The Art of Learning to Sing
Whether you're a new singer or a seasoned professional, the experience of working with a voice teacher can be truly rewarding. Partnering with someone who challenges your ingrained physical habits and limiting beliefs often results in breakthroughs that can take your voice, performances, and career to new heights.
Unfortunately, there are as many horror stories out there as there are tales of victory. Not only do singers often complain of spending their hard earned money– and time– with little to show for them, countless others leave studios vocally and even emotionally worse off than when they started.
What is going on here?
Next in importance, and often overlooked, is knowing what it is you hope to achieve. Do you want to heal an existing vocal problem or craft a style for yourself? There is a big difference between preparing for an impending tour and coming out of a vocal hibernation, just as there is between a technician and a stylistic coach. Working through potential songs for your American Idol audition with a classical teacher (or on legit technique with a performance or repertoire coach) is likely not the best idea, unless he or she is incredibly open-minded and unusually versatile. Being certain of what you want and need will therefore make the process of finding the right coach or teacher vastly more straightforward and successful.
Whatever your specific goals, in my opinion, the best teachers in any field are those who view the process of learning as a journey of co-discovery, rather than top-down instruction of an inflexible methodology. Central to the creation of this relationship is abandoning the notion that there is an unbalanced power dynamic between teacher and student. In fact, the opposite is true. When working with a coach or teacher- or for that matter, a doctor or lawyer- you are employing them to help you grow in a certain area of understanding. They are auditioning for you, so to speak; the onus is therefore on them to demonstrate that they're qualified to provide you with the service you're looking for.
Still, many people continue to believe that learning is simply the passive intake of information from someone who knows far more about a topic than we do. Indeed, a coach might know more about technique, but that doesn't mean he or she knows how to communicate that information in a way that's clear to you. Your participation is critical to ensuring that the process of learning– the giving and receiving of information– can be fulfilled. Therefore, look for someone who is eager to understand how you experience your voice and has a desire and ability to tailor and explain the principles of healthy singing in a way that personally resonates. Even the best coaches have their limitations, musical and otherwise, and the truly great ones will tell you what they do and don't know and specialize in, as well as if and when the time has come for you to move on.
With that in mind, don't hesitate to ask your short list of potential teachers whether they offer public workshops or master classes. Seeing them in action will give you a sense of their teaching style, personality, and process, and whether they might be a good fit for you. If this isn't an option, perhaps request a brief video chat prior to setting up an appointment, as well as whether you can email or speak with a few of their students about their experiences and thoughts.
Learning to sing is a journey that begins not with the right teacher or technique, but with you. Knowing who you are and what you want is the first step to unlocking your vocal– and personal– potential. Empowered with an open mind and a clear vision, you'll more easily find and partner with the teachers and coaches that are best able to help you move further along the path toward realizing your goals and dreams.