Transgender Workouts & Training Exercises
The journey of transition is unique for each trans person, especially in terms of vocal transformation. The voice is a wonderfully sensitive and adaptive instrument, capable of creating a vast array of sound and expression. It is a powerful signifier of gender, personality, and emotion, and for many trans people, the training and transformation of the voice is a key part of affirming their gender identity. It’s very common to feel like your voice is set in stone, you may even feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the idea of trying to change it. But the voice is just like any other instrument, we can train to develop our skills and control, and little by little we can learn to “play” the voice. All you need is the courage to take the first step. Read on to hear about transgender workouts and training exercises that will help you get started on your journey.
Transgender voice exercises Voice training 101
Both mtf and ftm voice training will center on the idea of resonation. Resonation can be a confusing word at first, because it’s commonly used in two different ways. In its non-technical usage, having great “resonance” means that a singer has a strong, clear, beautiful voice. In its technical usage, resonation refers to the process of amplification that the voice goes through inside the body. For trans voice training, it is vital to understand and train your technical resonance.
Let’s use an example to explore this idea. Why do people love singing in the shower? And why is singing in the shower more fun than singing in the hall closet? Well, the answer is simple, we sound better in the shower! But why? Because of the nature of the room: the size, reflective surface materials, and the lack of soft objects to absorb sound. These components change the way our voice sounds in the room. Now, here’s the kicker, you can actually change the sound of your voice, but you don’t need to move around into different rooms, you can do this whole process inside your body.
So how does it work? Your body has three chambers that the voice will resonate in, we call them R1 (the area inside your neck), R2 (the area inside your mouth), and R3 (the area between the tip of your tongue and the teeth). If it’s helpful, you can imagine these chambers as different rooms that your voice will be passing through. Obviously, we don’t have tiled surfaces inside our body, nor furniture that will change the way sound behaves, but we DO have the ability to change the size and shape of each chamber. That ability is the key to changing the sound of your voice. Let’s feel this in action!
Exercise 1: Listening to the breath
We’re going to start by listening to the sound of the breath as we inhale.
- First, drop your jaw low, let your tongue fall down to the bottom of your mouth like you’re at the dentist, and inhale on the sound HAAA. Listen to the sound you make, and note the position of your jaw and tongue. You’re breath might sound a little bit like Darth Vader.
- Next, bring your jaw up into a slight smile, your teeth will be almost touching, bring your tongue up and inhale on the sound HEEE. Listen to how the breath sounds, and note the differences in your tongue and jaw.
- Now, do this back and forth a couple times, and see if you can hear a change in pitch. The HAAA will sound lower, and more round. The HEEE will actually sound higher, sharper, and maybe a bit louder.
In this exercise, we are primarily altering the amount of open space inside our R2 chamber (the mouth). On HAAA, we expand the open space inside the mouth; on HEEE we constrict the open space by bringing our jaw into a smile, and putting our tongue up towards the roof of the mouth. We haven’t even started speaking, and already we can hear how changes in our resonators shape the sound!
Resonation for mtf and ftm voice training
In the simple exercise above, we experienced what it’s like to actively change the size of our resonance chambers, and hear the results. There is a fundamental idea here: we can expand the size of a chamber, or constrict the size of a chamber, and that will alter our sound. For trans voice training, mtf work will require constriction, and ftm work will require expansion. Below, we are going to continue to explore our resonance through speech exercises.
Exercise 2: FTM vocal resonation
A key component of ftm voice training is learning to expand R1 (the area inside your neck). This area contains your larynx, the cartilage box that holds your vocal folds, and it will have the biggest impact on whether your voice is perceived as more masculine or more feminine. Think of your neck like a tube that has the ability to tightly constrict, or expand. When you constrict the neck, your larynx will be forced up, creating a sound that is higher in pitch, brighter, and more feminine (think back to our HEEE sound earlier). When you expand the neck, your larynx drops down, creating a sound that is lower, more rounded, and more masculine (think back to HAAA). Let’s feel this in action!
- Start by getting back into your slight smiling position, inhale on HEEE, and then speak the sound HEEE. Hold it for a few seconds. Listen to the sound, and notice how your voice feels.
- Next, I want you to get into your HAAA position, but we are going to add one detail. As you inhale, I want you to try to yawn. You may feel a nice stretch in your throat, this is good! Now, go ahead and inhale on HAAA, and then speak the sound HAAA for a few seconds. Keep your yawn position going as you speak. Listen to the sound, and notice how your voice feels. Your R1 is now expanded, your larynx has dropped down, and you are producing a lower, rounded and more masculine tone.
- Go back and forth between the two. You’re now developing the ability to control which position you use.
Exercise 2: MTF vocal resonation
For mtf voice training, our key component is constriction of R1. Before we jump into the exercise, read the section above on ftm resonation, and do the exercise. This will help prepare you for what we’re going to do next. Once you’ve done that, you can try this exercise:
- We are going to use two different HAAAs in this exercise, I’ll refer to them as HAAA1 and HAAA2. For HAAA1, We are going to start by inhaling just like we did above, with the added yawn. Do it a few times, notice how your voice sounds and feels.
- Next, we are going to try to alter the resonance of this sound. Inhale again on HAAA2, but this time add a subtle smile at the corners of your mouth, and do not yawn. Keep your tongue in a neutral position. If the tongue moves high in the mouth, R2 (the mouth) will take over, and for this exercise we are trying to target R1 (the throat). Notice the sound and feeling.
- Next let’s add the speech. Inhale on HAAA1 with a yawn, and then gently speak HAAA1 for a few seconds. Inhale on HAAA2 with a slight smile, and speak HAAA2 for a few seconds. Can you hear the change?
In this exercise, you are experiencing the difference between and expanded R1 (HAAA1) and a more constricted R1 (HAAA2). Vocal feminization centers on learning to keep R1 constricted with consistency and ease. Now, just one extra detail: It can be easy to get stuck in a strained or labored position when you’re trying to do this. Remember to listen to your body! Don’t ignore the sounds and feelings of strain. The most important part of attaining a beautiful feminine voice is sounding relaxed and comfortable. Do your best to go slowly and easefully. And when in doubt, you can call upon a teacher to help guide you