How to (and how NOT to) Select the Best Voice Teacher

Thinking about starting or resuming voice lessons?  How do you know which teacher is the best one for you?
 
Here are the most important factors to consider in choosing where to take lessons.
 
 
Is the teacher effective?
 
This is the number one consideration… and the hardest to determine before meeting a teacher.  But money spent on lessons is wasted, not invested, if the teacher isn’t effective.  Read on for a surprising comparison of the least and the most expensive teachers I’ve ever had in my life.
 
Ways to determine if a teacher is effective are to review student testimonials, to look at who the teacher has taught, to listen to before/after comparisons if available, to get references from the teacher, or to just take a lesson and see what you learn. 
 
 
Do you like the teacher?
 
Do you feel comfortable around the teacher?  The voice is so closely tied to the ego, you have to be able to trust your voice coach in order to try the new things the teacher wants you to do.  
 
And do you look forward to your lessons?  Do you enjoy the time spent with the teacher?  You’re much more likely to reach your goals if you like the person who’s helping you get there.
 
 
Does the teacher teach the styles or genres you are interested in?
 
The foundations for singing all styles is more or less the same.  But past that, you want to be sure that the teacher is willing to take you where you want to go.  If you are in a metal band, will the teacher teach you to scream without shredding your voice?  If you love modern rock or blues, is the teacher willing to let you sing with a little gravel in your voice?  If you like pop and R&B, will the teacher show you how to enunciate so you don’t sound like a choir girl lost a hip-hop video?  
 
 
Are you looking for vocal technique or vocal coaching or both?  Does the teacher offer both?
 
Technically, voice teachers teach vocal technique:  correct breathing, placement, resonance, etc.  Voice coaches focus more on interpretation and performance:  interpreting and singing a song with emotion, performing well, etc.  Many voice teachers and coaches do both, but not all do.  What are you looking for, and what does the teacher offer?
 
 
A few other factors you might want to consider are:
  • Does the teacher record your lessons so that you have them for reference?  Sometimes you will make breakthroughs or have “epiphany moments” in lessons.  Recordings make it much more likely that you’ll get back to that place again on your own.
  • Does the teacher have other related experience that you might want to learn from?  For example, if you want to improve your songwriting, does the teacher write their own original music?  If you are interested in gigging or working on your stage performance, have they gigged or are they gigging now? If you want to record an album or a demo, does the teacher have their own recording experience? 
  • If you are interested in performing, does the teacher offer recitals or performance opportunities?
  
Here are some factors that are NOT important, contrary to what many people think when they are looking for lessons:
 
Distance to the teacher’s location.
 
It’s much more important to find a good teacher than it is to find a convenient teacher.  Even if you have to travel a long distance to see a good teacher, you will save time and money in the long run with a better teacher.
 
Here’s an illustration to show how much time is wasted by taking lessons with the most convenient, but not effective, teacher.  Say you’re taking weekly 45-minute lessons.
 
  • If you take lessons from a close but ineffective teacher 7.5 minutes from your house, you are spending a total of an hour a week on lessons.  Over a year, you will spend 52 hours on lessons.  Hopefully you will see some improvement… but you may not, and even if you do, it may not be much improvement for a year’s investment of time.
  • If you take lessons from a distant but effective teacher an entire hour from your house, you are spending 2-3/4 hours per week taking lessons.  But you will not need to spend a year to make the same progress.  A good teacher can often help you make leaps and bounds in just a few lessons.  Of course, some things do just take time.  But in general, the effective teacher can probably help you make progress at least four times faster (if not much more), meaning that you need only three months to make the same progress as you would with the ineffective teacher.  Three months – 13 weeks – at 2-3/4 hours per week is 35.75 hours.  That’s about 16 hours less time spent on lessons… including the extended travel time to and from lessons.  And you make the same progress – or better – in much less elapsed calendar time.
 
 
The teacher’s lesson rates.
 
The argument is similar here.  Do you save money if you go with a cheaper teacher?  NO.  A cheaper teacher does NOT save you money.  A cheaper teacher costs MORE than a more expensive but more effective teacher, because you have to take more lessons and spend more time to make the same progress.  
 
Here’s an extreme example – but a real one – from my own past:
 
  • 18 months of semi-weekly $25 lessons with ineffective teacher = $900

Improvement over that year and a half:  negligible if any at all.  All that time and money was wasted.

  • 7 lessons with one of the top teachers in the world at $115-150 per lesson = $800

Improvement over those seven lessons:  so drastic I felt like I had a new voice – and so did my recording engineer.  The time and money spent returned dividends many times over in the quality of my recordings, my confidence level, and my career success.  It was an investment, not an expenditure.

 
 
Whether the teacher will come to you for lessons.
 
Once in a while someone asks if I will come to their house to teach them.  This is not something I do.
 
Usually, teachers who have the time to travel to teach their students (and don’t charge significantly for the service) aren’t very much in demand.  Traveling doubles or triples the amount of time the teacher must spend on each lesson.  If you are asking a teacher to do that, are you willing to pay double or triple the regular lesson rate to compensate them for their time?  Or are you expecting them to work for a half or a third of their hourly rate?
 
Another disadvantage to teaching in students’ houses is that the teacher can’t bring the resources of the studio to the student’s house.  The tools I use in lessons include a full PA, a computer, a keyboard, a metronome, a chromatic tuner, a microphone, mic stands, reference books, song books, a whiteboard, a printer, paper and pens, recordings, DVDs, and the Internet.
 
(Of course there are a few exceptions, such as teachers who go to remote areas to teach groups or to teach several lessons in one community on one day, or students who cannot physically leave the house, but few really good teachers travel to teach.)
 
 
The teacher’s certifications.
 
Don’t get me wrong… education is good.  I’m a fan of education; I went to Stanford for my undergrad studies. But a certified voice teacher is not necessarily a good voice teacher.  Look at the example above, where I spent 18 months of lessons with one teacher versus 7 lessons with another.  Which teacher was certified by a widely recognized national organization?  Yep, the one with whom I studied for 18 months… and hardly made any progress during that time.
 
It’s much more important that the teacher can translate the sound of your voice into the mechanics of what’s going on, and then select the appropriate exercise to correct your mechanics and improve your sound, than it is that the teacher has a certification.
 
Of course, it is important that the teacher is aware of healthy versus unhealthy singing.  The last thing you want is someone so untrained that they teach you bad or damaging habits.  But a certification does not guarantee competence.

 


(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit http://PerformanceHigh.net.