Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Have Workplace and Beautiful Teeth Changed Female Voice Characteristics?

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Have Workplace and Beautiful Teeth Changed Female Voice Characteristics?

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE BENEFITS OF HAVING BEEN AROUND for the better part of a century is one's ability to assess long term cultural changes. A change that strikes me as interesting is the sound of today's young female voices. When I attended high school in the late fifties, high school girls had soft voices, sometimes on the breathy side. In register terminology I would say the voices were in a light mixed register. The use of thyroarytenoid muscle activity to achieve a male-like chest register was rare, in my recollection.

If there is indeed a trend for young female voices to adopt lower average pitches, to be less "swoopy" in their intonation, and to use more thyroarytenoid-driven vocal fold adduction, there are perhaps two explanations. Both are socially based. Competition with males in school and the workplace may be one explanation. To be equally and fairly treated, one's speech must conform to a model that conveys success, competence, and power. Stark differences in voice quality between males and females, which may be useful for sexual attraction in pursuit of a mate, are not ideal for job competition where physical and mental skills are not gender adjusted. For example, radio and television personalities, as well as politicians and executives competing for offices formerly held by men, are finding that traditional female voice qualities may be a handicap.

A more subtle explanation might be the desire to appear friendly and engaging by showing off a beautiful set of teeth. Fifty years ago, orthodontics and dental cosmetics were just emerging. A toothy smile was not necessarily a focal point of attraction. Now, the white of the teeth must match the white of the eye.

But how can a rack of pearly whites affect voice? Many young women have altered their vowel structure to accommodate a perpetual smile, drifting from lip-rounded vowels to lip-spread vowels. This leads to a generally higher first formant (F1) for most vowels. Source frequencies align differently with vocal tract resonance frequencies. …

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