How to Sound Feminine One Step at a Time (Step 2): Belly Breathing – where it all begins

3 easy exercises for training the essential element of breathing

in-breath — out-breath

in-breath — talk

in-breath — out-breath

in-breath — talk

Respiratory Mechanism:

Our bellows-like respiratory activator (diaphragm and lungs) provides the driving airstream necessary for phonation (making sounds).

Phonation [fōnā′shən]

Etymology: Gk, phone, sound; L, atio, process

-the production of speech sounds through the vibration of the vocal folds of the larynx.

As you already know (from other posts, my audio and online programs and your own research on voice therapy/training) phonation can be subcategorized into:

  • Pitch: your fundamentals frequency (100-150 Hz in the typical adult male, 200-250 Hz in the typical adult female).
  • Voice Quality: whether your voice sounds clear (not hoarse or scratchy), and smooth and strong (not whispery or breathy).
  • Loudness: the strength of your voice which is measured in decibels.  At a distance of 30 cm, the average loudness when you speak should be about 68 – 72 dBs.

This article will discuss the breathing mechanics necessary to feminize (or masculinize) your voice and the specific techniques you will need to master in order to achieve good abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing.

There are important differences between quiet breathing and speech breathing. At rest (called quiet or tidal breathing), we typically breathe 18 to 20 times per minute.  This rate will increase when you’re sick and during periods of strenuous effort.  And your respiratory rate (bpm, breaths per minute) will decrease during sleep or meditation.

During quiet breathing (at rest), as well as deep breathing (during physical exertion), inspiration and expiration are synchronized.  They are equally long, equally deep, and transport the same amount of air during the same period of time–approximately half a liter (one pint) of air per breath at rest in most adults.

This simple sine wave might help you to imagine the in/out flow of air.  The upside of the wave (to the peak) is the inflow, and the downside of the peak (to the trough) is the out flow.

Quiet breathing exercise.  Place a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. Take just a moment and experience your tidal breath–the quiet breathing naturally occurring in and out through your nose.  Is your chest lifting upward on the in-breath?  Does your chest fall downward when you exhale?

Many adults “breath backward.”  Instead of using your chest to control the flow of the air, which is ineffective, you want to adapt to a “belly breathing” pattern—meaning that you want to use your belly muscles, not your chest, to control the in/out flow of your breath.

Now, keep one hand on your belly and hold the other hand in front of your mouth and nose. As you exhale through your nose, feel the warm flow of air on your hand.  Your goal is to adapt a belly-breathing pattern (belly-in air out, belly-out air in) for your tidal breathing.

Speech breathing is quite different; inhalation is much deeper than it is during rest, and the in-breath is taken much more rapidly. After taking a deep breath, which can be as much as one or two liters of air, phonic exhalation proceeds slowly and fairly regularly for as long as the spoken utterance lasts.

Trained speakers and singers are able to phonate on one breath for at least 30 seconds, often for as long as 45 seconds, and exceptionally up to a full minute.

Maximum of phonation time (MPT) is a quick and easy measurement of your ability to sustain a vowel (usually ‘ee’, ‘ah’ and ‘oo) at a comfortable pitch and at a comfortable loudness.  This is often a baseline measure obtained at an initial voice therapy session and is an assessment of your respiratory-phonatory coordination (glottic efficiency). The duration of each vowel depends on such factors as body physiology, state of health, age, body size, physical training, and the competence of the voice generator—the condition of health and fitness of your vocal cords.

Test yourself:  Take a big, big breath, and [at the A3 pitch (200 Hz) for females or A2 (110 Hz) for males] using a stop watch to time yourself, sustain “ee” for as long as you possibly can. Then repeat for “ah,” and then “oo.”  How long did you sustain each vowel?  The average adult female can sustain a vowel at the A3 pitch for 22- 25 seconds. The average adult male (at A2 110 Hz) can sustain each vowel for 28 – 32 seconds.

Speech Breathing Techniques:

Anchoring Breath Exercise: Imagine a candle about six inches out in front of you—about the length from the tip of your thumb (placed on your chin) to end of your stretched index finger.  Place a hand on your belly as you pull your belly in and blow out. Imagine that the flame of the candle flickers a bit as you blow out. You’re not forcing a lot of air out, just blowing easily outward.

  • Now, blow out gently five times; feel your belly come in as you blow out. Another helpful tip is to place one hand in front of your mouth.  As you blow out, you’ll feel the steady stream of air.  It great feedback for you.
  • Produce /s/ sound gently five times and again feel your belly come in as you blow out.
  • Produce /sh/ sound gently five times as your belly comes in.
  • Repeat this exercise five times daily or until your awareness of belly-breathing improves.

Relaxation Effect:

Respiratory mechanics–when one is awake or asleep, at rest or at work, silent or speaking–are under constant regulation by the nervous system. The impact of emotions is heard (and felt) immediately in the manner in which respiration drives the sound generator (your voice): the timid voice of fear, the barking voice of fury, the feeble monotony of melancholy, or the raucous vehemence during agitation, are just a few examples.

Our stress levels directly affect the flow and the volume of air in our respiratory system. A common stress reaction is for us to hold or breath and clench our jaw.  This, in turn, has a direct impact on whether or not we can hold the feminine (for TG women) or masculine (for TG men) tone of voice we’ve been developing.  When stressed, TG women’s voices will usually lower and TG men’s voices will get higher pitched and often shrill.

Breathing for relaxation exercise: sit comfortably in a chair (for this exercise it’s actually better to sit than to lie down); turn off or silence your cell phone.  You might like to time yourself, you only need three minutes, but you don’t need to.

On each in-breath you’ll say a word internally, in your mind, and then on each out-breath, you’ll say a different word.  Each pair will be repeated ten times.  I use my fingers to easily count the reps. I place my hands palms down on my legs. I begin with my left pinky finger and count to my right pinky finger.  For each pair of words, gently press that finger into your leg, then for next the rep you’ll press your next finger and so on. This is just a simple counting method so your mind can focus on your breath and the words instead of the count.

There are an unlimited number of word pairs you can use.  Here are three sets:

  • in-breath; out-breath
  • deep; slow
  • clam; let it go.

You’ll close your eyes and breathe in and internally say “in-breath”; then you’ll breathe out and internally say “out-breath” as you press your left pinky finger into your thigh.  You’ll continue with this word pair until you’ve used all your fingers.  Then go to the next word pair and then the next.  And you’ve completed a simple, yet important relaxation exercise to keep your voice de-stressed.

Other word pairs to consider:

  • Being; still
  • Being; here
  • Being; joy
  • Easy; loving
  • Gentle; kind
  • Smile; happy

A female singer using airflow quite effortlessly to sing this lovely little (tongue-in-cheek) version of The Girl from Ipanema.