How to choose the right singing teacher?

Choosing a singing teacher can be quite an overwhelming task. There are lots of businesses and individuals out there who claim they can change your voice, the problem is that anyone is able to set up their own private teaching practice regardless of whether or not they have the right qualifications, training or experience to actually do the job. The first website to come up on Google may look impressive, have great SEO and seem to be able to speak the lingo but this doesn't necessarily mean they are the right singing teacher for you. So, I have put a few guidelines together in this blog to help you find the real deal …

What to look for on a website

The problem with trying to choose a singing teacher primarily on what their website claims they are able to do, is that there are no rules against lying or exaggerating the truth. For example, just because someone claims they have worked with a famous singer doesn't mean they have worked with them intensively or even taught them anything useful (or at all). Name dropping does not make someone a good teacher, so don't be fooled by it.

Similarly, don't be fooled by buzz words on a website. Just because someone claims to be giving a "high quality", "bespoke" or "specialist" service doesn't mean that what they offer is above the standard of what can be offered elsewhere. Good business people don’t always make the best teachers and vice versa so take your time to read between the lines and don’t be fooled by the fancy lingo.

A particular bugbear of mine are people who claim to be “classically trained” just because they have had a few lessons whilst they were at school with a “classical” teacher. If someone is really classically trained, they should have (and still be having) years and years of training with a reputable classical teacher. To really understand and master the classical technique I would expect someone to have at least 10 years of training and be able to sing in this style to a very high standard before claiming to be able to teach it. Classical singing is one of the hardest forms of singing to master and just because someone has had a couple of “lessons in opera” doesn’t mean they are now qualified to teach it.

So, what do you look for on a website?

Qualifications

Qualifications aren’t always a sure-fire way to find a good teacher, again, just because someone has a music degree doesn’t mean they are going to be an amazing teacher, however, it is a good place to start. If someone has spent 3-4 years doing a degree in music (particularly if it was a degree focused on vocal performance) then you know they have spent at least 3 or 4 years trying to perfect their craft. This already puts them in a better position to teach than someone who hasn’t got any qualifications. Degrees in either vocal performance, vocal pedagogy (there aren’t many courses like this out there at the moment but they are becoming more widespread) or a mix of both are preferable. Some music degrees have modules for teaching as part of the course, so if the website isn’t clear on this then don’t be afraid to ask whether this is something they have done. Finally, don’t be fooled by people who have Grade 8 … although it is almost an expected qualification for a singer, it really doesn’t have any bearing on whether someone is a good teacher or not. Even diplomas aren’t much of a sign of the ability of the teacher, so in general I would take these qualifications with a pinch of salt.

Training

Evidence of extensive training is one of the main things I would look for when you are looking at someone’s website. A good teacher should be constantly trying to better themselves, so you should be seeing signs that this person is regularly updating their knowledge and CPD. The first thing to look out for is if they are studying with someone themselves – many teachers who are also professional singers will put this on the ‘About’ or ‘Bio’ part of their websites. Don’t be afraid to look up the details of their teacher too because this will speak volumes about their own style and level of teaching.

Some teachers will have trained in specific methods of teaching. I have mentioned before about being wary of the phrase ‘classically trained’ but you should be able to work out whether this person is really classical trained from their ‘About’/ ‘Bio’ sections or by listening to any recordings they may have of their own singing on the website. Other popular teaching methods are Estill, Speech Level Singing and CVT (among others). They all have their pros and cons, so I would really look for evidence of someone who has had a bit of training in everything. A teacher with an open and holistic approach to teaching is going to be far more useful to you than someone who only sticks to one method of teaching.

Experience

Once again, try and take what people claim on their website with a pinch of salt. Just because someone says they have 20 years of teaching experience doesn’t necessarily mean they are telling the truth. Look for evidence of where they have taught, schools, colleges and look for testimonials on their page. In my opinion, it is also important that a teacher has a background in performing experience. If they are teaching you to become a better performer, I would expect them to have some experience in actually being in front of an audience. As mentioned before, most teachers will either have separate pages on their website about their performing (sometimes with recordings) or a link to a separate website. Take your time to really do your research on them.

When you are in the teaching room

Ultimately, you aren’t going to know whether a teacher is right for you until you try them out. Make sure you don’t sign up to a bunch of lessons before trying them out first, any teacher that is desperate to get you signed up before you have even started probably isn’t worth your time anyway.

In my opinion, a really good teacher consists of a handful of skills and qualities. They need to have ALL of these to really make a difference, if one is lacking then the level of teaching isn’t quite the same. These qualities are …

  • A really good ear: They should be able to hear when you aren’t doing something quite right with your voice, explain exactly what is happening and demonstrate the difference themselves.

  • Extensive knowledge of the voice and how it actually works: This includes being able to explain the biology of how the mechanism actually works, an ability to read music and knowledge of vocal health.

  • Ability to communicate: This means having a handful of tricks and tips to be able to show you what they mean and get you to feel and hear the difference in yourself. As well as being able to explain themselves clearly in a way that you can understand.

  • Fantastic technique themselves that they are able to demonstrate in the teaching room: If they can’t show you what they are trying to teach you then the chances are they don’t completely understand what they are doing themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask them to demonstrate something, they shouldn’t have any issues doing this.

  • PASSION: Most importantly, they should be passionate about what they are doing. You should feel like they really care about your development. It is impossible to be a good teacher without absolutely loving what you do. The rest of the skills on this list are obsolete without passion. If a teacher spends most of their time on their phone whilst you are singing then I would leave and never return!

Things to remember

  • You are in control, it’s your money and if you don’t feel happy with the service then don’t go back. Don’t feel pressured into booking in more lessons if you aren’t happy.

  • Ask lots of questions. The more questions you ask the more you will be confident that you have found the right person. A good teacher shouldn’t be afraid to answer them.

  • Don’t be afraid to shop around. It’s really normal to try a few teachers out first before making a final decision. This means you will find the right person for you. If any teacher has a problem with this, once again they probably aren’t worth your time and money.

  • Singing should be fun! If at any time someone makes you feel worthless or miserable then stop lessons with them immediately. Teachers are there to lift you up, encourage you and make you feel like you can do it.

That is the difference between good teachers and great teachers: good teacher’s make the best of a pupil’s means; great teachers foresee a pupil’s ends”

Maria Callas

If you have any further questions or want to book in a lesson then go to the Norwich Singing Lessons tab on the tool bar or contact me at RHVocalTuition@gmail.com.

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