3 Simple Rules to follow when choosing a Voice Instructor

Hello everyone! Thank you for visiting Marcello’s Musings. Here we will discuss various topics. They will be mostly in the music field with some variances on Fanatic Fridays where other subjects can be covered either by me or in response to questions left by the readership. Visit our website for more info about us at www.marrossproductions.com. So here we go!

A challenging quest for many aspiring singers and parents of those singers is finding a coach/ instructor in voice that can actually help their child or themselves in their quest to sing better and attain the goals they have set forth. These goals may vary: from singing well in your church choir to trying to get a recording contract with a record label. There are questions one should ask when choosing someone as their voice instructor. Who is this person? Where do they have a certification or degree? Where have they taught and what are they doing with their degree? Do they have a good track record of success of their students? Do they have reviews posted anywhere? The following are 3 Simple Rules one should follow when making this important decision.

Rule #1: Know who you are getting!

Who is this prospective instructor? Did they go to college in voice? Do they have a degree in education? The questions keep progressing from there. A great way in getting answers to your questions is if the teacher has a studio? What are the studio’s criterion in adding teachers? Sometimes studios hire people to teach voice just to have someone available to fill that need. Does the studio take the time to scrutinize the qualifications of their teachers? Some do and some don’t. DON’T JUST RELY ON THE STUDIO!

First, ask if the teacher has a website. They should have card to offer and the website should be on it for you to check out. At this point in our technological progress, all teachers should have a website. It is their web resume so to speak. I have one as listed above with www.marrossproductions.com. It is a must! It should have at least a Home page, Services page, About Us page, and a Contact page. People should know what they are getting. Teaching voice is NOT like teaching a wind instrument or piano. A wind instrument or piano is already man made and one is learning how to make it work and how they can play it. A voice is a human instrument that most do not know how to make it work properly and with a unlearned instructor, or just a glorified piano accompanist, more damage than good can happen. That is why choosing a voice instructor is much more difficult that one may think. Do they have a degree in Voice? Is their degree in Voice Performance or Voice Education (I will explain the difference)? How long have they been teaching? Where have they taught? Many of these question should be answered on their website. If those questions are not then write a comment to them asking those pointed questions. I will explain with the next rule.

Rule #2: Know what you want and how it is supported by the aim or philosophy of the teacher.

This rule is very important. There are many people that have dreams of becoming the next Beyonce or John Legend (fill in the blank of your most favorite recording artists). If your prospective teacher promises you that he will get you to your destination, ask min or her how they can specifically do that. Do they have a management firm that they own as well? Who have they mentored to become stars in their own right? I can almost guarantee you that if you hear those pie in the sky assurances, they you should be running in the opposite direction! NO ONE CAN PROMISE YOU SUCCESS! You are just being sold a mirage just for the “teacher” to get a client. Usually if you come across a teacher that has a degree in Voice, preferable with an Education certification as well, they will never try to sell you a bill of goods. If they went to a University to master their craft at such a high level they will have too much respect for the art to throw out absurd sales pitches like “I will make you a star!”

Since I have both, I believe I am qualified to explain the difference between degrees in Performance and Education. If a person has a degree in Performance, they may be a great singer, but being a good or great teacher they may not be. I had an instructor at Wayne State in voice who was a terrific Bass-Baritone with a great resume in performance. He was not a good teacher. This is because he was trying to get me to sound like something that I wasn’t or I wasn’t ready to be. Thankfully I learned so much more about good teaching when at The University of Michigan. This is not to say that Wayne State doesn’t have good voice teachers, because they do! I, unfortunately, didn’t get one. I was so impressed at how good he was, I thought he could be as good as an instructor. He was head of the Vocal department too so…. Well you live and learn I guess! A person with a degree in Vocal Education may not be a great singer (maybe they are a very good one), but what matters is their ability to get the best out of you. They will have had the classes in pedagogy and vocal teaching techniques that could be very beneficial. Of course, many techniques can be learned from good voice instructors that the Performance major may have absorbed. I know I learned a lot from mine at U of M and after that! Yet translating that experience to teaching depends on the natural teaching talent of the individual. I believe the most important bar to reach for any teacher is the health of the student’s voice and it’s natural progression and development. I would hope that all students would want to have the best version of their voice and know how to take care of that voice so they can enjoy it for their lifetime. That should be the aim for the teacher and student alike.

If a young singer is fortunate to get a contract that is viable from a respected recording label or land a spot on a Disney TV show or both, that is fantastic! Of course one should realize that the chances of that happening are low. That is not because you are not talented enough. It is just that you didn’t get the break that you needed. Fortune does favor the bold, however. You don’t know unless you try! So I do encourage you to reach for the stars, but try to keep you feet on the ground as well. Always have a back up plan and get a degree or trade that feeds you and your family. It is just sound advice.

Rule #3: Look for the warning signs!

Your new teacher should have a plan to see a growth and improvement in your or your child’s voice. He or she must have a plan to attain certain discernible phases of improvement. For myself, from years of teaching and observation, I have come to discover that there are 3 stages of development for a singer. I would explain my aims for the student and be able to exhibit to the student in measurable terms how they have been improving (this could be range, tone, clarity, projection, etc.). I would hope that all teachers have such goals for their students. One thing is certain, if your “teacher” is just giving you new songs to learn and are just accompanying you on the piano, he is not teaching you anything but a new song. That is not teaching. In my opinion, teaching is based on the development of the instrument, not the volume of repertoire or style replication. New repertoire is just a tool to improve the technique of the singer. It is a means to an end, not the end! If you are in a Voice Theater or Opera program at a university, you will have to learn plenty of repertoire (I know I did!). But everything you did at those Universities were in a program meant to evolve your talent and hone your craft, so that you can use those tools after your leave to find work in the real world. One more thing, if you or your “teacher” is trying to make you sound like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston or some pop star that you like and think you want to sound like, STOP IT! Take it from first hand experience, the “teacher” that is trying to make you sound like something or someone is not helping you, the teacher is hurting you. You were born with a voice and a quality. You will sound like YOU and the teacher’s job is to bring out the best version of YOU!. Why do we need another Mariah Carey? We already have one! When teaching young and old alike, make sure your teacher is following a plan of development and has your vocal health in mind. If not, you are wasting time and money if not worse.

In summary:

This blog is meant to point to those interested in reading it in the right direction when choosing a voice instructor. I hope it brought a bit of clarity to you. On my Facebook page Marcello Rossi Music, I feature some of my students that I have taught or are teaching among other things. There is a review section of past students. I am also working on some interviews with some of my current award winning voice students on what they get out of their lessons and will post them on that page as well with links to their YouTube pages. Please visit the page to get a more in depth perspective on what you should expect from a teacher. Please leave a comment in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts! All the best to you in your search.

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