Because singers hear themselves differently than the outside world, they need a team of experts around them to be their extra ears. Singers depend on others to let them know if what they are doing sounds right, if their diction is correct, and if they are actually doing what they are trying to do. Depending on others means that everyone will have an opinion about how you are singing and how you should be doing things. So, how do you know who you can trust? How do you assemble a trustworthy team to help weed through all the noise?
First, and in my opinion, most important, is a voice teacher. As a singer, you need someone who will go on your technical journey with you. This means someone with an in-depth knowledge of vocal technique and who knows how to communicate it in a way that you can understand. Vocal teaching is expressed through a language unique to each teacher and it can take time to understand what they are asking from you. Sometimes the technical work is excellent, but your personalities do not click. Can you work like this? Should you stay in this studio? Sometimes you get along on a personal level, but the technical gains are not happening-same questions apply. These are soul-searching questions and hard decisions, but the most important reasons to be with a teacher are making healthy vocal improvements, problem-solving, and maintaining a beneficial vocal technique. The outcome of your work is more important than just having a great time with someone during a lesson.
In addtion to a voice teacher, an excellent vocal coach who understands where you are coming from and where you are going is essential to any singer trying to have a career. It is important to note that a vocal coach is not a voice teacher. Though they may have the same goals for you, a vocal coach is usually a pianist which means there are no grounds for them to give you a full-blown voice lesson. I have been coaching singers for many years, and I have been in thousands (not exaggerating!) of voice lessons. As a vocal coach, I know many technical concepts, and I can identify what a singer is doing to produce a sound or if the sound is right or not, but that does not mean that I want to go in-depth with these technical concepts. My job is to support the technical work both singer and teacher are doing by understanding it and making musical and language adjustments that do not get in the way and often my adjustments may help technically, but this is just a by-product of my coaching. I may have some technical comments to make, and I do make them, but I am always careful not to steer the singer down the wrong path, and most importantly, I always try not to go against the technical road the singer is on with their voice teacher.
Voice teacher vs. Vocal coach
While both help you to improve your singing, there is a difference between each of the professions. Learning what they do will help you decide how to go about choosing the right people to be in your team.
• Voice Teacher
– Individually helps you to make the correct sounds, with proper pitch and tone
– Works on voice building and vocal registration
– Helps you develop your vocal skills, builds up your vocal production and chooses appropriate repertoire and roles.
– Lays the foundation to build your voice into its full potential and helps you to maintain your voice.
• Vocal Coach
– From the piano, they individually help (to coach) you on singing particular repertoire
– Focuses on style and diction – proper pronunciation of words, especially foreign languages
– Helps you interpret and perform your repertoire (works on character, meaning, sub-text – what does the song mean?)
– Along with your voice teacher helps you build your singing repertoire.
A vocal coach is a usually pianist who works almost exclusively with singers and who knows the repertoire. An excellent vocal coach won’t interfere with vocal technique, and if they notice any issues, they’ll explain to the singer what they think the problems are and recommend that the singer discuss it with their voice teacher.
More than one of each?
As you can see, the two functions at times cross over each other, but this should only be in support of each other. As you advance in your career, you may see your voice teacher less because you are traveling, and a weekly lesson is not possible anymore, and you end up checking in once or twice a month or when you start working on a new role. We are realizing, however, in this time of Covid-19 that voice lessons can really be productive in an online format if need be. But as you are working and travelling, an excellent vocal coach is vital component to your success. They will be your ears and let you know if something is not working. They can take you through your role and advise you on a multitude of issues. The best part is that you can have several trusted vocal coaches around the world. You don’t have to have just one, but with voice teachers, it can lead to confusion to have more than one-the equivalent to “too many cooks in the kitchen”- and in my years of experience, when I have seen singers try to have more than one voice teacher, it has rarely worked out if ever.
Can a Vocal coach be a Voice Teacher?
Some vocal coaches are neither voice teachers nor pianists. They are people with excellent knowledge of repertoire , style, convention, and integrating some technical concepts. They may call themselves voice teachers, but what they do is more like coaching. When you have a session with such a coach, you would normally have to bring a pianist and almost exclusively work on repertoire and not necessarily on voice building concepts.
Though singers can be coaches, I firmly believe that a pianist cannot be a voice teacher. If a singer or violinist offered me a piano lesson, I would be a little perplexed as they don’t have an in-depth knowledge of playing the instrument. Since most pianists have no real idea of what it is like to sing on stage or even sing at all (some of us can’t even produce a healthy sound), they should refrain from teaching someone how to sing even if they have some technical knowledge. There are pianists out there who have studied voice extensively, and they have sung in their life, and then if a singer chooses to work with a singing pianist and follow their technical advice, that is their choice to make, but these pianists are rare. Most pianists who work with singers have had some minimal voice training, but they are not voice builders, which is why my advice is to get your technique from the technical experts!
The bottom line is to know what you need and where to find it. Work with people who support you and each other because you don’t want your voice teacher and your vocal coach bickering all the time-Who needs that? Your number one priority is keeping your voice healthy and acheiving your musical goals!
As they say, “it takes a village” to develop great performers and artists and a great team is crucial to your development, so choose wisely!