Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

cartoon of a singing teacher with pupils

Choosing a Voice Teacher

How does one choose a voice teacher? How do you know if it's someone who will develop your voice appropriately, but not harm it? It is hard to know what to look for or what to ask a prospective teacher.

A posting on Choraltalk (July 2003)

The Question

How does one choose a voice teacher? How do you know if it's someone who will develop your voice appropriately, but not harm it? It seems that, for a relatively uneducated and naive singer in search of better skills (say, me), that it's hard to know what to look for or ask. Any advice would be appreciated, Sincerely, Sharon Pedersen (ordinary singer who wants to sing better)

The Answer

Judith Vacaro, a fine voice teacher in L.A., answered that question this way. Listen to singers in your area, identify the ones whose voice quality and technique appeal to you, and ask who they have studied with. (It doesn't hurt to ask the same question of singers whose voices do NOT appeal to you!) Over a period of time, whether you are in a big city or a small town, you will begin to see who is producing good results. Word of mouth is often the best evaluation available. After all, that's how you pick a dentist, an accountant, or an attorney.

Then ask the teacher you've become interested in for an evaluation lesson and discussion of your voice and what you would like to do with it. If your goal is to sing jazz, or musical theater, or opera, it's important that a potential teacher understand that, and equally important that a potential teacher be honest about whether s/he is comfortable with that goal. Remember that you are not looking for a spiritual advisor who can tell you what to do with your life, but for a competent and experienced professional who knows the human vocal mechanism well, can explain it clearly, can move you forward and build your technique and understanding, and can communicate with you effectively. It is a job interview, and you are interviewing the potential teacher!

Once you decide to work with a teacher, understand what is being asked of you and why. Ask questions. Remember that any teacher is looking into the future for you, but doing what needs to be done right now to move toward those goals. You should understand the goals as well as how this week's assignment pertains to those goals. When you work with a teacher, do what you are asked to do. There has to be a certain amount of trust if you are going to make progress. You can learn as much about what NOT to do from a bad teacher as you can learn what to do from a good one. If the progress you are making seems to be less than you would expect, talk with your teacher about it. And don't be afraid of dropping a teacher who does not seem to be helping you, and interviewing someone else for the job!

Many advanced singers have two teachers, one to evaluate the vocal technique, catch problems, and keep you singing your best, the other to coach you in repertoire and style. I hope that you will reach that level, but the journey can have many satisfactions built into it, not the least of which will be discovering what you are really capable of.

Who gave this advice?

John Howell Virginia Tech Department of Music

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