How to Find a Good Voice Teacher
As a student of voice and now a voice teacher, I have spent a few decades at this point singing and working with singers, actors, professionals, and teachers in a wide variety of ways. I have learned a lot about how to find a good voice teacher, or rather, the best voice teacher for me. I have also found out a lot about how to be a great student, but that is for another blog post!
In a general way, I think there are three main things you need to keep in mind when looking for a good singing teacher.
On the most basic level, you have to like the person you choose. You have to feel like their personality, energy levels, manner of speaking all feel “right” to you, otherwise you may have a mismatch you cannot quite put your finger on. Take some time to think about what kind of person you need in your life when it comes to making changes and meeting goals – do you prefer a serious, drill sargeant type who is no-nonsense? Do you want someone high energy, more like a cheerleader? Do you want someone reserved, serious, and technical? These things matter and will make you more likely to listen to this person and take their advice seriously.
2. Expertise match
You should aim to find a voice teacher who works in the style in which you want to sing. Some teachers can successfully teach many different styles of singing, and others cannot. You may want to look at their roster of students, or ask them, “What style of music do most of your students sing?” If you want to be a country singer, and your teacher works with musical theatre performers, it may not be a match. But it may also be that this same teacher can work flexibly in a wide variety of styles, they will let you know. But you need to ensure you are at least asking the question, “Do you teach primarily in one type of singing, or can you teach [the style you are interested in?]”
3. Teaching ability
I suggest you find a voice teacher with credentials that qualify them for teaching voice. Examples may include:
• A degree (or several may not be uncommon) in vocal music, performance, and/or pedagogy
• Experience as a performer (even if they are not currently working as a professional performer)
• The ability to communicate vocal technique in a way YOU understand and for YOUR current level of ability
While points 1 and 2 are fairly straightforward, the last one is something you will really only know after a few lessons with a teacher, so it is reasonable to tell the teacher upfront you are interested in several lessons to see if you are a good match. Most good voice teachers will understand and have no problem with this. It is also common to politely ask if you may observe a lesson the teacher gives another student, with their permission. This request may be denied, as different teachers have different privacy policies, but it would not be unusual to ask.
There are two caveats I would like to offer. The first is that even if a teacher is not currently pursuing a performance career, or is not a famous, well-known name, that does not mean they are not a good teacher. Being a professional performer is a very different and difficult lifestyle, which often requires large time commitment to travel, working evenings and weekends, working without benefits, difficulty maintaining a relationship and family life, and for those reasons a performing career can be a choice many people do not want to make long-term. This lifestyle can even exacerbate the already well-known link between creativity and depression.
Secondly, being a teacher means dedicating time to developing a very specific skill set one may not learn as a performer, and this is very important to recognize. It is common for famous performers to retire to teaching. This is sort of an unusual custom, as someone who has spent their entire life singing may or may not actually have developed the skill to teach others how to sing as well as they can! This should be obvious enough. Not all great basketball players can be great coaches, and most coaches probably could not make it as a player in the NBA. They are simply two totally different areas of expertise, although there are some people who excel at both. So do not judge how good a voice teacher may be by their performing career, judge them on their record of teaching – which you will see from their current and former students, and your own experience in lessons should you choose to work with them.
How do you know you HAVE found the right teacher?
So, you have chosen a teacher to work with and you have had a few lessons. How do you know you really found the right one?
First you should feel at ease before, during and after your lessons, like you are in good hands. You should have the experience of understanding what the teacher is trying to communicate, or if you don’t, you should feel comfortable asking and the teacher should be eager to explain in a new way.
You should leave the lesson feeling better about yourself vocally and even personally. Many singers will express that a great voice lesson is also good for the soul and the psyche. It should come as no surprise there are a great many health benefits, both short and long term to singing.
You should feel like you leave the lesson knowing what to focus on and how to do so from a technique point of view. You should be learning about the vocal anatomy and how the voice functions. If you experience confusion or uncertainty on your path to improving your voice, that is normal and expected, but you should feel like your teacher has the knowledge and a plan to help you overcome the things that are a concern for you vocally. In a future article I will go more in-depth about what you should expect to learn in voice lessons over time.