Why Do I Need a Voice Teacher?
The voice is the quintessential human musical instrument: we literally are using it from the day we are born, and many people sing throughout their lives on their own. So why hire a voice teacher? Because though you may know how to sing, you likely have not learned all of the techniques that professionals have developed over the last few millennia to sing louder, on pitch, with a good tone and beautifully pronounced words while not damaging your voice from misuse. You pay for a voice teacher’s knowledge of singing technique, knowledge of how to get your voice to where you want it to be, and for their ear.
If you haven’t formally studied singing for a decade or so, chances are you do not understand vocal technique. Simply stated, vocal technique is what you need to do to sing whatever you want to sing. Many of the aspects of vocal technique do not just come naturally and take a specific exercises and time to develop. You can try to find some of these exercises in books and online, but without a qualified voice teacher working with you, you are like a sick person ordering prescription medicine for yourself rather than going through a doctor. It is likely not to work, and may even harm you. Sometimes, as a voice teacher, I need to tell two students completely opposite things because they have opposite problems (such as one sings too tense and the other too lazy). It is much safer and smarter to get a professional to work with your unique voice and its unique situation.
Voice teachers not only know what you need to do to sing well, they also know what you need to do to get there. What exercises you should do, how often, what songs fit your voice and which ones you are ready for, when you are ready to perform in public. Voice teachers also know what performance opportunities are out there and what you should do. Their expertise goes beyond vocal technique to languages, performance skills, dealing with nerves, acting.
Even if you knew everything about singing technique and repertoire, you cannot ever really listen, watch and effectively critique yourself. Good voice teachers are trained to know what voices should sound like in different genres, and to know how to achieve that sound. They also are trained to know what to say to you to get you to develop that sound. Even professional singers (classical to popular) usually retain a voice teacher that they go to periodically to critique their singing and performance.
I should add that teaching voice is really not regulated at all, unlike other professionals like dentists and massage therapists. Literally anyone can call themselves a voice teacher and start charging students. In order to make sure you study with someone who knows what they’re doing, I would recommend the following:
- Check their education. They should at least have a Bachelors in Music with an emphasis in voice. A degree in Vocal Performance would be even better, and of course a Masters or Doctorate is also better.
- Ask about their performance experience. The best voice teachers are usually (though not always) the best singers. If they never perform, that may indicate they don’t know what they are doing. The old saying “those who can’t do, teach” unfortunately sometimes applies to voice teachers.
- See how good their other students are and what they say about him/her. Voice teachers often develop a guru-status among their students so take their opinions with a grain of salt. Ask around about different teachers.
- Get a voice teacher that teaches you to transition into your head voice, rather than “belting” your chest voice up too high. Otherwise, you will be learning to sing in a way that can permanently damage your voice. There is a core singing technique that is used by classical, jazz and popular singers alike that allows them to sing what they want without damaging their voices. You should not be getting hoarse every time you sing. Watch out for teachers that encourage you to yell and scream.
Hope this helps! Give me an email if you have any other questions.
Gregory Blankenbehler, MA Mus.