The Expanding Field of Voice Modification and Coaching

Published: March 20th, 2015

Category: UAD Student Blog

The Expanding Field of Voice Modification and Coaching

While the thought of voice therapy might mostly bring to mind rehabilitative sessions with those who have lost their voice, the broader field of voice modification has expanded rapidly in the last few decades to accommodate a wide range of patients hoping to make vocal changes through speech-language therapy.

Voice and communication therapy, as stated on the ASHA website, refers to any treatment that might target pitch, resonance, intonation, rate of speech, volume/intensity, language, speech sound production or pragmatics (social rules of communication).[1] Voice modification therapies in recent years have been most commonly implemented with individuals who are undergoing a transgender or transsexual transition. Changing from a typically female lexicon to a male one (or vice versa)[2] and adapting nonverbal communication, such as posture and gesturing, can be another challenging aspect of this transition. Another important area of therapy is alerting clients to the difference in lexicon between the genders. The word “lovely,” for example, is strongly associated with female speech patterns. Typical female speech patterns “tend to put more emphasis on pitch change” could prove challenging to men transitioning to women. On the other hand, “in American English, men tend to emphasize loudness in their speech,” which could pose a significant change for a woman transitioning to a man.[3]

These voice modification therapies offer opportunities to a new group of patients hoping to make elective vocal adjustments. Some women in positions of power are seeking therapy to adopt a more male-typical pattern, and look to change their rate of speech and pitch, as well as other vocal patterns. This new branch of elective voice therapy is coming to be known as voice coaching. A story from National Public Radio from October 2014 interviews a female lawyer in New York City who began therapy with a speech-language pathologist whose work typically focuses on transgender patients. Their therapy sessions focused on teaching the patient “to open her throat, creating more oral resonance, to adopt what she calls now her ‘big voice’,” in addition to other modifications such as speaking more slowly and more assertively.

Other clinics, such as Voicetrainer, located in Washington, DC, use a variety of strategies, including the use of technology to give patients feedback on their breathing and resonance. Or, as stated in the 2007 interview with NBC, “getting the voice to come from your diaphragm, not your nose.” Much like therapy for patients undergoing a gender transition, vocal coaching also emphasizes lexical changes (such as eliminating fillers like “you know”), as well as other therapy exercises such as strengthening laryngeal muscles and improving breathing.[4]