In my own journey as a singer, I have had wonderful voice teachers as well as a couple of teachers who unfortunately had no idea what they were doing (truly). When I was younger and less experienced it was hard to know what to look for in a teacher, and I ended up wasting time and money with a couple of teachers that were not effective. Luckily I figured out that I wasn’t making progress or getting the feedback and instruction that I needed so I was able to move on to a better fit.
Finding the right voice teacher for you is very important but is unfortunately not always easy! Working with a quality teacher from the start will save you time and money in the long run as well as protect your voice from damage from poor quality teaching. Here is a list of things to avoid and things to look for when looking for your next voice teacher.
What to avoid
Your voice feels strained, hoarse, or exhausted after lessons
If you are leaving your lessons week after week feeling hoarse and vocally tired, it’s a red flag. Your teacher should know how to train you gradually over time to gain vocal strength and stamina without exhausting you.
There isn’t a clear sense of what you’re working on in regards to technique
If you have no idea what vocal technique concepts your teacher is working on with you, then they probably aren’t working on anything in particular. Your teacher should have a clear sense of where they are taking you vocally and how to get there using specific vocal exercises with defined purposes. Your teacher may not always explain to you everything they are doing, but you should have some clarity on what the plan is.
The teacher talks for much of the lesson
If your teacher spends more time talking about singing (or anything else, really) than you spend actually singing, this may be a red flag. The teacher should be letting you try things, giving feedback, and then letting you try again!
Your lessons are confusing or disorganized
The teacher’s explanations aren’t clear and you’re not sure what they are asking of you vocally. Maybe the lessons have no structure and you’re never sure what’s going to happen next.
You’re not allowed to choose songs to sing
The teacher doesn’t let you choose any of the songs that you’ll work on together and may even insist that you sing a genre that you’re really not interested in.
Your teacher is more of a “vocal coach”
A vocal coach is someone who can help you learn a song and coach your performance, but doesn’t really get into vocal technique to help you sing the song better. Some people just want a coach (and that’s great and sometimes necessary – no shade to coaches!) but if you’re looking to improve your voice, a vocal coach will not get you there.
The teacher shames you for mistakes
The atmosphere is negative and you don’t feel good. You leave feeling worse than when you started.
Your teacher can’t sing well or demonstrate what they are asking you to do
Your teacher doesn’t have to be the second coming of Whitney Houston, but they should be able to sing well and model what they are looking for vocally from you.
You’re not sure if you’re making progress
You don’t see any improvements in your voice or technique after the first month of lessons. Remember, lasting change and significant skill-building takes time and continued effort, but you should notice some small positive changes right away.
The teacher doesn’t run their business well
It can put a damper on the experience of taking voice lessons if the teacher runs their business poorly. If their schedule is all over the place, if it’s hard to figure out how to work with them, if they frequently miss lessons, accidentally double-book, or are bad at customer service or handling payments, it may be a red flag.
What to look for
They have training in vocal pedagogy
Sadly, a lot of people who advertise themselves as “voice teachers” don’t actually have any significant training in voice pedagogy, which is the art and science of voice instruction. Just because someone is a good singer doesn’t mean they know how to teach others. Look for someone who has completed training specific to being a voice teacher such as a degree in vocal pedagogy or credentials from a private training or certification program.
You feel supported and heard
Your voice teacher listens to you, cares about your goals, and actively helps you move towards achieving them. You feel safe in your lessons and you leave each lesson feeling positive and empowered.
Your voice feels good after a lesson
Your voice lesson is like a workout for your voice – you might be a little tired but you’ll feel good and not strained or exhausted.
The teacher has solutions for your vocal issues
They are able to identify what is going on in your voice and offer practical solutions and vocal exercises to help improve the trouble spots. Of course, your teacher is not a magician and voices can have limitations, but your teacher should have a good idea of what to do with a wide range of vocal issues.
You see your progress
You can expect to start noticing little shifts within a few lessons and more significant progress within a few months.
You and your teacher work together to choose songs
You have a say in what you sing and are encouraged to bring in songs you’re interested in, and your teacher makes appropriate recommendations that either are a good fit for you now or challenge you just enough to help you get to the next level.
The teacher has the skills to teach the genre you want to sing
In the past, voice teachers only had classical training, which was great for students who wanted to sing classical music but not great for anyone else. The good news is that today there is a variety of great teachers out there who have specific training in a multitude of genres including pop, rock, musical theatre, classical, and more. The idea that “if you can sing classically you can sing anything” is a myth. It’s probably not the best use of your time to study exclusively classical technique if you actually want to sing another genre.
The teacher is great at giving feedback in a positive way
Your teacher gives you a kind but honest assessment of where you are vocally and where you can go with training. You feel encouraged that it is possible to reach your goals and they help you understand what it will take to get there. They are great at compassionately giving constructive feedback during lessons which helps you improve week to week.
Your lessons are well organized and effective
You sing more than talk, you get through vocal technique and repertoire and maybe even some performance coaching, and you feel accomplished when you walk out of your lesson.
The teacher runs their business well
The teacher’s business runs like a well oiled machine. Communication is great. The studio policies and expectations are clear. Scheduling is a breeze. The teacher is responsive (during business hours!) when you have a question. Working with this person is likely a green flag.
Tips for considering potential teachers
- Read their bios. Learn about them as a person and see if you connect to their story.
- Find out what degree programs and teacher trainings (if any) they did, and how long ago. Here are some tips:
- If a teacher has a degree in “vocal performance” that means they trained classically.
- If a teacher has a degree in “musical theatre” they were trained to sing in a broader variety of musical genres and styles that reflect the variety of shows on Broadway.
- A degree in “voice pedagogy” historically has been more classically focused, but there are some degree programs popping up that offer a degree in contemporary voice pedagogy as well.
- There are private certification and teacher training programs like Estill, IVA, Somatic VoiceWork, Shenandoah CCM Institute, and so many more that cannot all be listed here.
- Check out where the teacher has performed and in what styles/genres. Listen to a few recordings of their singing. What repertoire they sing and what you want to sing don’t have to be a perfect match, but it can be helpful if they’re in the same ballpark.
- Does the teacher’s studio offer any extra things that you are looking for, like performance opportunities built in? Group workshops? Video lessons?
- Have an introductory lesson with the potential teacher and ask any questions you may have that were not answered on their website.
- Sample questions to ask:
- Where do you think I need to improve vocally?
- What strategy or plan would you use to help me improve those areas?
- What kinds of students do well in your studio?
- What kinds of voice pedagogy training have you done?
- What is the culture of your studio?
- What are some of your other students’ successes?
- (If they trained classically and you want to sing contemporary material) How do you feel about teaching contemporary singing techniques?
- Sample questions to ask:
- Read reviews and testimonials on their website, Google, etc.
- Consider the setting. In general:
- Local multi-teacher music studios usually serve beginners. The teachers are more likely to be younger and may be current college students or recent grads.
- Private studios run by a single teacher can vary but usually serve a broader range of skill levels.
- Online studios can connect you with teachers far away. The pros are convenience and access; the cons are not being in the room together and potentially missing out on group or performance opportunities they may offer.
At the end of the day you should be studying singing with someone who aligns with your goals and makes you feel welcome, safe, and supported. There are plenty of good teachers around (and plenty of not-so-good ones too) so don’t be afraid to try a few before you make your decision.
This list is geared towards motivated singers who want to improve their singing technique. If you’re someone who just wants to sing songs for fun and have a good time and not really worry about technique, then you don’t need to consider all the points I listed.