Choosing a singing teacher can make the difference between achieving your goals in a fun way or simply being a waste of time and money. When you find the right teacher, you’ll avoid a lot of frustration and be surprised at what you can do and how fast you can learn.
Finding a vocal coach with the training, energy, and passion to guide you is key. So what exactly should you look for in a vocal coach? Here are seven key qualities to look for in a singing teacher.
1. DO THEY SPECIALISE IN YOUR DESIRED STYLE(S) OF MUSIC?
If you’re interested in developing your sound as a rock singer, it makes sense to go to a teacher that specialises in these techniques. Many teachers claim to teach a wide range of music. They want to teach everyone. They’re afraid to specialise, so they teach everything to everyone, and often water things down in the process. How successful will you be at learning something as specific as relaxed and TA dominant head voice (comfortable belting on high notes) with decompressed overlay distortion (grit), like David Draiman or other modern rock singers, from a guy that teaches not only singing, but piano, guitar, violin, drums, saxophone, flute, marimba? You get the point. It’s a red flag.
Even if they only teach singing, do they teach everything from Classical to Latino Pop with a little Classic Rock, Gospel, Country, and Folk sprinkled in? To put it simply, if you want to sing a particular style, you want a teacher that has trained for years in that style and has dived deep into the specific techniques of that style. Sure, they may be well versed in other styles, but specializing their focus in one direction can give them a tool set and knowledge-base you won’t find otherwise.
Can they show you how to easily open up your belting range or add edge to your voice? Can they teach you to comfortably add grit to your voice? Can they break down the mechanics of screaming and not hurt your voice? Do they know exactly what you need to do in order to build into more advanced Rock and Metal techniques? Do they have a methodology they follow that’s built for rock singers? Do they even know of any of the bands you mention as wanting to sound like? You can quickly know if the singing coach is casting a wide net or drilling down to develop the specific rock sound you want.
2. DO THEY PRACTICE THE CRAFT?
If the teacher can’t sing worth a lick, will you trust anything that they are going to show you? You’re looking for a voice instructor to get help, the last thing you need is to learn in spite of the teacher’s ability to apply what they teach.
So much of learning to sing is done through demonstration rather than explanation. It is important that your teacher can physically show you themselves the concepts they are teaching. They don’t need to be the next Maynard, Myles Kennedy, or Oliver Sykes, but they do need to be able to show proficiency in what they’re trying to convey.
It’s also about more than being able to carry a tune. Do they have their own career in music? As an added bonus, do they have recording knowledge, performance experience, or a deep understanding of the music industry? Being active in the craft and their background in the industry will benefit your music career in a tangible way.
3. DO THEY GET RESULTS?
A good singer doesn’t automatically equal the greatest singing coach. Look for someone that not only is active in the craft but also can guide you across the challenges and pitfalls in learning to sing as well. Do they just explain key concepts or walk you through step-by-step in developing the correct technique?
Imagine how disheartening it would be to wake up months later and not have any return for your hard practice and hard-earned money. When you hire a vocal instructor, you are in essence saying “I’m trusting you to guide me to where I want to go.” If you want to achieve extended range, distortion, and scream with ease, whether singing like Spencer Sotelo, growling it out with M Shadows, or screaming along with Randy Blythe, you want to know your instructor is capable of taking you there and has a proven track record.
Ask potential singing instructors what successes they’ve had. Whether you’re getting ready to record, go on tour, have an audition, maintaining your vocal health, or developing a consistent sound – can they take you there?
This is one area where taking an introductory lesson can be a huge way to put the results to the test. Did your voice feel good after the lesson? Did you notice any specific improvements in your singing after the lesson? Did they give you specific things to work on to help you move towards your goals before your next lesson?
4. DO THEY MAKE THE TEACHING INDIVIDUALISED AND RELEVANT TO YOU?
We each have our own original voice, our own unique style, and learn in our own special ways. What may be easy for one student could be a month-long hangup for another. A great teacher recognises each student’s strengths and customizes the teaching to make sure that it is pertinent to the individual. The best teachers are good at recognising what’s working for a student and able to maintain the delicate balance of challenging you and keeping you both encouraged and excited.
Does the teacher design exercises that are specific to your own needs or are they forcing their way, “the right way”, on you? I’ve seen many examples where, after several months of training, a student will end up sounding, strangely, a lot like the voice teacher. Look for a teacher who can get their students to focus on their own goals and bring out your own unique voice. It may take a lesson or two, but ask yourself, “Did the teacher give me exercises that I feel are relevant to me?”
5. ARE THEY ABLE TO TEACH VOCAL TECHNIQUE IN A WAY THAT YOU UNDERSTAND?
An important thing to consider in your search for a new voice teacher is to make sure that the teacher you choose teaches a solid vocal technique that you are able to understand. Understanding good singing technique is the foundation from which you can build the voice you want, whether strength, range, grit, tone, or any other colors of the voice.
The coach needs to have their own solid understanding of vocal technique. Beware of vocal coaches, especially in Rock and Contemporary styles, who make all sorts of claims but do not have a firm grasp on vocal anatomy. Many modern vocal coaches focus on improving style, stage presence, and image; but have little understanding of how to build the voice properly. This leads to a lot of misinformation that may sound good but disregards vocal health.
Make sure that your coach not only knows vocal anatomy, but is able to convey his vocal knowledge in a way that is clear and in a way you can apply. It’s important to find a teacher who has the skills and training necessary to teach you the correct foundations and help you build on those in a safe and understandable manner. This requires extensive knowledge of both the technical and art sides of singing.
Watch any instructional videos they may have online, read their materials. How do they explain different vocal techniques? Again, you may also have to try a lesson or two to really get your feet wet and truly see if you can walk away understanding how to practice and apply vocal technique in your situation. Did you feel like the teacher had an understanding of what they were doing? Did the teacher answer your questions in ways that made sense to you?
6. IS THE VOCAL COACH ACCESSIBLE?
I’m not talking about taking lessons online or in person. Both of those have their perks, but that’s a different discussion. What I mean by “accessible” is being able to ask questions outside of your lesson. With many teachers, you pay them for a lesson, and you get a lesson. Do they give you resources and can you contact them outside of your one-hour block a week? For example, you’re practicing the exercises he gave you and you get stuck on a certain area. You’re not sure if you’re correctly remembering what he explained. Are you able to connect with him briefly for clarification and get on with your learning or do you have to wait until your next scheduled lesson? Having access to your coach is one of several key factors in your speed of learning.
Ask potential coaches regarding their practices surrounding outside of lesson questions. Are they available to give you feedback on quick recording you’ve done?
7. MOST IMPORTANTLY, DO YOU CONNECT WITH THE COACH?
We learn best when we trust that our teachers have our best interests at heart. Singing can feel vulnerable and exposed since we convey our emotions directly, with our own body as the instrument. We need someone that is warm, engaging, and can make you feel comfortable in your lessons. A good coach will be both encouraging and challenging without being overly critical or simply a cheerleader.
A teacher that takes time to know you as a person, your personality, values, interests, will help you feel more respected and engaged in lessons. Think about what you value in terms of things like expression, learning goals, communication, and look for a teacher with similar values. Look for a teacher that demonstrates they care about your dreams and makes an extended effort to give you the tools to achieve them. Above all, never settle for someone that just feels like he’s “doing his job.”
Regardless of whether you take lessons online or in-person, you should feel the ability to relate to your instructor. Book your first singing lesson in Brisbane with Dr Dan Jess.