How to find the right voice teacher
Imagine you had a singing teacher that was the perfect fit for you. With these 5 practical steps I'll help you get singing lessons you love.
Steps to getting the best music teacher for you:
1. Find out if lessons are the right choice
2. List your wants
3. Search wisely
4. Reach out
5. Test Drive
1. Are Voice Lessons the Right Choice?
How old is the student?
It makes a huge difference whether the student is a kid or more grown up. The vocal cords are the last muscles in the human body to finish growing, so most teachers worth their salt are going to seriously limit what technique they teach to a young student. For that reason, I usually recommend that kids train their musicality in other ways: singing in choir, performing in musicals, or learning another instrument like piano.
How much do you use your voice?
People who use their voice a lot should definitely consider working one-on-one with a professional unless they want severe vocal rasp like Tony Robbins. Walk into any throat specialist's office and the waiting room is filled with lifelong smokers and schoolteachers. If you simply sing along with the radio in your car, go to karaoke once a week, or sing in a choir you likely don't need lessons, but you're certainly welcome to take lessons if you want to!
What do you really want?
A number of people who come to me for voice lessons actually want something else. Some people want to get better at harmonizing, but the fastest, easiest, and most fun way to learn harmony is in a choir where a bunch of other people are helping you find your note because everyone else in your section is singing it too. Other folks who come to me just want to be immersed in music to de-stress, but private lessons are a pretty expensive way to do that. You could have a ton more fun doing something like Pop Up Chorus or starting a garage band with friends.
Private voice lessons are the right choice for people who have specific goals, want to dive deep into technique, and have the time and drive to practice between lessons.
2. List your wants
Age of student
Experience level- Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced
Budget- Decide what voice lessons are worth to you before you start searching for teachers
Genre(s)- Classical/Opera, Pop, Musical Theater, Rock, Choral, Jazz, Indie, Singer/Songwriter, Etc. (Perhaps even list your favorite bands or songs you want to sing)
Goals- I often ask voice students to tell me one small achievable goal and one wildest dreams goal
Voice type- If you're a more advanced singer, you may want to choose someone of the same voice type as you. If you're intermediate, you may want to choose a teacher who is the same gender as you. If you don't know what voice type is, don't sweat it. A quality voice teacher can teach students of any voice type or gender.
Type of Lesson- This is a big one. Let's dive in:
Private Voice Lessons
Private voice lessons are one-on-one sessions with a voice teacher: a singer who is passionate about teaching and (ideally) knowledgable about technique, music theory, and performance.
This one is tricky because of how the word "coach" is used by professional singers. An average person would likely think that a voice coach and a voice teacher are the same thing, but a trained voice teacher would almost never refer to herself as a voice coach. In the professional world, a vocal coach is a highly skilled pianist who accompanies the singer and helps refine diction, rhythm, and works with musicality and language. They are usually not trained in singing technique. Unless you are preparing German lieder or an opera aria for an audition or performance, you're probably not looking for a voice coach.
People often contact me about singing classes, hoping that learning in a group could save them money. In almost all cases, I think this is a terrible idea. You'd usually be much better off joining a choir. This is because each person's voice is SO unique (see YouTube section below) and one size can't possibly fit all. There are only two exceptions I can think of: 1. Masterclasses- a masterclass is when an expert teacher teaches mini voice lessons in front of an audience. They are rare, they are usually classical genre, and it can be captivating to "see how the sausage is made." 2. My Vocal Expression Workshops. After years of being asked about voice classes, my brain eventually melded together the best parts of lessons and masterclasses and weeded out the problems of singing classes to make this weekly workshop.
Taking voice lessons online through a platform like Skype is tricky. The student would ideally have a fantastic internet connection and a decent USB microphone so that the sound quality is good enough. This is really only the best option for people who don't have access to in-person lessons, or who have developed a connection with their teacher and travel a lot.
Using youtube videos to learn
Don't do it! I beg you.
Listen, there are some great voice teachers on youtube, but this is a terrible horrible no good very bad idea. Learning how to sing from YouTube videos is like hearing a rattle in your car and doing whichever repair you find after searching YouTube for "How to fix car rattle."
Just as there are different kinds of cars, there are many different voice types, and the human body has infinite unpredictable variations. There are aspects of vocal technique that are standard practice, but I have encountered students who were exceptions to every single standard practice. The voice is the only instrument we can't see or touch; student and teacher are both working totally blind. Working on the voice should be extremely personalized.
A few years ago, a 23-year-old man came into his first voice lesson with me and said, "I love singing, but I haven't been able to afford voice lessons so I spent the last 4 years doing every voice video on YouTube!" I've never experienced a student whose larynx was more tight than him. I imagine it would have taken 4 years to undo all tension in his throat.
3. Search wisely
Ask for recommendations
Crowdsource it! Write a Facebook post asking everyone in your city if they know of a great voice teacher. Most spiritual communities have a music program, and the music director likely knows a good teacher. Ask people you know at school or work.
Use search terms like "voice lessons near me" or "singing teacher in Austin TX" to get location-specific results. You can also click on the map and zoom in on the part of town that's most convenient for you. Yelp can work in cities that have significant population turnover like New York or Austin, but tends to be less helpful in rooted cities like Memphis or Fort Worth.
It can be tempting to look for music schools instead of music teachers. A school can feel more credible, and that's sometimes true. But when it comes to voice teachers, talented teachers often go solo. They're in-demand enough to recruit their own students and they save on overhead by teaching out of their living room. Quality music schools will be more expensive because of the overhead and the middle-man. Music schools also provide recitals, but they often charge extra for the recital whether you want to participate or not.
Compile a big list of potential teachers.
Initially you're just trying to get a big ol' list of names. Try not to start assessing each person until you have at least 15 names to consider. Also, don't take budget into account during this part.
Narrow it down
Go to the website for each teacher or google the names of recommendations who don't have a website. Use the list you made in step 2 to help you with this, and let your budget come back into consideration now. Also get a feel for the person. Who do you feel drawn to? Who's not quite your style? Narrow your list down to about 6 people.
Qualifications are something to consider at this point.
It can be tempting to look for a voice teacher who has had a killer singing career, but a good performer is not necessarily a good teacher. Many singers can be amazing at improving their own voice, but they don't know how to translate what works to others.
It can also be tempting to look for a teacher who has had an amazing education. Again, while a quality education is fantastic, that person may not know how to communicate their knowledge to others.
In my opinion, this is the top metric for assessing a teacher's qualifications. How long have they been teaching? Do they have a bunch of glowing reviews? Do they have knowledge and do they communicate that knowledge successfully?
4. Reach out
Contact the teachers on your narrowed-down list. If there's a phone number, call. Having a conversation with them will give you a feel for how they communicate. Otherwise, email them or fill out the contact form on their website.
This is another chance to use your list from step 2. Ask about anything you couldn't find answers to on their website. You can also ask about their teaching style, or how lessons with them tend to go.
Use this step to narrow your list down to your top 3.
*Note: Many voice teachers only teach one or two genres, so this is an important thing to check on. Make sure the teacher is compatible with the genre(s) you want to learn.
5. Test drive at least 3 teachers
Please do this, especially if you've never had a voice lesson before.
The voice is SO personal, and can be SO emotional. To really learn, it is essential to be working with someone you feel comfortable with. Someone you like. Someone you understand, and who understands you.
During the first lesson with each teacher, notice how you feel. How do you feel before the lesson? How do you feel during the lesson? How do you feel after the lesson? How do you feel the next day?
You'll know when it's a good fit. Keep looking until it's right.
Have more questions? Want more help? Reach out or post in the comments.