Almost anyone can call themselves a voice coach or singing teacher. It is a completely unregulated industry. Doctors, lawyers and tax accountants all require some sort of minimum qualifications and competency to practice. Things in the music industry are different! By and large, governments don’t care about singing. If you’ve decided to get some lessons, how do you know who to trust with your voice? In this article, I will offer some insights and help you avoid common pitfalls.
Avoid these common mistakes
As a singing teacher for more than 20 years, I’ve fielded countless phone calls and emails from prospective clients shopping around for a singing teacher. If you’re shopping around, I think you’re doing the right thing! However, let’s deal with some of the popular misconceptions I’ve encountered. Is it possible you’ve fallen victim to some of these?
- Voice envy: A teacher has a great voice, so you think they must be able to make you sound that good
- The right method: The teacher claims to have an exclusive method that is better other teacher’s methods
- Celebrity by association: The teacher claims to have taught a lot of pop stars giving the illusion that they can turn you into a star
- Industry guru: This person who has been a performer, so they must be able to teach you to do what they did.
- Fine dining $$$: The teacher is really expensive, giving the illusion that they are top of their field.
Those who can’t, teach
There is a popular belief that singing teachers are just failed performers – that they are stuck teaching because they couldn’t make it as performers. For the majority of dedicated teachers, this is not true! Teaching singing is a calling and a discipline all in itself. It takes many years and dedication to master the art of voice pedagogy. That’s why a lot of busy voice coaches may not have big performing careers. Teaching is a serving profession and teachers put aside their own interests because they want to help others. The best voice coaches devote time and attention to being good at teaching; to collecting resources that support their teaching; to running their businesses professionally; and ensuring that they participate in ongoing learning and development.
Which Singing Method?
There are many methods of singing and many styles for teaching someone to sing! No single teacher has all the answers and no single method is right for all students. Singing methods are like therapists. Every person who has one thinks that their therapist is the best. However, psychological research shows that many methods of counseling share common factors. It is not always methods that make the difference, but rather the quality of the relationship between therapist and client. I believe the same is true in the teaching of singing. Often it is the quality of the musical relationship between teacher and student that makes a difference, not a particular method. Unless a teacher can inspire students to learn and to work on their voice between lessons, any method (no matter how good) is not likely to be effective.
Skills of a good singing teacher
A great singing teacher has a broad base of skills. S/he needs to understand principles of music education, how the voice works, the psychology of learning and have a big repertoire of songs that are suitable for different voice types, ages, and abilities. The categories and dot points below may help you identify best practice in the teaching of singing.
- Is able to make you feel at ease and encourages you to do your best
- Conducts himself/herself in a professional manner, is “friendly”, but does not try to be your friend or overstep boundaries.
- Is committed to teaching and developing voices
- Shows genuine interest in you as a singer and do not spend much time talking about him or herself.
- Explains to you what the lesson goal is and what you need to work on
- Gives clear, unambiguous instructions and avoids using imagination and imagery, which can be interpreted in vastly different ways from person to person.
- You sing for most of your lesson, rather than listen to the teacher talk.
- Punctual in starting and ending your lessons
- Reliable in scheduling your lessons
- Allows/encourages you to make audio recordings of your lessons and vocal exercises for practice at home.
- Provides you with written exercises and descriptions when needed.
- The teacher has a recital or concert where you can go an hear his/her students performing and where you can gain performance experience. Alternatively, the teacher suggests opportunities for you to perform.
- Teacher has a tertiary qualification in music and/or music education
- Can play piano or guitar well enough to give you exercises
- Has a good ear and uses this to reinforce healthy singing
- Has a broad knowledge of the performers and style(s) of music in which they specialise.
- Can read music well enough to make sense of a chart you give them
- Can model the right and wrong sounds with their own voice to give you examples of what you should do
- Is not scared to sing in front of you
- Is able to listen and diagnose vocal faults, giving specific and clear instructions about correcting these.
- Has an understanding of voice anatomy and voice function, but does not try and dazzle you with science and anatomical terms
- Is aware of the major writers and their works on voice training. Ideally, they read these also
- Views himself as a professional
- Is a member of the professional association(s) for singing teachers (Examples are: ANATS, NATS and IVA).
- Networks with other colleagues and is involved in regular learning and professional development.
- Does not claim to be the source of all vocal truth, but encourages you to read and research as well.
Your reality check
This article offers general advice on shopping around for a good singing teacher. It may appear to be anti-teacher, but it’s not. Many of the singing teachers I know are incredibly talented and dedicated. However, no teacher, regardless of how skilled and experienced, is a miracle-worker. Whoever you work with, remember you have a part to play by being organised, working in between lessons, asking questions, being positive and trying to implement suggestions. Ensure your expectations are realistic. No muscles can be trained in one session. It takes time and a consistent effort to see results, but it’s a life-changing journey.