5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Voice Teacher
Whether you are brand new to singing, or have been with the same teacher for a while and feel it’s time for a change, choosing a voice teacher can be a little overwhelming. It’s not like you can order a voice teacher on Amazon, or go to the mall and see what’s available. Some great voice teachers don’t even have a website or social media (cue horror music!).
So, how do you find the perfect voice teacher for YOU? Here’s some important things to consider (in no particular order).
WHAT IS THEIR PERFORMANCE EXPERIENCE?
Have they every performed professionally? There is an old saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Now, this is not always true. Some teachers choose to teach because they feel called to it. But many voice teachers, unfortunately never developed the skill to make it as a professional singer, and teaching became a “fallback” profession. This is not a dealbreaker IMO, because there are some really gifted teachers who never performed professionally, but there are some specific skills and a particular mindset that is necessary to achieve high level performance, and the teacher is the guide to help the student find their way into “the zone.” If the teacher has never been there, it begs the question, how will they lead the student there?
2. WHAT IS THEIR TRAINING AS A TEACHER?
Equally as important as their performance experience, or maybe even more important, is their teacher training. Teaching and performing are two completely different skill sets. There are some truly phenomenal performers who know absolutely nothing about how the voice works or how to convey that knowledge to another person. And unfortunately, there is very little university instruction in the discipline of teaching singing (Vocal Pedagogy). There are a few fine programs in the US, and some certification programs that are reputable, but literally anyone can say they are a voice teacher, with no special training or certification necessary. Scary, right?
At the very least, a good voice teacher must have
• some functional training in anatomy and physiology in regards to breathing and the voice
• a strong understanding that each singer is incredibly unique (no cookie cutters!)
• knowledge of performance psychology
If they have been teaching for a while be sure to ask what type of continuing education does this teacher engage in to stay on top of their game? This is so important. The science of singing has seen some exponential growth in the last 20 years, which shapes the way voice teachers should teach. Doctors, nurses, therapists, physical trainers, speech therapists, accountants, lawyers, massage therapists, (to name a few) all are required to maintain their certification by completing a certain number of continuing education credits every few years. As a student, you should expect the same from your voice teacher.
3. WHAT IS THEIR SPECIALTY?
Just like doctors, every voice teacher has a specialty, or maybe 2 or 3 subspecialties if they have been teaching for a while. Some teachers specialize in vocal technique—the physical coordination of singing. Others focus more on musicianship—sight reading, scales, phrasing and dynamics. There are some who specialize in teaching different styles of singing—pop, rock, blues, jazz. Some teachers specialize in vocal health and rehabilitation from vocal injury. It is very important to match YOUR needs with the potential teacher’s specialty.
4. DO THEY HAVE SAMPLES OF SOME OF THEIR STUDENTS SINGING?
This one is a little tricky. Not all teachers are tech savvy, but one of the best ways to measure a teacher is by their students. If a teacher consistently produces healthy, strong voices, chances are, they know what they are doing. If you like the way their students sound, then that teacher may be a good match for you. Singing is very subjective, so one teacher may produce singers with a brighter, lighter sound while another teacher may produce a warmer, darker sound. You are going to want to hear several samples of students, if possible, to get a good idea of what type of voice the teacher tends to produce.
One very important thing to remember is that any teacher may have 1 or 2 really gifted students, or 1 or 2 really weak students. You can’t really judge the teacher by only 1 or 2 students. The larger the “sample”, the better indication of what type of voices the teacher produces.
5. HOW LONG HAVE THEY BEEN TEACHING?
We’ve all hear this proverb: “Experience is the best teacher.” There are some things that can only be learned by doing. Teaching voice is one of those things. The voice is an extremely complicated instrument, that’s invisible to the human eye. A great teacher learns over time how to use their ears and eyes to find clues about what is happening inside the body, to help them diagnose the issue and find an effective solution. Sometimes it is a process of trial and error. After hearing and seeing the same issue over the years, an experienced teacher can usually accurately assess and fix issues in a fraction of a time a newer teacher can.
A couple other things to think about when choosing a voice teacher…
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR (MOSTLY)…
You can find a voice teacher for just about any price. It is very tempting to shop on price only. Now… if you are just looking for someone to help you learn how to to sing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” for the company Holiday party, that may be a good strategy. But if your goal is to really study voice, pursue a career in music or you are suffering from vocal health issues, it is extremely important that you study with an experienced teacher who matches your needs. A teacher that is more expensive and has a waiting list didn’t get that way by accident. You may learn more in one month of lessons with that more expensive teacher than you will in 6 months with a budget teacher.
TRY BEFORE YOU COMMIT…
I always recommend shopping around. Try a lesson with 3 or 4 different teachers after interviewing them. It is crucial that you feel comfortable with your teacher. There are many studies that show that best learning can’t occur if you are feeling uncomfortable or nervous.
For a serious singing student, the relationship with your voice teacher is potentially one of the most influential one you will have in your lifetime. Congratulations for taking the important step to do your research to ensure you end up with the perfect teacher for YOU!