4 Things You Want In A Voice Training Coach
If you are even remotely considering college for vocal performance (or anything that involves voice work, to be frank) or trying to build a career as a professional Singer, you should start thinking about hiring a Vocal Coach immediately. It is only in your favor to begin learning at a very young age, and with every year you don’t have someone instructing you on how to best harness and hone your talents, the more difficult it may be to end up in the school you really want to attend when the time comes. Sure, there are those who can get in based solely on an incredible gift, but it’s always better to be prepared and to put in the work. Don’t waste any time in starting the hunt for the perfect man or woman who will help you learn everything there is to know about singing, resting, warming up, and perhaps even the industry you’ve decided you may want to venture into. There is a lot riding on your education and a Vocal Coach is likely the first step in a long process. Therefore it’s understandable if you feel daunted by the prospect of starting your search for a coach but waiting doesn’t help anybody — especially you!
How does one know what to look for in a Vocal Coach? What separates someone who knows what they are doing and is a perfect fit for you from someone who is a total fraud? It’s tough to choose and there’s a lot that will go into your final decision (and it’s a decision you’ll likely need to make a few times as you advance in your talents, move to go to college or find work in another city), but here are four things you should absolutely look for in a Vocal Coach, especially in the beginning.
It’s fairly easy to weed out those who really have no idea what they are talking about, but there are some people who can fake sounding smart pretty convincingly. It’s not the obviously unqualified instructors one needs to worry about but rather those who are intelligent enough to pass for knowledgeable. After it’s too late, you’ll find out you’ve made a mistake and by then, you’ve likely already wasted your time and money on the wrong candidate and learned some tactics and techniques that may actually be harmful to your vocal chords. You need to be careful about who you choose in the end, especially if you are just learning how to use and develop your gift.
There is no way you can know as much as the man or woman who will be your Teacher, but you should educate yourself enough to be able to tell who might actually be well-versed on the subject of singing. You want someone who understands all things music, as well as how the human body works. Knowing even the bare minimum can be helpful when selecting the instructor who will prep you for auditions and school admissions events, which can be some of the most nerve-wracking and demanding processes for young talents.
Of course, depending on where you live and other restraints, you may have a limited number of options, and it’s entirely possible the above paragraphs don’t really apply to you. If that’s the case, do the best with whatever you can, but keep in mind if you really want to take your future career to the next level, you’ll need to find better Teachers, which is why many people travel for school. Your first Vocal Coach won’t necessarily make or break your future prospects, but you can still be picky.
When selecting the person who will help you achieve greatness and eventually get into a program or school of your dreams, look for someone who has managed to work as a Singer or Vocalist of some kind before.
A quick look at local colleges versus Ivy League institutions will show you there can sometimes be a huge gap between those Teachers and Professors who have studied a certain field and those who have actually lived it. It’s wonderful to have a degree that makes one more educated about a specific subject, but it’s those who have actually succeeded in the business as Background Singers, Session Singers, Opera Singers, and so on who often make the best Teachers. They know what is going on in the real world and not just in a book or a classroom.
This is as true when it comes to business or writing or almost any other field as it is for singing, and it’s important to keep this in mind when looking for a Vocal Coach. Would you rather train with someone who has spent many years exclusively teaching young people how to sing or with someone who was actually a professional Singer for many years and who then transitioned into being a Teacher or Professor? Ideally, your coach would have tons of experience in both roles, but that’s difficult to find and if you have to choose just one, go for the latter.
When selecting the person who will help you achieve greatness and eventually get into a program or school of your dreams, look for someone who has managed to work as a Singer or Vocalist of some kind before. They will have a better idea of what actually works in real life, and they’ll not only be able to prep you for classes, auditions, and performances, but they probably also have plenty of advice when it comes to nailing those auditions, doing well in school, and building a career.
Depending on who you choose and what they have done in their past, your Vocal Coach may be able to help you get some actual gigs. They may also know someone at an institution of higher learning who could further your vocal education and training. I’m not saying former professional Singers are the only instructors worth hiring but they have a very valuable skill set that others won’t have. It’s worth investing some time and energy into finding somebody who has earned their bread and butter with their voice as well as with their teaching.
If you are beginning the search for a Vocal Coach, you are probably also just getting started as a Singer. I hate to say it, but there are a lot of shocks, surprises, and quite a few disappointments coming your way. It is simply the way of the world, and certainly of this business in particular.
One of these shocks will be how much everything costs you, especially as someone who probably has limited means because you’re just kicking off your life as a professional Vocalist (or as a student, when financial matters can be even worse). Just as Actors all need to pony up and pay for things like headshots and acting lessons, you’ll need to do the same for a Vocal Coach (among many other items), and you may be surprised at how much they can run you.
The cost of hiring a Vocal Coach varies based on a number of factors, including where you are at in the learning process (you can probably get away with someone who won’t charge quite as much when you’re new but that discount won’t last forever), where you’re based in the world, your age, any specific needs, and so on. You might be able to find someone who is also just beginning to work part-time as a Teacher for $20 an hour or if you’re finishing up school and you need to begin your life as a professional, you could easily spend more than $100 an hour per lesson.
As I mentioned, in the beginning stages, before you’ve enrolled in a full-time singing or music college degree program, you shouldn’t have to spend too much of your hard-earned cash on vocal coaching. You’ll end up paying for exactly that once you are accepted into a university. If you have unlimited resources, go with a super expensive Teacher who has the prestige of once topping the charts, but if you’re not in the one percent and you need to watch where your pennies go (especially since you’ll likely be spending them later on anyway), it’s fine to look for someone who fits your limited budget.
Also, if someone seems to be asking for a bit too much per hour — perhaps they don’t have any actual real world experience or you can tell you won’t be working with them for a very long time — feel free to make them an offer lower than what they are asking. You never know when a Singer will accept your bid because they truly need the cash.
I’m not saying former professional Singers are the only instructors worth hiring but they have a very valuable skill set that others won’t have. It’s worth investing some time and energy into finding somebody who has earned their bread and butter with their voice as well as with their teaching.
Here’s where things get somewhat tricky, especially when it comes to hiring for a position like a Vocal Coach. These days, if you are deciding on a restaurant to have dinner at, you look at Yelp to see what others thought of their dining experience. If you are considering going to the movies, you may browse online to catch up on what Critics thought. There are dozens of examples of times when you can find reviews relating to something you want to spend your money on but it’s difficult when it comes to hiring someone. There is no rating system and there probably aren’t published reviews available on the internet but you can ask for references. Remember, when you first meet with a potential Vocal Coach, it is something of a job interview!
You don’t need to be paranoid here and start off a relationship with a man or woman who could wind up teaching you for years in a negative fashion, but feel free to see if they’ll connect you or let you speak with a former or current student. You can ask simple questions, such as how lessons have been going, if other customers feel the lessons are worth the price, and how this specific Teacher has changed the life or prospects of the student. Nothing invasive or too investigatory, but there’s nothing wrong with making sure you’re going to be working with the right person for you! In fact, some colleges and universities allow prospective students to spend time with those already attending so they can ask all the questions they want and really get a feel for whether or not the place is a good fit. Why not use the same approach when seeking a professional Vocal Coach?
Editor’s note: Some time after publishing this blog post, CIM was contacted by a Singer and Voice Teacher who wanted to add a distinction not made in this piece. Since he made it clear that this distinction is not always the case when it comes to music, we have decided to add part of what he sent instead of changing the entire article.
Here is some of what he wrote, edited for brevity:
Not all Vocal Coaches are Voice Teachers and vice-versa. A Voice Teacher is a technician: our main focus is on singing technique and the nuts and bolts of teaching a singer how to produce a healthy, powerful sound. To do this, Voice Teachers give an understanding of breath support and resonance by guiding students through vocal exercises and breath exercises. We help students put that technique into practice in their repertoire. A Vocal Coach, on the other hand, is a Pianist, Conductor or Music Director who is an expert in a chosen type of repertoire. They coach the student’s songs from the standpoint of interpretation, intention, genre, and musicality. They are generally not trained singers and, while they often have some knowledge of vocal technique, it is not their primary job to teach a student how to sing the song nor are they trained to fix the vocal issues giving a student problems in the song. It’s their job to help a singer take their interpretation and performance to the next level once they’ve worked the technique with their Voice Teacher.
The distinction between Voice Teacher and Vocal Coach is most apparent in the classical voice/opera community as well as in the Broadway community. The distinction tends to get murkier in the pop/commercial music world and amongst those without traditional voice training.
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