How To Find a Great Voice Teacher

by Darren Wicks

Doctors, lawyers and tax accountants all require some sort of minimum qualifications and competency to practice. However, in the music industry things are different! Almost anyone can call themselves a voice coach or singing teacher. How do you know who to trust with your voice? In this article, I will share some insights.

First let’s deal with some of the popular misconceptions I’ve encountered about singing teachers. Is it possible you’ve fallen victim to some of these?

  • A teacher with a great voice must be able to teach me to sound good
  • The teacher who claims to have an exclusive method which is better than any other method
  • The teacher claims to have taught a lot of pop stars which means they must be good
  • This person who has been a performer, so they must be able to teach
  • The teacher who is really expensive, so they must be good

There is a popular belief that singing teachers are just failed performers, but this is not true! Teaching singing is a calling and a discipline all in itself. It takes much time and dedication to master the art of voice pedagogy and that’s why a lot of busy voice coaches may not have a big performing careers. 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.

Some teachers have “a method” and are under the illusion that a single method makes them qualified to work with voices. Some interesting research in the field of psychology shows that many methods of counselling all share common factors and that 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. 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. 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.

Similarly, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a teacher who sings well knows how to teach you.  It’s important that a teacher can sing and is able to demonstrate good singing to students. However, good singing ability alone doesn’t ensure a teacher understands how to lead others to sing. What works for one voice may not work for all voices. What is also important is that a teacher understands how students grapple with learning to sing; how they take on new skills and common pitfalls in the process.

The argument I am making is that a good vocal coach has a broad base of skills. S/he needs to understand principles of music education, how the voice works, psychology of teaching and learning and have a big repertoire of songs that are suitable for different voice types, ages and abilities. Here are a few more ideas to help you identify best practice in the teaching of singing:

  • Teacher has a tertiary qualification in music and/or music education
  • Is committed to teaching and developing voices
  • Is a member of professional association(s) for teachers (Some examples are: ANATS, NATS, and IVA).
  • Networks with other colleagues and is involved in regular learning and professional development.
  • Has a good ear and uses this to reinforce healthy singing.
  • Is able to listen and diagnose vocal faults, giving specific and clear instructions about correcting these.
  • Gives clear, unambiguous instructions and avoids using imagination and imagery, which can be interpreted in vastly different ways from person to person.
  • Has an understanding of voice anatomy, including: the respiratory system, the larynx, the vocal tract. He or she knows how these affect singing, but does not try and dazzle you with anatomical terms and complex explanations.
  • 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.
  • Shows genuine interest in you as a singer and do not spend much time talking about him or herself.
  • Conducts himself/herself in a professional manner, is “friendly”, but does not try to be your friend or overstep boundaries.
  • You sing for most of your lesson, rather than listen to the teacher talk.
  • 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.
  • Does not claim to be the source of all vocal truth, but encourages you to read and research as well.
  • Is aware of the major writers and their works on voice training. Ideally, they read these regularly also.

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