The best. For you. Right now.
Let’s be real, shall we? Not every voice teacher is right for every student or client. And there are as many reasons to seek voice training as there are people, so this article is about helping you decide on a teacher that fits your needs.
Since the field of vocology is still in it’s relative infancy, there’s a lot to learn about how the voice functions. This also means there are quite a few voice teachers who either do not have access to current research, or do not know how to integrate it into their practice. And none of us have all the answers. Not everyone needs a vocal coach with technical knowledge either, but it is helpful to know there’s a difference.
Considering that, here are a few guidelines that will help in your search in finding someone who can help you meet your voice goals.
Be Clear About What You Want and Need
This one seems obvious, but I am constantly surprised at how vague people can be when asked what they want out of voice lessons. This step will save a lot of time and money on the back end, so be thoughtful about your needs when researching voice teachers.
Some questions for discovering what you want and need in a voice teacher:
- What vocal skills are most important to me at this juncture?
- Do I need help with underlying technique?
- Do I need help with musical style?
- Which musical style do I want help with, and who is an expert at it?
- What is my ideal budget? (This is crucial. Do NOT pay more than you can honestly afford.)
- Do I need a teacher who is well connected in the music industry?
- What are my ultimate career goals?
- What are my immediate career goals?
- What kind of personalities do I get along with?
- What kind of training and expertise do I prefer in a voice teacher?
- What level of student does this teacher work with?
- What kinds of students or clients does this teacher get the best results with? (Be honest about this one too. IF they only brag about working with super stars, it will be hard to tell what kind of results they get with the rest of us.)
- What does each teacher know about the mechanics of the voice?
- Do I even care about the mechanics of the voice?
- Is the teacher willing to talk with me before signing up for lessons?
- Do I feel supported and cared for while talking with this person on the phone or in a lesson?
- Is this teacher willing to refer me to another teacher if they cannot help me meet my goals?
Do Your Research
It took me over 6 months to find the right voice teacher in 2008. In fact, I had relegated myself to driving to Michigan from Tennessee several times a year if the right person didn’t show up in Nashville. (I had found the perfect voice teacher, but she lived in Michigan at the time. It was going to be worth the drive, and I was willing. But, seriously, what a haul.)
I emailed and called close to 20 teachers in my area, and finally found someone who not only taught the exact subject I wanted, but who also (eventually) became one of my greatest life and career mentors. The time it took to thoroughly research the options opened doors where none seemingly existed. Knowing what you want and finding a voice teacher who can teach you those things (at a price you can afford, don’t forget) will yield impressive results.
Every Voice Teacher Holds a Piece of the Puzzle
No one has all the answers. And it’s okay to go to different voice teachers for different reasons. Some teachers are great at getting people started on the path to healthy singing, while others are highly specialized.
Want to know how to use your whistle register? Go find someone who specializes in that. Want to know about the physiology and anatomy of the larynx? Go find someone who specializes in vocology. Want to have fun and learn lots of new songs? Go find someone who has more music books on their shelves than God.
You get the idea.
But what if you get placed with a teacher in school or in a music program that you don’t like or who can’t serve your needs? Well, I hate to say it, but this will happen.
And sometimes we learn what we DO want by way of what we DON’T want. I am a much better teacher because of the inexcusably wretched music instruction I’ve had the privilege of receiving over the years. And I mean it, those trials and tribulations were a privilege!
Because of a few truly abusive and incompetent teachers, I’m really, really clear about the quality of instruction I strive for in my studio. Thank you, life, for the solid.
Often, suffering leads to our greatest lessons. Therefore, even bad teachers have something wonderful to offer. Just don’t put up with anyone who causes you physical or psychological harm for one minute longer than you absolutely have to. Find a way out if necessary.
If It Hurts, It’s Wrong
If someone asks you to perform a vocal task that causes pain, stop immediately. It is your responsibility to be on top of this. This is your voice, your body, and your well being. Anyone who doesn’t check in and ask how an exercise or technique feels, OR doesn’t seem to care how you experience your voice, isn’t serving you well.
You always have the last say about what you sing and how you sing it. Be your own advocate no matter how “great” your teacher is. If they can’t engage your questions about what’s happening with your voice, or try to dominate you with their authority, please feel free to fire them.
Cult of Personality
Personality match in voice lessons is crucial. Unlike some other non-emotional business transactions, like going to the grocery store, working on voice with someone is akin to baring your anked soul to the world. To me, voice lessons require vulnerability and openness from teacher AND student. If there is a fundamental personality conflict between the two parties, progress is virtually impossible.
This also begs the question: what kind of student are you?
When looking for a voice teacher, bring your best self to the table. Teachers are people too, and they love motivated, positive, engaged students. The world is smaller than we think, and word will get out if you choose to bounce from teacher to teacher spreading negative mojo from voice studio to voice studio.
Stay With Your Teacher Long Enough
Some people like to stay with a voice teacher for years, others only a few lessons. That’s something you need to decide for yourself. In the real world (outside school), lessons are a tangible out-of-pocket expense. Once again, it’s okay to seek different teachers for different reasons, and for different amounts of time. Especially if you are paying for those lessons yourself.
It does take time to habituate singing technique into the body, so also don’t quit too soon.
If you are on a budget, record your lessons and master what you’ve been taught before going back. Use a mirror and recording device to track your progress at home, then take more lessons when you are good and financially ready.
As with any subject, there are many more things to discuss and ponder about finding the best voice teacher. Bottom line, everything is always working out, and you owe it to yourself to find the best voice teacher. For you. Right now.