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Vocal Feminization: Basic concepts

The first thing you need to undertsand are the terms and concepts I'll be using.


1. Tone

My mom used to say "Don't use that tone of voice with me!" We constantly change the tone of our voice, and it's so easy that we don't even think about it. All I'm going to show you is how to change your tone of voice to be more feminine. Once you understand how and practice properly, it becomes just as easy as any other way you change the tone of your voice.

The main characteristic of a voice, whether speaking or singing, is its tone. So, let's start there.

Sound travels through the air in waves. A tone is simply a sound that has regular wave vibrations. Three kinds of vibrations affect a tone:

Pitch: the frequency of the vibration. This is measued in cycles per second. The more cycles per second, the higher the pitch. In general, women's voices have a higher pitch than men's voices-- it sounds higher.

Intensity or loudness, is measured in decibels. The more decibels, the louder it is.

Quality is the greatest variable of the three. It's also called the timbre. Melanie Anne Phillips calls it the resonance, and I do too. It is measured by a bunch of complicated stuff like the overtones and prominence of the primary tone, but we don't need to get into that.

There's an easy way to explain differences in tonal quality: music.


2. The voice is an instrument

A trumpet and flute and piano could play the exact same note in terms of pitch and intensity, but they would sound very different because of the quality or resonance. Resonance is affected by lots of variables, like the size, the shape, the material, the way they're played, etc, etc.

Vocal range is like any instrument range

The voice is also a musical instrument. Female and male voices are like two instruments that are almost exactly the same: made of the same stuff, same shape, "played" the same way. Kind of like a violin and a double bass viol.

The two main differences between a violin and a bass viol are the size of the instrument, and the size of the strings. These two things affect the resonance, making the violin sound higher and thinner, and the double bass lower and fuller.

A violin (at top) is kind of like a female voicebox:

  1. smaller in size
  2. thinner strings (= vocal cords)
  3. shorter strings (= vocal cords)

Thus, it produces a higher, thinner tone.

A double bass viol (at bottom) is kind of like a male voicebox:

  1. larger in size
  2. thicker strings (= vocal cords)
  3. longer strings (= vocal cords)

Thus, it produces a lower, fuller tone.

[Technically, the voice is more like a wind instrument. An oboe and bassoon would be a better analogy, but I couldn't find pictures I liked. ;-) ]

Since the voicebox (larynx) is surrounded by muscle, we can contract the size of our voiceboxes using muscles. And that, my friend, is the whole trick!


3. Pitch = note

In most music, the scale is divided into 8 notes. Each 8-note unit is called an octave. These 8 notes are designated with letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. Notice that after G, the alphabet starts over at A. There is no H note. From the first A to the next A is an octave.

Exercise 3A

Think of a piano or xylophone, or go find one if you can't hear in your head what I'm saying next. [eventually, I hope to build a little interactive piano thing here] If you start on C and play each white key in a row, every eighth key will be another C-- the next octave. Now, as you play up the scale, sing along:

1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

That's an octave.

Exercise 3B

Do the same thing, but singing the letters:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Now we're cookin'!

What's an octave sound like? The first two notes of Somewhere Over the Rainbow is an octave.

1. 8. 7 5 6 7 8


4: Two songs for those still unclear

I've tried to choose extremely simple children's songs everyone should know. If you don't, ask someone to sing them for you.

Exercise 4A

"1-2-3-4-5, I caught a fish alive..."

The first five notes of the song go right up the scale. The 6th note, when you sing "I," is the highest, then the song goes right back down the scale to the note you started with:

1-2-3-4-5, 6-5-4-3-2-1

or:

C-D-E-F-G, A-G-F-E-D-C

Exercise 4B

"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream..."

This part of the song uses the same notes as the last song

1, 1, 1 2 3. 3 2 3 4 5

C, C, C D E. E D E F G

See? You can sing. And now you understand all the musical stuff you'll need.


5: Another way to sing a scale

Besides being a very cute muscial, "The Sound of Music" has an excellent rudimentary practice song that will help you with your voice. If you don't know the song I discuss below, rent the movie or ask someone to sing it to you.

  • do-- a deer, a female deer
  • re-- a drop of golden sun
  • mi-- a name I call my self
  • fa-- a long long way to run
  • so-- a needle pulling thread
  • la-- a note to follow so
  • ti-- a drink with jam and bread
  • that will bring us back to do

Exercise 5A

The song is based on traditional names given to notes in an octave:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8)

do re mi fa so la ti do

doh ray mee fah soh lah tee doh


Summary

Your voice is set at a Tone.

  Pitch (high-sounding like a woman or low-sounding like a man)
+ Intensity (loud or quiet)
+ Quality (or Resonance)
  ----------  
= Tone  

Quality is also called resonance or timbre. This resonance is the key.


Pitch = note

An 8-note scale is called an octave.

The same notes in a scale can be designated in several ways:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

do

re

mi

fa

so

la

ti

do

Now you know about tone and pitch. The next song from Sound of Music says, "When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!"

Very true. Or in our case, say anything.

Next up: Throat control and breathing

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