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  • Writer's pictureTallulah Breslin, MS, CCC-SLP

What is Vocal Weight and How Can I Change My Tone?

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

The weight of our voice, how light or heavy it sounds, contributes to our voice's tonal quality—also called the timbre of our voice. We often think of tone conveying emotion, as it's used in writing. But in the context of gender voice modification, vocal tone is more than just what emotion we hear. Tone is what allows differentiating between two sounds that have the same pitch, volume, and resonance. We control tone when we create sound inside our voice box or larynx. Our voice box is just one part of our vocal instrument—we also use our lungs, throat, mouth, nose, and lips to create sound. Nothing will change anatomically when you've learned to change your tone, but you will gain better awareness and control over how you sound.

Using the True Foldometer

Even advanced voice students sometimes have trouble describing the differences between vocal weight and timbre. If you're struggling, or even just starting out on your voice journey, it can be less confusing to stay in the big picture and find what tone you love! To accomplish this, try simplifying vocal weight with the True Foldometer. To try different tonal qualities, vary the weight and sound quality of the sentence "Today is going to be great!" Start out very hard or very soft, repeating the sentence with your interpretation of each different tonal quality: very soft, soft, light, smooth, thick, hard, buzzy, and very hard. Which do you prefer?

Simplifying Vocal Weight with the True Foldometer

If you want a more in-depth understanding of vocal weight, that's discussed below!

Deepen Your Understanding of Vocal Weight

First puberty testosterone exposure changes voices in predictable ways. One change is that the true vocal folds—where our note, or pitch, comes from—lengthen and thicken. When speaking with thicker vocal folds, we hear a buzzy, heavier sound. Listeners perceive a full, balanced voice with heavy vocal weight as a male speaking.

Without first puberty testosterone exposure, the muscle inside our true vocal folds remains short and thin and thus has less mass. When speaking with thin folds, the cover is tightly stretched on the muscle body. This tensed cover is less flexible, only making one point of contact during each vibratory wave. We hear this as a lighter, smoother sound. Listeners perceive full, balanced voices with lighter weight as a female speaking.

Behaviorally, we can hold our true vocal folds so tight and tense that the cover doesn't touch at all, resulting in stiff vocal folds. Stiff vocal folds are a distinctive quality in the falsetto voice recipe. Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe had distinctive voices that stood out for their falsetto voice recipes. While stiff vocal folds and falsetto can be used at any pitch, they are friends with higher pitches. Besides the few who can reach whistle notes, such as Mariah Carey, most people's highest notes are falsetto. We hear stiff vocal folds as a blown, soft quality.

Next Steps

If you're still struggling to hear or control your vocal weight, I'd be happy to help you explore more targeted exercises. Please reach out to set up a free phone consultation!

-Tallulah Breslin, MS, CCC/SLP (she/they)

Gender & Identity Affirming Voice Training @Harmonic Speech Therapy

Love your voice

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