I get asked about this quite often, so I thought I would make a master post of what I know! Apologies for such a huge post, feel free to reblog as text or quote it or what-have-you. Also, I’m not a doctor and I can only speak from my own experience. What I’m saying is not gospel, it’s just the wisdom I’ve learned over the last couple years.
I’ve been singing forever and it’s really important to me. I had heard so many rumors that taking T would destroy my singing voice and it kept me from starting hormones for many many years. ( not that i’m bitter or anything :p )
Here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience and the experiences of people around me:
- You can keep your singing voice and take T. It does take dedicated work though.
- If you want to keep your singing voice you need to train it often
- Your range will be restricted during the first few months, but will eventually expand again
- Starting with a lower dose for the first 3-6 months is extremely helpful for keeping your singing voice
- For the first few months (and sometimes beyond) you should take care of your voice as if you have a cold
- Your voice will be different in the end, and you may feel some grief or fear about losing the voice you had
I will expand on each of those points, but for the people skimming past, those are the basics.
You can keep your singing voice and take T. It does take dedicated work though.
Yes, you can take hormones AND still be able to sing. There are lots of amazing musicians out there who have taken testosterone and still have incredible voices. Here’s a duet I did with my voice before and after hormones.
(that was 5 months ago and my voice is even deeper now)
Don’t let being a singer keep you from taking hormones. I’ve never been happier or more comfortable with my singing voice than I am now, about 1.5 years on testosterone.
If you want to keep your singing voice you need to train it often
While vocal training is really emphasized for trans folks taking estrogen, it isn’t emphasized for folks taking testosterone. I strongly recommend vocal training and practice for people taking testosterone as well. I recommend this for ALL people on T, not just singers. It’s so so easy to damage your voice (especially in the first few months) if you don’t train it.
At the most base level I recommend doing warm-ups between 4 and 7 days a week. Don’t push your voice too much. If you feel it getting worn out, take a break! You can find guided warm ups online for free. Here’s one I found within 30 seconds of googling:
When you do warm-ups you want to be gentle on your voice and focus on quality rather than volume.
I also recommend getting an understanding of “chest” versus “head” voice and practicing speaking from your chest. A lot of us speak from our heads and throats before starting testosterone. To this day it’s really challenging for me to break out of that habit and it really does a number on my throat when i forget. I instinctively pitch my voice up when I working customer service, babysitting children, or generally attempting to appear non-threatening. Be aware of things like this, pay attention to how you use your voice and what wears it out.
Beyond that, if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford weekly or bi-monthly voice lessons, or to purchase a voice lessons CD, I strongly suggest it. I was lucky that a friend of mine (Eli Conley in the bay area), who has been on T for many years now, teaches sliding scale LGBT singing classes. If you can find something like that, go for it! If you’re looking for a voice teacher, I would suggest trying to find someone who has experience with young people (of any gender) going through puberty. All of our voices deepen during puberty and taking T is, of course, a very similar process. Like people going through puberty, our voices go through some challenging phases during hormones, where our voices may crack, our upper registers may become very weak, and our “break(s)” may become very difficult to “sing through”.
Your range will be restricted during the first few months, but will eventually expand again
Don’t get discouraged during the first few months! Your singing voice and your range will become limited for a while. In this helpful study by Alexandro Constansis, (http://www.radical-musicology.org.uk/2008/Constansis.htm) he includes the above chart of his own vocal range. [SEE FIGURE A] You can see that his range contracts and then expands while moving to a lower register. This was also my experience.
I imagine a lot of people become discouraged during the first 6 months, convinced they’ve lost there voice forever. When really, what is happening is a natural (though frustrating) part of the process.
Starting with a lower dose for the first 3-6 months is extremely helpful for keeping your singing voice
Before starting hormones I decided, for a number of reasons, that beginning with an abrupt high dose was not for me. Instead I opted for lower dose weekly injections, gradually increasing during the first 6 months or so. I suspected this would be helpful with my voice for a few reasons. First was that many male-assigned-at-birth people go through puberty and retain their singing voices. What makes them different, I wondered? Well, a few things, but one big difference I noticed was that their puberties tended to be more gradual than those of the trans men I knew. I hoped that a more gradual change would increase the likelihood of retaining my voice.
Another chart from Constansis’ study (http://www.radical-musicology.org.uk/2008/Constansis.htm) confirmed what I had hypothesized: [SEE FIGURE B]
I know the chart is a bit confusing because of the changing Y axis, but essentially it shows that people who took lower doses during their first few months ultimately had better luck with maintaining a wider vocal range.
The other thing about this is that your first few months are generally the most abrupt changes in your voice. By slowing down that process, you get a better shot at learning your “new instrument”. I found that during the first few months my voice would sometimes change drastically over the course of a few days or a week. It was really jarring as a singer. It was like I had been playing a piano all this time, but suddenly it was a guitar! And then a few days later it was a flute! By slowing down the process I learned how to use my voice properly and safely at each stage, which ultimately prevented a lot of damage and helped me have a better sense of how to use my voice when it finally settled.
That’s another reason why constant training and practice is so important. Missing even a few days can really throw you for a loop.
I know it can be challenging to be patient with a slightly slower “transition”, but I promise you it is worth it, for singers especially.
p.s. I have a theory (though I can’t prove this, but it was true for me!) that starting with slower doses helps minimize the “cracking” phase. I had BARELY any cracking in my voice during the whole 6 months. If that is something you are worried about, take this stuff to heart.)
For the first few months (and sometimes beyond) you should take care of your voice as if you have a cold
Your voice and your throat are so sensitive during the first few months. Drink LOTS of tea. I must have drank a whole lake full of hot water with lemon and honey during the first six months. Drink lots of water, rest your voice. Practice speaking and laughing from your chest and belly while relaxing your throat/head/face. If you lose your voice, DO NOT whisper. This is awful for your voice and can cause long-term damage.
Anything you would do for a sore throat or lost voice, you should be doing regularly during this time. Make it part of your routine. It will save you a lot of damage. Also, I’ve noticed (and a couple of friends noticed) that after starting t, when our voices would get irritated our uvulas would become ENORMOUS (like literally sitting on my tongue). If that happens, don’t freak out. Just take it really easy and keep babying your throat.
Your voice will be different in the end, and you may feel some grief or fear about losing the voice you had
Like with all different parts of transition, grief is something that a lot of us experience but don’t always talk about. It can be really scary to be afraid to lose your singing voice! It can also be really sad or painful when a voice that has carried you through hard times, that has meant so much to you, changes. I love my new voice and I couldn’t be happier, but I did go through a period of mourning for the singing voice I had turned to so often when I was experiencing extreme emotions. Just be aware that this is something that might happen, and if it does you’re not alone <3
I will inevitably add more to this post at some point. Please feel free to add any info you have, or links to other relevant threads, in the comments. Also, feel free to ask me any questions you might have!
Here’s a link to a really useful article about testosterone and singing voices, with a lot of helpful links at the bottom:
Here are my music pages, in case you want to hear some more! :)