Finding the Right Voice Teacher
Ed. note - We're thrilled to have Jaime Vendera featured here at CFH as our first vocal columnist! Jaime's jaw-dropping (and glass-shattering) vocal abilities have been featured on "Myth Buster's", "Good Morning America", and "I've Got A Secret". Be sure to check out his vocal instructional site at www.thevoiceconnection.com!
Jaime Vendera and Phil Taylor of Future Leaders of the World
Recently, several people have posted on the Message Board and/or personally emailed me to get my views on finding a voice teacher. There are certain professionals in the field who have downplayed the importance of vocal teaching programs, seemingly convinced that these programs are of no use, and believing technique can only be taught one on one. I must disagree to a point. You can learn technique from a book, video, or program, but if you seek the guidance of a teacher that is familiar with your singing approach, you can only benefit. Teachers can "hear" and "see" what a beginning vocalist cannot. This is exactly why I teach. All of my students say they benefit from my teaching and develop a better understanding of the techniques in Raise Your Voice and The Ultimate Breathing Workout, after working with me. So, how do you know if one on one voice training is for you, and how do you find a coach suited for your voice? Here is a list of questions to help you decide-
1. Do you find that your improvement has halted and/or you are experiencing vocal problems that you cannot correct?
If you answered yes, then I'd say it's a safe bet that you need a vocal instructor. Vocal instruction can only benefit an aspiring singer. A coach can help to redirect your voice and eliminate problems. A coach can help you to correct problems that you might not be aware of. A coach can help you develop your style, increase your range, improve your tonality, and teach you tricks like developing vibrato. Maybe you are reading RaiseYour Voice, and you feel you aren't progressing like you feel you should. First, you should know that all people progress differently. Make sure that you aren't rushing. If you weren't rushing the exercises, it would be nice to find a teacher that is familiar with the techniques in the program. Anything that you do is better with hands-on training. Just like learning to drive a car. You can study all of the rules, but until you actually apply these rules, you probably won't understand the total importance.
I'm not telling you to seek out an instructor. If you are developing at a steady rate, and singing regularly without any vocal problems and not getting booed off stage, you might be fine on your own. Some people say that singing is natural and only natural singers are the best. This is the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. All singers, even the "natural" singers eventually, over the course of time, develop tips, tricks, or rituals they must work through in order to protect their voices. Just like a "natural" basketball player- They might be really good at the beginning, but, with practice and learning what works for them, they become great players.
2. So, how do I find a teacher?
Try asking the advice of singers that you admire. You'll find that more and more vocalists are studying voice. Some vocal instructors will come highly recommended. Try checking out local bands that you like. Ask the singer if they know of a good teacher geared towards your style. Check the yellow pages, local newspapers, and the internet.
3. How do I find a teacher suited for me?
Search for a teacher that caters to your style and needs. What style do you sing? If you want be able to sing hard rock, I wouldn't seek the guidance of a pop vocal instructor. There is also a fallacy that studying opera will help the rock-n-roll voice. There are great techniques in opera, but I wouldn't recommend it, unless of course you want to sing opera. Some vocal instructors cover all styles. Some instructors, such as myself are considered voice-strengthening specialists. This type of teacher focuses on building a strong, healthy voice before approaching vocal style.
If you find a teacher that seems suited for you, don't be afraid to call them and ask questions. Tell them what problems you are experiencing and what you expect from instruction. Ask how long they have been teaching. Request the names of other students. Ask other students what they have gained though instruction with the teacher. Ask what the teacher has to offer. Be wary of a teacher who promises unheard of results in minimal time. You can see incredible gains in the beginning with proper technique, but it takes lots of hard work and practice. I read an article from an author who promised that they could teach anyone to be an amazing singer in twelve lessons. I wasn't impressed with either this claim or the book. Also if you are currently working with another program, such as Brett Manning's Singing Success, ask the teacher if they would be willing to incorporate the teachings of this method if you feel comfortable with this particular program.
4. I found a teacher, now how do I know this is the right teacher for me.
Okay, you've found a teacher that teaches your style. You go to your first lesson. Pay attention. Are you learning anything that you haven't heard of before? If you are learning new techniques that seem to make sense, this is a definite positive. Is the teacher applying these new techniques to your voice, and do you notice an improvement? You might not notice dramatic changes at once, but you should notice some new sensations of relaxation and/or freedom. After all, you are probably seeking instruction to save your voice and improve the quality of your singing. Can this teacher demonstrate their exercises and techniques? If not, chances are you will not benefit from their teaching. A teacher who cannot perform their techniques with little effort, or a teacher who has chronic hoarseness is probably not a wise choice. Is the teacher still willing to incorporate other methods? If not, and they claim their method is the only method, then move on to another teacher. Can the teacher help to develop certain vocal characteristics of your given style? Lets say you want to scream like Brian Johnson of AC/DC or Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. You've been singing these type of songs for some time now, but you always end up hurting your throat. Does the teacher teach methods for screaming without losing your voice? This is exactly why Phil Tayler of Future Leaders of the World decided to study with me. I specialize in teaching techniques for hard rock singers and showed him some techniques one night before a show. He realized I could help teach him to sing throaty night after night without losing is voice. If this is what you want to learn, the right instructor is key. Maybe you want to learn to sing the blues. You'll want a teacher who can gear your exercise routine towards blues licks.
5. So, what are the key elements to look for?
Once again, a teacher who specializes in your style is detrimental. Look for an honest teacher, one who doesn't make ridiculous claims, as far as voice is concerned. Look for a teacher who doesn't over charge, but expect to get what you pay for. You might pay a little more for a well-known teacher; one who has taught for years, has famous clients, or authored books. Stay away from a teacher that expects you to study for years. I'm a firm believer in teaching my methods and sending the student on their way, unless of course a student wants to get into improving their style and expanding their repertoire. If this is the case, you might spend more time with the teacher, working on song development and advanced techniques. Above all, find a teacher that makes you feel comfortable. The #1 bit of advice I can give you is if your throat is hurting from their methods, even after several lessons, then their methods aren't for you.
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