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The power of "um"

trans voice Feb 23, 2022

Hi trans voice pals!

This week's exercise builds on the post I made last week called The "Key-Oh" Exercise, so if haven't checked that out yet, make sure you go and give it a quick read (or watch! It's there in TikTok form also).

So last week we talked about using words like Key and Oh to create the shape of our vocal tract that closely resembles the shape we want to maintain for masculinizing or feminizing our voice. However, it can be very tricky to remember to create that shape before we launch into any old sentence.

One little trick I love using with my students is to start practicing using the word "um"

"Um" is a beautiful filler word because it's small enough that it can usually go mostly unnoticed, but because it's got that lovely liquid consonant in there (more on those next week) we can draw out the "mm" for as long as we need while we get settled.

I talked a few days ago about creating habits using a cue to help your brain quickly get on track. "Um" can also be used in this way. 

If you repeatedly practicing quickly and quietly setting up your target voice on "um" then you can quickly and easily get into your target voice before speaking by place a little "um" at the start of your sentence!

"Um" is also frequently used as a pause to represent that the speaker is thinking, so it's perfect for when you're formulating a reply to someone - those moments that are the most difficult to remember to set up your target voice. For instance:

What can I get you today?

Um... I'll have a medium iced coffee.

Now, obviously, it may seem a little unrealistic to try and put "um" at the start of every single sentence that you say in a day, but this is just step one.

Once you've mastered the ability to simply say "um" and reset your target voice, the second step is to attempt to only think "um". So that interaction above would look like:

What can I get you today?

(Um) I'll have a medium iced coffee.

What you might notice after a lot of practice is that even by just thinking "um" your instrument creates the shape of your target voice.

Over time, you won't need to think "um" because you will have replaced your cue of "um" with the beginning of your sentence, which is exactly where we want to go.

I hope this helped explained the process by which we go from practice to everyday use!

Happy practicing!

Renée ✨

Hi, I'm Renée! (they/them)

I'm a queer, nonbinary, and disabled singer, songwriter and gender-affirming voice teacher. 

I've been a voice teacher for over twelve years, I have four full-length albums out, and I have degrees in physics, jazz, and songwriting.

I love creating, I love figuring things out, but most of all, I love helping people.

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