Now, the title of this article might be a little misleading because you’re soon about to find out that there is no “right” voice teacher.
However, there is the right teacher for you, but it may not necessarily be the right teacher for everyone else. In other words, the best voice teacher for someone could be the worst for another. You need to find a good fit for you, so no judgment to teachers out there on their instruction quality: it’s to each their own.
The real challenge is deciding what is personally best for you while finding that significant person who will lead you down the vocal yellow brick road.
The 6 Rules
These are not so much “rules” as they are guidelines to help you decide if a teacher is a good fit for you, as well as things to look for in a good quality instructor. Later on, I’ll get into what you should seek in a teacher at different levels of your vocal journey. For now, let these guidelines kickstart your thinking into asking what you want from a voice teacher.
1. Speak The Same Language
Finding a teacher who’s teaching approach aligns with your learning style can greatly ease the learning process. For instance, if you prefer to be told what is happening inside of your body anatomically when you sing, you should choose a teacher that takes a more literal pedagogical approach rather than someone who paints pictures and speaks figuratively about singing. It’s way more convenient if the teacher’s style matches your own.
2. Realistically Encouraging
It makes a difference when your teacher is prepared to embark on a learning journey together with you. I’m not saying it’s all smiles and rainbows, but likewise, they shouldn’t beat you down or be negative. Always expect constructive criticism. They should show an interest in you, your talent, and suggest a realistic plan for your vocal development. You only have one hour of precious time and if there’s unnecessary negativity floating around, it can take away from your development and it’s not in your best interest. It’s okay to have bad emotional days and that may come out in your lessons, but you should reasonably evaluate the overall rapport between you and your teacher and see if it’s in check.
3. A Well-Oiled Machine
After an hour-long lesson, you shouldn’t feel vocally tired. Instead, you should feel like your engine is well-oiled and you’re ready for a race. The beginning warm-up session (about 15-20 minutes) of a lesson is all about finding the right placement for your voice, engaging your support, and establishing technique. Your teacher should put you in a good vocal place which will carry into your repertoire. VROOOM!
4. Right Amount of Challenge
There should be a steady growth to your singing and your teacher should help you with your goals. That measurement is hard to gauge yourself, which is why you should consult with your committee after a few months if you’re unsure. Also if you’re unsure, record your first lessons and compare them with your lessons down the road and see if you notice a difference in your singing. You should record every lesson anyways but for this reason, too.
5. Their Students
Listen to their other students and ask yourself if you are a fan of their singing technique. Look at who’s singing the roles you want to sing and who is winning competitions, and ask them who their teacher is. A teacher’s students are a good indicator of their abilities as a teacher—not in every case, though, so notice any trends across multiple students of theirs instead of just one.
Additionally, if a teacher only has one really good student and the rest of the students are underdeveloped, this could be a sign they only work well for specific singers.
6. Your Gut
Not in terms of your breath support or diaphragm, but you should have an inner feeling about whether or not you can work with this person and if they share the same artistic opinions as you while introducing you to many more. It’s an innate feeling and one of the most important indicators. Trust it!
Handy-Dandy Questions To Ask
Most of the time, you get one trial lesson with a teacher. Here’s a list of questions you can ask them at the end of the lesson to help inform your decision about hiring them or not:
- “What rep do you think I should sing?”
- “How do you describe support?”
- “Where should I begin to cover?”
- “Where does my passaggio lie?”
- “What should I work on in my technique?”
- “Where do you see my voice developing in the next few years?”
- “What are your thoughts on vowel modification?”
- “Do you agree with my vocal fach?”
Keep in mind that you may not see a difference in your technique in the first lesson, or even in the first few months! Technique takes time to solidify so he/she may be the right teacher for you, just not right away.
Different Levels, Different Goals
A voice teacher’s role changes at the various stages of your vocal development. So, I’ve outlined a few levels here and what you should seek from a voice teacher:
DISCLAIMER: With this list, only look ahead at your next level, don’t look behind. This isn’t meant to be a hard and fast set of rules for where you should be when, but rather to point out that there are different types of teachers for different stages of your vocal development. This list is to help you decide what to look for, since a pre-college teacher does different things for you than a post-grad teacher.
Pre-College: Geographically close. Affordable. Good reputation. Introduces you to languages. Develops musicianship by teaching you to read music if you don’t already, and teaching you key musical terms. Instills a good warm-up routine.
Undergrad: Begins to talk about breath support. Addresses any tension issues. Introduces you to high notes. Widens rep, especially songs. Assigns your first arias. Begins to discuss high note approach.
Grad: More of a mentor. Audition preparation for post-grad. Rounds out technique. Fills in gaps of technique ideas missed in undergrad. Helps the consistency of high notes.
Post-Grad: Works on presentation in auditions. Recommends programs. Cleans up the edges of your technique.
Professional: Works on the minutiae of your voice. Makes tiny alterations in order to positively impact your resonance. Polishes what you already have. These teachers need highly developed ears and need to understand big halls.
Not Only One For Everyone
Over the years, you begin to take bits and pieces from the teachers you study with, yet your current voice teacher should be the best person for your current level of development.
Sometimes in your development, you will be given techniques that are beyond your current ability level. That is okay. It’s best for you to begin to wrap your mind around a concept even if your body might take a while to catch up.
The flip side to this is that sometimes you outgrow a teacher. If everything you do is “perfect” to them then perhaps it’s time to consider a change.
One teacher may show you how to sing your best high notes and another teacher will show you about vowel modification. Take what works for you and leave the rest. A lot of voice teachers out there have taught me one or two things that I still use today and I forgot or left behind all the rest.
Most of all, the trust between teacher and student is paramount. Trust that their technique is going to help you so you can face your vocal growth with confidence! You either know or will begin to know how your voice works best so this decision is entirely in your hands and no one else can tell you differently. Not even me!
Sometimes it’s hard to make the switch especially if you’re within a program, but your voice is your own responsibility so don’t sabotage yourself to make others happy. Hello, real world!
What do you think? Did you find this article interesting, entertaining, or helpful? Feel free to chime in with a comment below.