How to Sound Like a Girl
Everybody knows what a girl sounds like, or do they?
Although we hear girls’ voices all the time, it’s surprisingly difficult to sound like a girl. It isn’t as easy as simply making your voice high, after all, if it were, any tenor voice would be able to pass for a valley girl. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that “how to sound like a girl” is a popular search on Google.
As professionals in vocal performance and voice over, the experts at Voices have cultivated an ear for all sorts of performances–including what makes someone sound like a girl. In this article, we’ll break down the characteristics of a feminine voice and how you can achieve it.
What is a “Girl Voice?”
Before considering how to sound like a girl, we must think about what a “girl voice” actually is. There are as many different girl voices as there are girls, after all, and hormone and vocal ranges can vary considerably. There are still some basic commonalities we can go over:
Voice pitch is the perceived highness or lowness of your voice. When you speak your voice starts in the vocal cords, which, when air travels through them, vibrate. This vibration travels up the throat (which itself affects the sound) and then exits the mouth as your voice. Since women tend to have short vocal cords, their voices are usually notably higher than men.
Women’s voices have plenty of gradation within pitch ranges. Prepubescent women have an average speaking fundamental frequency (essentially the central tendency of the vocal cords) between 260 and 290 hertz (between a C2 and D4 note), and their voices gradually drop in pitch throughout puberty. By the end of puberty, the average speaking fundamental frequency is between 210 and 245 hertz (between an A3 and a B3).
One of the most effective ways to sound “girly” is to increase the pitch of your voice, either to the A/B range for a pubescent girl or the C/D range for a prepubescent girl.
That said, this is only an average. Many women have voices that are lower than 210 hertz, and many men have vocal pitches that fall in the same range.
This variability is also reflected in the wide range of vocal artists who play young girls. Consider how many voiceover performances were able to strike a girlish timbre without needing to hit the high vocal range of a young girl.
For instance, although the character Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender is fourteen years old, actress Mae Whitman does not raise her voice into the vocal range of a mid-puberty girl, instead retaining a pitch natural to her voice.
Other Vocal Elements
While the pitch is significant, other elements of “girl” speech linguistic trends go beyond the basic pitch.
Some of these elements can include vocal intensity (the tendency for girls to talk more quietly than boys, on average), oral resonance, lighter articulatory conduct (essentially, a “lighter” voice), and clear speech (since adult men and boys tend to mumble more than girls). Although these elements are not inherent to all girls’ voices, deploying them can help a vocal performer sound more like a girl.
Even more than these structural qualities, though, a performer can sound like a girl by actually speaking like a girl, using language and emphasis similar to cultural representations of girls.
Girlish Vocal Elements
Some of these linguistic elements might have some rooting in real speech. For instance, in a sendup of the common prepubescent trend of lisps, Amy Poehler renders Bessie Higgenbottom on The Mighty B! with aspirated “s” and “th” sounds.
Similarly, while Alyson Stoner raises her pitch considerably in her portrayal of Isabella on Phineas and Ferb, the performance becomes truly “girlish” because she applies an upward inflection on phrases like “Whatcha doin’?”, imitating the patterns of young girls’ speech.
The Valley Girl Voice
While these elements can be great ways to make a voice sound like a girl, there is probably no better way to sound “girlier” than by drawing from the queen bee of American accents: the Valley Girl accent.
The Valley Girl accent is a stereotypical accent based on the speaking patterns of teen girls in the commuter communities around Los Angeles–especially the eponymous San Fernando Valley. The voice was identified around the 1970s and became popular through the 1982 Frank Zappa song “Valley Girl” and films like Valley Girl and Clueless.
The accent is most notable for its iconic “upspeak,” the upward inflection that tends to make most sentences come out like questions, as well as for vocal fry, the guttural vibrating sounds that undergird the words spoken more quietly.
Since its first emergence in pop culture, the Valley Girl voice has become an iconic (and oft-parodied) shorthand to evoke the voices of teenage girls. When you’re in dire straits, you can draw on a bit of Valley Girl speak to give your voice a girlish sound.hough be careful not to make it so over-the-top that it sounds fake.
Impersonation versus Exaggeration
One of the challenges in sounding like a girl is that simply put, there is no one “girl” voice and no right way to do it. Doing a perfect impersonation of a girl’s voice can be counterproductive for a performance: since most young girl characters are played by adults, audiences are used to voices that have some more mature vocal patterns.
That means that good vocal talent should know what kind of markers can evoke a girlish voice without being drawn into an uncanny valley of impersonation. After all, it’s not like a girl’s voice is simply a matter of using a high pitch, if it were, then most girl characters would just sound like adults pretending to be girls.
No matter your preferred method of evoking girlishness, however, the key is to find the right balance of tonal and pitch changes, cultural markers (such as the Valley Girl accent), and other vocal elements to evoke the patterns of a girl. Once you’ve learned to do that, you’ll have mastered the art of sounding like a girl.
What female actresses or voice actors do you think pull off great ‘girly’ or ‘girlish’ voices? Let us know in the comments below.