Transgender singing is an exciting training process that will help you to transform the sound, sensation, and gender presentation of your singing voice. Whether you’re a professional vocalist, or someone who simply loves to sing for the fun of it, you will understand how deeply your voice can impact your everyday life. Scientific research has shown us that the act of singing releases positive neurochemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, which improve our sense of happiness and wellbeing.1 For this reason, it can be extremely challenging if your singing voice doesn’t represent who you are on the inside. Instead of being joyful, singing could increase painful feelings of dysphoria. Or, you may find that trying to transition your voice creates pain, frustration and fatigue, effectively cutting you off from one of your most powerful modes of self expression. At Seattle Voice Lab we are wholeheartedly dedicated to breaking down this barrier and helping you find and command your true singing voice. We have committed ourselves to the study, development and implementation of transgender voice training, and are proud to have helped hundreds of trans voices from all over the world. In today’s blog, we will discuss the various aspects that make transgender singing unique, and discuss how you can get started on transforming your singing voice today.


Curious to learn more about singing with Seattle Voice Lab?


What’s Different About Singing When You’re Trans

If you’re a transgender singer, many of the singing challenges you’ll come up against are well known in the singing community. Learning how to inhale correctly, how to achieve proper breath support while singing, getting your pitch just right or learning to reduce tension are all traditional practices that will help you to develop a healthy voice that is pleasing to hear. However, there are also unique challenges for trans singers which may be unknown to the general vocal community as well as some voice teachers/coaches.

For hundreds of years, singing lessons have been almost exclusively tailored to cis-gendered voices in a binary system. And while transgender singing does employ some of the traditional principles and techniques, these methods may not be sufficient to guide you to your ultimate potential. Traditional singing lessons are often tailored around gendered voice types: bass, baritone, tenor, alto & soprano. A voice teacher will usually decide what your voice type is based on the voice that you were born with, and will use various techniques to strengthen that voice. This system can be quite rigid and is founded in the belief that your original voice type is the one that should be strengthened. If you’re a trans person, this constricting approach could completely shut down your vocal journey. Even a well meaning teacher who wants to help you develop your true voice may simply lack the necessary skill to do so. And in the worst case scenario, you could end up with a teacher who forces you into a voice that you don’t identify with. 

In order to understand how trans singing is different from traditional singing, it’s helpful to first understand trans voice training, which is the training process that is used to transform the gender presentation of the speaking voice. In trans voice training, we use targeted exercises to change the way you use your voice, thereby changing the way your voice sounds. When done correctly, trans voice training is gentle and explorative, and makes room for you to move fluidly through the gender spectrum and choose the voice that is right for you. In order to learn trans singing in the most effective and straightforward manner,  you should begin by training your speaking voice with trans voice training. Once you have that foundation, you will be ready to learn transgender singing. Your singing teacher will show you how to combine your previous training with additional singing techniques, thus, helping you to cultivate and strengthen your new singing voice. 

So, to sum it up: traditional singing helps you develop the gendered voice that you were born with, and transgender singing helps you to develop a singing voice that is in line with your true gender identity. In this way, traditional singing and trans singing have different goals and processes, making transgender singing a unique specialty that should only be taught by an instructor who has legitimate experience in this field. 

Finding the right transgender singing coach

One challenge you may face as a transgender singer could be finding the right teacher. As we discussed above, training for trans singing requires a specific skill set that not every singing teacher will have, however the right teacher for you is out there, you just need to know what to look for. Here is a list of questions that you can use to help determine if a singing teacher is right for you:  

  • Does this teacher have experience teaching transgender singing? You’ll want to find a  teacher who has experience teaching transgender singing, not just singing. Always make sure to ask how long your prospective teacher has been specializing in trans singing. The more experienced your teacher is, the better they can guide you. 
  • What is the teacher’s singing background and musical education? Many top level singing teachers will have a Bachelors or a Master’s degree in vocal performance or music education. Alternatively, they may have many years of performance experience that makes them qualified to teach singing. Make sure to read their credentials carefully.
  • How do I feel in my singing lessons with this teacher? Is your teacher good at explaining concepts to you, or are you feeling confused? Does your teacher adequately address any concerns you have about your voice? Does the teacher pay attention to the health of your voice? Do you have a clear understanding of how to practice outside of your lessons?
  • How do I feel in my singing lessons with this teacher? Is your teacher good at explaining concepts to you, or are you feeling confused? Does your teacher adequately address any concerns you have about your voice? Does the teacher pay attention to the health of your voice? Do you have a clear understanding of how to practice outside of your lessons?
  • After three months, do you see improvement, or is your singing voice the same? It’s helpful to record your lessons each week so that you can listen back at the three month mark. Do you think the sound of your voice has improved? If you were carrying tension when you started lessons, do you feel healthier now? Has your range grown at all? Do you feel more confident as a singer? *Remember that personal accountability is KEY. If you don’t commit yourself to consistent practice outside of lessons you will not see any improvement, no matter how great your teacher is. 
  • Is your singing teacher showing any red flags? There are many great singing instructors out there, but there are also some who are not qualified to teach you. Don’t be afraid to leave a singing teacher if they display any of these practices:
    • Forcing you to repeat a singing exercise that causes you pain while offering no useful guidance. 
    • Forcing you into a vocal resonance that you don’t like the sound or sensation of.
    • Forcing you to sing character repertoire that increases your dysphoria after you have told them that this is happening.
    • Making fun of your singing voice 

Dealing With the Passaggio

Passaggio is an Italian word meaning “passage.” In singing lessons, we use this word to describe the transitional place between your chest voice and your head voice. This area is commonly referred to as your “break.” This is a notoriously tricky area that all singers will spend a good deal of time figuring out. At face value, we may make the mistake of claiming that “chest voice” is the masculine register, and “head voice (sometimes called falsetto)” is the feminine register, however this is not the case. Both MTF and FTM singers will benefit from learning to exercise and use both registers.2,3

MTF

If you’re an MTF person with the desire to develop a more feminine sounding singing voice, you can find your answer in transgender singing lessons. When done correctly, vocal feminization for singing is a safe and gentle process, however, because of the precise nature of this technique it is easy to do wrong, putting MTF people particularly at risk for vocal injury during training. 

One of the key elements of creating a more feminine resonance is learning to maintain a high larynx position. If done correctly, you’ll be able to attain this position while staying relaxed. However, if you force the larynx or rush the process, it can result in too much tension.2 Tension in the voice will cause you to sound harsh and tight, which will compromise your feminine sound. In addition, carrying too much tension long term may cause you to develop vocal problems. For this reason, it is extremely important that you take the time to find a singing teacher who is appropriately qualified to teach you. A qualified transgender singing instructor will carefully monitor you throughout your training and will give you relaxation techniques to help you ease the voice into this new position. In addition, they will give you guidelines on how often you should practice, and teach you to recognize fatigue in your own voice. Sometimes singers can be so accustomed to the sensations of tension/fatigue that they don’t notice and continue to push forward, causing further damage to the voice. A qualified teacher will be able to hear any tension you may have, and will give you precise guidance on how to address it and find relief. In addition, the right voice teacher will be able to give you a clear trajectory forward, whereas teaching yourself or working with an under qualified instructor may cause you to develop bad habits that will take considerable time to reverse. At Seattle Voice Lab, our singing coaches have extensive musical training, as well as specific training in the unique specialty of transgender singing. When you study with one of our teachers you can rest easy knowing that you are in good hands.

FTM

If you’re an FTM person, you may be interested in developing a more masculine sounding singing voice. If this is the case, you could be asking yourself: “should I use testosterone or not?” Because testosterone permanently alters your vocal folds, you may fear that it will also permanently alter your ability to sing. At the same time, you may long to experience the many potential benefits of T treatment. So, what is the right choice? The good news is, you’ve got more options than you may realize, because you do not need testosterone to develop a more masculine sounding singing voice. Proper training with a trans speaking teacher in combination with a trans singing teacher will allow you to develop a more masculine voice without testosterone. So now that we’ve got that covered, let’s talk about your options!

If you choose to develop your voice without testosterone, you should seek the guidance of a singing teacher who has a background in transgender singing. One of the benefits of this approach is that it allows you to go through your vocal transition gradually, allowing you to build your singing voice in a healthy and sustainable way.. You’ll get to explore the full gender spectrum of the voice and decide what you like best, rather than committing to the unknown results of testosterone. 

If you choose to take testosterone you may experience a deepening of your singing voice as well as other bodily changes which may help to relieve gender dysphoria. However, these results vary largely from person to person. You may be totally in love with your new singing voice after T, or you may be left wanting more. If this is the case, don’t fret! Some voice masculinization hopefuls don’t get the results they’re looking for from testosterone treatment alone, and this is where trans singing lessons come in. A qualified trans singing teacher will understand how T affects the singing voice, and will be able to help you find and develop the additional masculine qualities you’re looking for.  There is another possibility that could occur under testosterone therapy: that the sensation of your new voice makes it difficult to start singing again. Testosterone will cause your vocal folds to permanently thicken, and in addition to changing the sound, this will alter the way your voice feels and behaves.3 If you’re already a trained singer, you may find that your new voice is unpredictable and inconsistent. A qualified singing teacher will be able to guide you through this process so you can learn to control your new voice sooner. However, it is important to remember that you can never fully know how testosterone will affect your voice. So if you are a professional singer, or plan to be one, make sure to consider your options fully.

Tips and Tricks

  • Find songs you love, and change the key! One of the trickiest parts of transgender singing can be finding songs that align with your gender identity. Perhaps you love all of Galinda’s songs from “Wicked!” but they’re just too high for you. Don’t despair! Learn to sing the song in a new key that is comfortable in your voice! That way you can enjoy songs that you love while still practicing a singing resonance that aligns with who you are. If you’re not sure what key to choose, ask your voice teacher for help. Or, if you don’t have a voice teacher yet, try searching for the song on youtube with the added text “lower key” or “higher key.” There are tons of free karaoke tracks available online in alternative keys. 
  • Give yourself breaks! You may find it helpful to return to your old larynx position for periods of rest. If you’re an MTF singer practicing a high larynx position, you may get tense after practicing for a while. Allow yourself to take a rest, dropping your larynx down. This may help your voice to completely relax. Then, you’ll be ready to return to your high larynx position with less tension.2 Similarly, if you’re an FTM singer practicing a low larynx position, you may feel fatigued after singing for long periods. Allow your larynx to drift up to a higher position for a rest. This will help to relax your voice so that you can return to your masculine resonance in a healthier state.3 
  • Don’t stop singing when you start testosterone. If you’re an FTM singer who chooses to take testosterone, you may have the impulse to stop singing while your voice is going through hormonal changes. However, this could make your transition back into singing more difficult later on. If possible, keep singing! This may allow you to gradually adapt your singing technique as your voice transitions, rather than jumping back in months later when the sound and feeling of your voice has radically changed.3
  • Be patient, gentle, and consistent! Give yourself time to discover your new voice, and accept that it isn’t going to happen over night. If you feel tired, then you MUST rest. If something hurts, stop! Injuring your voice will only prolong the process of finding your new singing voice. With healthy, consistent practice, you will keep improving every day!

Practice, Practice, Practice

Most singing lessons happen once a week for 25 min or 50 min. That means your singing teacher has this amount of time to give you guidance…and the rest is up to you. Ask yourself: how are you spending the remaining 167 hours of your week? The best way to be consistent with your practice is to make it a habit. Pick a time of day that works for you and stick to it. Here’s a few examples: If you like to be totally alone when you practice, consider doing it on your daily drive to or from work/school. Or, you could create a routine where you come home for the day, have a 30 minute rest, and then do 30 minutes of singing practice. If you’re an early riser, you could do your practicing everyday after breakfast. The options are endless! Find something that works for you and make it a habit!

CTA

Confidence. Joy. Freedom. This is what singing as your true self should feel like, and we at Seattle Voice Lab are dedicated to helping you get there. Are you ready to find out more? Click here to connect with our friendly staff! We welcome questions of all sorts so don’t be shy. Want to know more about transgender singing? Wondering about your specific voice? Curious which one of our singing teachers is right for you? Send your questions our way, we’d love to hear from you!

References

  1. Launay, J. et al. (2015). Choir Singing improves happiness. The Conversation. Retrieved from: 
    https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/choir-singing-improves-health-happiness-%E2%80%93-and-perfect-icebreaker#:~:text=The%20psychology%20of%20singing,chatting%20about%20positive%20life%20events.
    ↩︎
  2. Stapleton, M. (2022). Singing Strategies fro your trans and non-binary singers. Retrieved from: https://blog.chorusconnection.com/singing-strategies-for-your-trans-and-non-binary-singers
    ↩︎
  3. Conley, E. (2013). Transmasculine people, testosterone, and singing- some advice. Retrieved from: https://www.eliconley.com/blog/transgender-men-testosterone-and-singing-some-advice
    ↩︎

1 Comment

Rain · November 18, 2023 at 5:40 am

YES YES YES YE YS YES ALL OF THIS. In particular, traditional singing lessons are often very conflicting with trans voice training. I’m trans femme and almost every video or teacher out there tries to explain why lowering and relaxing the larynx is essential for reaching higher notes, and that raising the larynx results in tension. This obviously DOES NOT WORK for most trans femme singing, and I’m super glad to see this recognized here!! Also, that piece of advice even scares away some trans people from voice feminization, out of fear that raising the larynx will cause strain. Nice to see someone out here is doing good work!

Comments are closed.