'Losing' your singing voice is a very common transmasc fear; & it's maybe worth exploring a bit more, rather than instinctively validating people for it, because I think some of the ways we do that can agree to the bases of the fear. For a woman to lose her singing voice, it seems to mean the loss of being pretty; the loss of being appealing and consumeable to others, something others may have liked about you; and of course, irreversible damage - once tainted, you can never return.
Against that, I'd like to throw in some counterarguments.
Pretty voices are rarely interesting - regardless of your gender: Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Louis Armstrong, Bonnie Tyler, Nick Cave, etc. If transition introduces some rasp or even downright tunelessness into your sound, it is not the end of you as a singer. The inner sense that we exist to please onlookers is Strong in female socialisation, and perhaps all the stronger in trans people wrestling with a deep insecurity about our worth and our gender. Its bollocks, and a core plank of feminism is to resist it: we exist for our own pleasure. Intentionally wrecking your singing voice because it makes you feel good is punk. We're not here for men with bad taste to like us, or for our mother. And the fear of a changing voice is no different to the fear of change that all transition must confront and laugh in the face of.
I did once meet someone who would not transition because they could sing. this, i thought, was beautiful suffering for art. I now think that's terrible, both to do and to promote: to suffer is never beautiful, and there is no path to joy in hiding from your own desire.
So you're going to transition, and that means re-learning how to sing. Transition is puberty, and plenty of men can sing after puberty (and not a few of them are afraid of the change, for much the same reasons we are, if they had a much-praised voice as a child). Somehow, this never comes up in the conversation.
If the fear is, in part, that you will never have a cis-passing singing voice; then consider how many iconic singers have weird fucking voices. you do not want to sound like a reality TV show contestant; you almost certainly do want to sound like Bowie. I am not a singing teacher - I had lessons for a bit as a child which underscored how ropey my voice was aside from perfect pitch - but my contention is that if you can sing well pre-T, you can sing post. Because singing incorporates confidence, breath control, using your body as an instrument, performance, and understanding voice as a technical skill: and you lose none of that on T. You go into transition with those skills, and have them as a basis to rebuild your ability.
I've been reading a text for professional classical baritones that notes: the male 'instrument' matures more slowly than the female one (steady on there boys :wink:). That is - a (cis) female professional singer can train throughout her teenage years and into her 20s, but because a (cis) male voice drops then cis men tend to be back to square one and around 4 years 'behind' cis female singers of the same age in terms of the maturity of their voice. I think this is worth stressing, because most trans spaces are filled with people who are in transition - people 'post-transition' (whatever that means to them) tend to drop out and move on with their lives.
My voice got better on T, because I love myself. You can't sound like James Brown unless you know you are hot shit. Singing voice drop is always discussed as something to be feared - never a pleasure. But it is my joy - a dysphoria i never knew i had and a delight i never knew i could experience. the songs of my heart will be different from yours.
i am not a musical theatre fan, but it is a wellspring of joy to find that baritone roles include Javert and Marius, and the Phantom, and the Beast and Pontius Pilate. Perhaps i was never a musical theatre fan because my voice was all wrong. discovering I could murmur out Pilate's Dream and Stars and Empty Chairs is one of the happiest moments I have experienced; and so too finding I could sound like Peter Gabriel on an off day, or be close enough to sing along and feel right.
Comments on Early Transition Voice
Just based on what I've experienced (50mg testosterone cp per week, IM then SQ - 7 months)
Your notes are not gone. But you have to find them differently, they're located in a different place. The singing vocabulary of "head voice" was very evocative for me, and I found putting the real high notes into my nose, or just feeling them come up the back of my spine, curve round the back of my head and dropping down onto them was the way to go. I lost my high range for a couple of months, but as of now I can do 2 Become 1 and Barbie Girl. It sounds fugly, I wouldn't do it in public, but the notes are there and I know how to find them. That's the basis for building more power.
Breath was a huge probk
When I started karaoke, I immediately tried to hit my low chest notes - because those were most clearly in tune. But they had no power. Similarly, I wanted to play around with gender and do falsetto - with the same problem. I actually think rebuilding my falsetto is going to be the longest range project. Instead, something in the comfy middle is the place to go while re-learning.
And once you've found a song:
- Warm up and do vocal exercises
- Actually practice it! This is my karaoke hidden weapon: approach it like a performance.
- Learn the lyrics. They words will be there but knowing them by heart as well gives you that extra confidence to focus on your singing and movements. Without singing, just speaking through the lyrics with the karaoke track, can prevent overstraining your voice in practice sessions while still practicing something, to build clear diction and speed.
- Spot any tricky bits of the song. Be honest. Is this tricky as in, you need to do another song? Or, can you target your practice at that? Breaking it down into chunks to practice, and looking up tutorials on the theme of what you're struggling with
- Look up how the performer moves and especially how they fill in any 'dead time' like a long instrumental
- Warm up before the party
- A bit of costume? If you have a plan, dressing a bit 80s or with a key feature from your performer can be fun to amplify what you're doing.
- Try it out: most people at karaoke will be drunk, or kinda sucky singers, and that's FINE so long as they slam it with enthusiasm. It's a pretty safe and enthusiastic environment to try out songs and find out if you can sing them. No one will mind how you sound so long as you've chosen your song considerately (i.e. not Bat Out Of Hell)
- Only one song per karaoke party is courteous behaviour. UNLESS the party is poorly attended and clearly struggling to maintain enthusiasm and momentum, where more than one song is the polite thing to do.
Classic cis drag
Already popular with cis men who can't sing, because of the limited vocal range, well-known songs and the ability to camp it up a bit
- Johnny Cash (tends low)
- Elvis Presley (I like Heartbreak Hotel)
- You absolutely cannot do Queen and I'm sorry but if you want to anyway, Elvis-esque Crazy Little Thing Called Love might be your ticket
- Greased Lightning (my secret weapon. Tiny vocal range and tonnes of personality BUT you have got to practice the lyrics - they are fast! - and dance moves.)
- Great Balls Of Fire - well at least it's over quick. You'd need to practice to get the patter correctly timed and have some 50s dance moves prepped for the musical break but i think if you run straight at this one and yell it'll be easier than it seems.
Not a genre known for focusing on its vocalists - the pleasure is the guitar and the synth sonics - with lots of performers who have a low, monotone, or speakish style. But with these I've struggled: the wall of guitar gives the songs a very thick texture that my voice isn't loud enough to overleap.
- The Killing Moon - Echo & The Bunnymen (long! high!)
- Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division (nice and gravelly. Doing this live, however, i found my low notes were too quiet to be heard at all)
- Under The Milky Way - The Church (long)
- How soon is Now - The Smiths (Has some high moments, but short and easier in terms of breath/rythm/pitch than other Smith songs)
- Perfect Day - Lou Reed (bit slow!)
- Passenger - Iggy Pop (tiny vocal range)
- Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
- Psycho Killer - Talking Heads (long; and a moodkiller)
- Gary Gilmore's Eyes - great story, bit dark, will the karaoke machine even have it?
One surprise I've had is discovering a comfort and joy singing...(and none of these are easy, exactly, but I can get through them now; i wouldn't do them on stage necessarily)
- Shirley Bassey
- There Are Worse Things I Could Do - from Grease
- yeah, Adele.
My musical theatre friend pointed out the Menzelification of modern musical theatre: jawdropping showstopping belters are the fashion, and it's unckind to perfomers voices who must be incredible virtuosos to pull it off at all (not to mention six nights a week). In contrast, classic musicals have a much more modest style to them.
Looking at the crooners, phrases are quite short - lots of room for breath; vocal ranges are traditional (few multi-octave-spanners); the lyrics seem rooted around oooos and ahhhh sounds which are forgiving to make; and the suave lounge sleaze style is fun and easy to mimic for confidence.AND they're mostly 2 minutes 48, the perfect karaoke length. These are classics and standards so LOTS of artists have covered them, giving you options for which of several versions suits your style. The only downer is they tend to be slow ballads.
I'm a baritone, so that includes:
- nat king cole (unforgettable, nature boy)
- Bobby Darin (when i fall in love, mack the knife)
- Bobby Vinton (Blue Velvet - just! on high days!)
- Frank Sinatra (some of his songs: Strangers in the Night, I'll Be Seeing You)
- Al Bowlly (Midnight, the Stars and You)
- Roy Orbison (no point unless you have his range)
- The Ink Spots (if you can sing one of these songs you can sing them all, but the lead vocalist's voice is very high)
Punk, post-punk, folk, protest songs, country-and-western, some singer-songwriter (not Joni Mitchell), rockabilly, crooners
Metal,soul, funk, disco
Singers on my no list
George Michael, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Sylvester, Erasure, Bronski Beat, Billy Idol, Robert Plant, Rick Astley, basically any Soul singers, Prince, James Brown jesus fucking christ, Gloria Gaynor, Teddy Pendergrass (oh honey no)