voice sounds smaller. Try to aim your voice forward, in the mask of your face, to reduce the reverberation of the voice in the back of the head. Also try to raise your larynx higher in your neck, which essentially shortens the space vertically in the throat. Subtle movements of the base of tongue can also restrict space in the mouth and throat.
Vocal quality also is an important component of a feminine voice. Many transwomen try to be breathy, giving their voice a ‘soft’ quality. This is relatively easy to do, but be sure not to be too breathy, which can sound unnatural or make it hard to be loud when you need to be.
Feminine articulation tends to be lighter than masculine articulation. Studies show that women hold their tongues in a more anterior position in the mouth. To achieve this, aim for more precise movement of the tongue and lips, and notice your tongue moving in the front of your mouth. Also try to widen your lips into more of a smiling position.
Typically, loudness level is relatively decreased in feminine speech compared to masculine speech. Being a little quieter during conversational speech is fairly easy to do. Remembering to be quieter is more of the challenge!
Since the Middle Ages, folk linguists have attempted to characterize stereotypical women’s language relative to men’s, including the following traits:*
How you sit, walk, and move is part of your feminine image, including how you look when you are talking to someone. Some features are: **
Laugh and cough
Similar to resonance, you can make your laugh and cough smaller by focusing them more in the front of your mouth rather than deep in the throat. Widening your lips can also help make your laugh and cough smaller.
* Coates, J. (1986). Women, Men and Language. London: Longman. Coates, J. and D. Cameron (eds.) (1989). Women in their Speech Communities. London: Longman.
** Davies, S. & Goldberg, J. (2006a). Clinical aspects of transgender speech feminization and masculinization. International Journal of Transgenderism, 9, 167-196.
Facts and tips
Hum your target pitch (G3 196 Hz) whenever you think of it, in order to adapt your ear and your voice to a higher speaking range.
Yelling, screaming, or long periods of talking can be harmful to your voice, and can lead to tissue changes in the vocal folds.
Use a lighter vocal quality when alternating “ah” and “ha” many times slowly. Feel the airflow from the “h.” Then read aloud, listening carefully as you add in a little more airflow without being too breathy.
Higher pitch in natal females is mainly due to shorter and thinner vocal folds compared to natal males: 14 mm long and 28 mm3 thick for females vs. 18 mm long and 81 mm3 thick for males.
Use a more feminine conversational style while talking to a friend: Listen, give eye contact, and contribute by showing understanding, interest, and shared experience when possible.
Consider filling out the Transsexual Voice Questionnaire (Male to Female), which was designed to measure the voice experiences of transgender women presenting full-time. This questionnaire may help you understand how big of a factor your voice may be in your life and whether you should address any voice concerns you may have. (Translation of the questionnaire is permitted with the authors’ prior written permission and when WHO guidelines are followed.)