How To Choose A Vocal Coach
by Dan Vasc
Being a good singer is not about just having a good ear or being able to stay in tune. Those things are actually requirements for you to be considered a singer at all, good or bad. Yes, you can be a bad singer even not going out of tune once. That's what I discovered when I got my first lesson with my first singing teacher. There were so many more things to work hard on, like proper breathing, diaphragmatic support, glottal compression, diction, articulation, vibrato, interpretation techniques… The list goes on and on, including even the basic ability of staying in tune I mentioned before, that my poor past self could swear it was already perfect.
Indeed, working with a professional that will see you from the outside, be impartial in pointing your mistakes and guiding you through its correction is of the utmost importance if you want to truly grow as a singer. But how to choose the ideal professional? How to know if that person sitting in front of you is really going to help your growth or just rip you off? Keep reading, because I sorted out 4 simple tips for you to do an effective screening of your options and choose the best vocal coach that you can, based on my experience both as a student and a teacher.
1- Check if the teacher can DO what he/she claims to teach.
This is basic, but often neglected. We often hear things like “He's not a good singer, but is an excellent teacher.” In singing this doesn't exist. It's a fallacy to justify teachers whose knowledge and teaching method weren't able to help themselves. If it didn't help them, it won't help you.
2- Check if what the teacher can do is what YOU want to do yourself.
It's important that you choose someone that will coach you accordingly to your goals. That's why you should look for a teacher that is specialized on the style that you enjoy, the style that you intend to follow. Remember, the “Jack of all trades” may know a little about all things, but he's rarely extraordinary in any. Of course there are some basics shared by all music styles, but you will have problems on an intermediate level. That if you actually manage to have the persistence and discipline to get to an intermediate level while studying with music that you don't personally enjoy. So if you want to be extraordinary in a certain path, study with someone that walked that path himself.
3- Check for universal “always works with everyone” learning methods and STAY AWAY from them.
Story time. Back in the day when I was a teacher in this local music school in my hometown, there was another singing teacher that everyone always complained about. Most of his students weren't presenting significant improvements and ended up leaving after a while. One day I was talking with one of them and he told me he was studying Mariah Carey songs in his lessons. He was coming from another school and was already sort of intermediate level. I thought, “Cool! How come that this guy's students don't show any progress?” A while later I talked with another of his students, this time a beginner just starting out. I asked what was he studying and he answered: “A couple of Mariah Carey's songs.” Immediately I started to understand what was going on, but to be sure, I talked with a third student again. Same Mariah Carey thing.
You see, the voice is the most personal music instrument that you can study. It is closely related to your emotional state, personality and physiology. It's yours, and yours alone. Two people may have very similar sounding voices, but they'll never be identical. Therefore, there exists no such a thing as a universal teaching method that will be effective for everyone. Your voice has its own needs, nuances, strengths, weaknesses and you have your own goals and musical taste. To be a good singer you need to study with a teacher that will not try to fabricate little versions of himself in his students, but a teacher that will mentor you in your own path. Someone who will spend time in getting to know your own particularities and adapt his knowledge to your necessities. To verify if this is the case of your potential teacher, simply ask him what is his teaching method. This question is vague on purpose. If his answer is not something similar to “It depends”, then it's a no go.
4- Check the teacher's OTHER students.
This is one of the most important things in order to verify the effectiveness of this teacher's work. Do your research about his other students and try to talk to them, if possible. The longer they've been doing lessons with this one teacher the better. An apprentice is the business card of his master, his most important credential. Try to find out about their growth since they started their lessons, find out about their results, if they enjoyed working with this teacher and if they intend to keep studying with him. Observe them well. As I said in the previous tip, your voice is unique and great part of your progress will depend solely on your particularities and personal dedication, however watching closely the students of your potential teacher will give you a pretty solid reference of what you can expect. If you see a pattern that you don't like on the students, the chances are pretty high that you won't like their teacher either.
There can be other factors that you may choose to consider for the ideal vocal coach that you need, but if you pay attention to those 4 items while doing your screening you will be already in a very good track to find a good professional that will get you where you want to be. Work hard, make your teacher proud and, the most important, make yourself proud. Happy singing!