During this week we have been discussing the financial concerns of singers. One of the biggest expenses that singers incur over the lifetime of their voice are due to voice lessons. Most hour-long lessons cost anywhere between $60-$150 and many singers have weekly lessons. On the low side of this spectrum singers are spending $3,000 a year on lessons. This can be an absolute sink-hole for money in your singing spending plan. You know that you need the lessons. However, if you are not progressing or dread working with your teacher each week then you are wasting your money.
Your day 17 challenge is to evaluate your teacher and get the most out of your voice lessons.
Parents usually pick the first voice teacher and most likely the undergraduate teacher is assigned to the singer. Therefore, young singers are unfamiliar with having to evaluate a potential teacher when given the option or when they are outside of an academic situation. I have always said that voice teachers are one part instructor and two parts therapist. Singing is a very personal thing. You must trust the person you have chosen to help develop your voice as well as being an encouraging force. Here are a few areas of focus for evaluating your current teacher or finding a new voice teacher.
Does your teacher have a good reputation and track record?
We are on our own journey to diva stardom, but we are always standing on the shoulders of giants. Take an inventory of the singers around you that are increasingly successful in the field. Which singers do you work with that keep a consistent technique and style under all forms of pressure? They have most likely amassed a singing entourage which includes a great voice teacher. Your best resource for finding a voice mentor are word-of-mouth referrals. Seek out specifics when singers recommend their teacher. If your colleague can attribute their success to specific drills, examples, and usage their teacher is able to explain the need for the work. Take an inventory of your weaknesses as a singer. What type of help do you need from a voice teacher? Find a teacher that specializes in what you need vocally. Finally, pick someone who is truly passionate about teaching the voice. There are many singers out there teaching as a side gig. It is a good thing to have a teacher that performs just make sure that they are a masterful teacher as well.
Is your teacher a pedagogical superstar?
The voice is an anatomical musical instrument. Your voice teacher must innately understand the body, especially because they cannot see the mechanism working from the inside. They should understand what all the specific muscle are doing while producing sound. Just because you were born with your instrument does not mean that you understand how to use it effortlessly. A well-trained outside eye and ear will be able to help you identify how you are manipulating your voice and give you the techniques to build your true sound. Remember that repertoire is different from technique. Find a teacher that will help you with your technique first and can apply the appropriate repertoire to your needs.
Here are some universally accepted technical concepts that your teacher should discuss with you:
- Low, complete breath with lower back expansion
- Plus the management of a slow outflow of a column of air through the larynx.
- Using different vowel sounds to demonstrate balance and consistent tone through all registers.
- Employing the primary resonator in a natural way – slightly lifted soft palette and slightly lowered larynx.
- Positioning the mouth to avoid throaty or overly spread tones.
- A healthy tongue position – arched in the ‘ng’ position without tongue depression of the larynx.
- Natural jaw placement. Allowing the jaw to remain slightly down and back allows the larynx to assume a lower position without being controlled and pushed down. Also, a relaxed jaw that does not hinder pronunciation in all languages.
- Encouraging healthy nasal resonance.
- Separating the tongue from the jaw for flipped or rolled consonants.
- Clean adduction of the vocal folds.
- Connection of the voice to the rest of the body. You use your whole body when singing.
Do you get along?
Too many singers are damaged emotionally and vocally from working with abusive teachers. Your first priorities in finding a voice teacher are finding someone who teaches well and someone with whom you absolutely love to work. Please do not start (or continue) to pay someone who does not positively develop both your vocal and mental health. Does your teacher’s studio cultivate camaraderie and a strong work ethic or jealousy and combative personalities? You will absolutely need someone who is “on your team”; someone who cheers for you. You are paying them after all. Get your money’s worth out of your lessons by working with someone who you believe in.
Does your teacher help you find “your sound”?
A good voice teacher wants to help you become a better singer. They will not attempt to do this by making you sound just like them. A large ego is not the calling card of a masterful teacher. During your field research that I mentioned earlier in the post, listen for singers that share the same teacher but have their own particular voice. You should also feel comfortable asking questions or asking for clarification in your lessons. In the end, this is your instrument and your investment. Do not be a clone – be yourself.
Does your teacher want success for you?
Some teachers will only want to work on the voice while some will be able to help you with your larger career aspirations. Whatever their personal style, make sure that you are working with a teacher that believes in your product and can give your their stamp of approval. The reason that you are paying for their expertise is that they are able to craft a plan for you based on your goals. They are charged with making individualized lesson plans for you as a singer. Voice lessons are not one-size-fits-all. Your teacher must be able to identify what makes your voice special and unique as well as diagnose any weaknesses and how to work on them.
Try a few consultation lessons with different teachers to get an idea of what works for you. Trust your instincts to find someone who is a masterful teacher as well as a personality that you respect and admire. You are making an intelligent and significant investment in voice lessons. Hopefully, you will find the fruits of your labors shine through your performance. Your teacher should be able to give you the keys to vocal production that you can use with them and without them. Make the choice to find someone who will be on your team to encourage you and give a swift kick to the behind when needed.
A few resources for finding a voice teacher:
National Association of Teachers of Singing, Inc. (NATS)
Music Teachers National Association
Ask at your local conservatory or university as well for references.
Have any tips for finding a great voice teacher? Share them in the comments below.
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