Young Women & Their Voices

I have been fascinated and often concerned about how young women grow up using their voices. As a voice trainer, I frequently have to undo years of unhealthy and ineffective vocal usage habits. If you listen to voices on an elementary school playground you hear very little difference between boys and girls, bold, brave, loud, and confident. In junior high that begins to change. Girls get softer and more reluctant to use their voices in assertive ways. Our culture tells young women that they are more desirable, likable and acceptable if they are not too loud, not too pushy. Their voices go into hiding.

In high school, they learn that part of being perceived as sexy means speaking in lower pitches, sultry, even raspy voices. This leads them to depress the larynx, which, when done consistently over a period of time, is damaging to the voice.  It also stifles flexibility and authenticity.

Another troubling vocal trend for young women is a habit called speaking in “vocal fry” which is heard on television sitcoms and reality TV and young women all over the country are imitating this sound. Vocal fry happens when speaking on the bottom of the voice, with insufficient breath support, the sound trails off to a “fry” in which the vocal folds vibrate but don’t really touch. This habit causes serious damage over the long hall.

To solve both these problems, we focus on adequate breath support, the foundation of all good vocal usage, and speaking at the optimum pitch.  Optimum pitch is the central note around which the voice is most healthy, clear, authentic and expressive. Visit YouTube, Rena Cook, Optimum pitch exercise to see how this can be helped through the use of an empty Pringles can.

Optimum pitch initially is a hard sell. It sounds higher, and it often is. Young women are afraid they will not be taken as seriously or they will sound too young. With practice and reassurance, they begin to discover that the voice feels better, sounds clearer, carries farther.  Actors and professionals I have worked with often carry a Pringles tube in backpacks or briefcases to use in their vocal warm-up, just to get a quick reminder of where their optimum pitch is and how easily and quickly they can access it for vocal situations that require, power without press, ease, clarity, and authenticity.


Rena Cook

Rena Cook is Professor Emerita at the University of Oklahoma. She is a TEDx speaker, author, voice, speech, confidence, and presentation coach. She is the founder of Vocal Authority, a training consultancy serving attorneys who want to use their voice in more commanding and authentic ways. She has authored several books, including Her Voice in Law, which she co-wrote with Laurie Koller. The book provides additional advice on the above topics and more, and is available at

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