Young man singer singing on his guitar on the lake

WHAT TO LOOK FOR – AND WHAT TO AVOID – IN A VOCAL TECHNIQUE INSTRUCTOR

For so many people the road to finding a vocal instructor begins with a “Google” or Craigslist search.  From there singers are inundated with ads promising that working in their studio will make dreams of stardom come true.  Some of these instructors may actually have the skills to help you on your way – and many of them haven’t got a clue (though they are all well-intentioned).

Keep in mind as well that there is more than one type of vocal instructor out there: my own strength is as a Vocal Technician, meaning that my job is to bring the most balance and ease possible to a voice so that we can then apply that ease to whatever musical genre a singer wishes to sing.  My students are made up of singers of rock/pop, musical theater, jazz, classical, country….and everything in between.  I’m not the teacher with a musical library filled with every possible book and recording of the perfect musical theater audition pieces for a high tenor simply because I apply what I do to so many different styles.  You may want to work with a technician like me to get the most out of your instrument but keep your musical theater or opera expert on the side to assist you with song/audition choices and proper interpretation of their genre of expertise.

When looking for a vocal technique instructor you may have to “audition” several teachers to find one who can help you but here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Here’s my list of what to AVOID in a vocal technique instructor:

  • They insist that learning classical/operatic repertoire is the basis for every style of singing – even if all you want to do is sing pop (or any other style)
  • They use imagery to try to meet your vocal goals:
    • “place” the tone into your eyes
    • “sing into the mask”
    • sing “forward”
    • “cover” the tone
    • use more support
    • sing on the air
  • The may use “results” oriented teaching:  they describe to you how a sensation feels to them  and then let you flounder around trying to find it on your own.  If you knew how to find it, you wouldn’t be there in the first place!
  • They hear you sing and just keep telling you “That was great!” – unless you are perfect already (then why would you seek out a vocal instructor) there is always something that can be worked on.
  • They assign you song after song but are unable to help you improve vocally.  Often this is what you’ll experience with a “Vocal Coach” – again, a very valuable asset for their expertise in a specific genre but first things first.
  • You feel like you are losing the elements you used to like in your voice or you can do less vocally than you could before the lessons
  • Your vocal goals are not being met
  • You are told to only sing in “head” voice
  • They instruct children to only sing in “head” voice until they reach puberty
  • They teach children to “yell” or “belt” in their chest voice
  • They teach adults to “yell” or “belt” in their chest voice
  • Your understanding of your own voice hasn’t increased and/or they respond to your technical questions by giving you more songs to sing.
  • Singing doesn’t feel comfortable and/or feels strained or tense
  • They ask you to just sing like them – but don’t give you any clue how to accomplish that

Here’s what I would recommend you look for in a good vocal technique instructor:

  • They assess your voice at the first lesson and give you a plan of action
  • They are able to explain to you what your voice is doing and why
  • They are able to identify your vocal “defaults”:  recognizing what your voice tends to do and know how to fix it
  • They should be able to balance your voice through the bridges – no cracks, flips, breaks or strain  (depending how far a voice needs to go this could take from a handful of lessons to a year’s worth of consistent, hard work – but they should know how to get you there).
  • You should experience something new about your voice in the first lesson
  • They should help you become more “you” in regards to your voice
  • The vocal technique they teach should be relevant for whatever musical style you are singing
  • They don’t tell you what sensations to feel, rather they place your voice in exercises that cause you to experience what you need to feel – then ask how YOU would describe it
  • You find that singing feels easier, without strain – anywhere in your range

Don’t be afraid to leave an instructor who isn’t giving you the results you were looking for (within reason – we can’t turn you into Beyonce…there already is one).  Loyalty to an instructor whom you’ve been paying for years but haven’t seen any real results from will not help you meet the goals you sought them out for in the first place.  While I do understand that times are tough financially these days, understand that paying a “bargain” price for a teacher doesn’t always pay off.  Consider:

  • $30 for an hour/week over 2 years ($3120) with a teacher who is sweet and well-meaning but gets you nowhere
  • $100/hour weekly for 6 months ($2600) with a teacher who helps you understand your voice, overcome it’s tendencies and have you doing more than you could have imagined as a singer.

There are a lot of good-hearted and well-meaning people out there who are looking to make a living teaching singers – just be sure you find one that will deliver the results you are looking for.  Happy singing!

3 replies
  1. Nicole Desson
    Nicole Desson says:

    Hi Noreen;

    I have a slight objection to this article. It may be that I’m the only vocal instructor this is true for but: as a classically trained person striving to understand the vocal mechanism, I use the vocabulary and occasionally the methods described in “what to avoid” while also doing many of the things you describe in the “what to look for” part. I am looking further into SLS, because the more I read about it, the more it seems to be exactly what I’ve been putting together by the seat of my pants for the last five years (and why re-invent the wheel?) I use the vocabulary because that’s what I know to call it. Less strain is the first hallmark I teach all my students to work toward. None of this is absolute. Except the ‘answers your technical questions by assigning more songs’ part. 😉

    Totally enjoyed you at Break Forth.

    Thanks;
    Nicole Desson

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] *You will need to find this sensation with a vocal instructor who has the skills to take your own unique voice to this coordination.  Please note: a singer needs to experience this sensation before they can reach that “aha!” moment and describe it that way. Don’t put the cart before the horse: experience the sensation first, then describe it.  Never try and make your voice fit a description. (more about this here) […]

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