Episode 39 – How to Make Your Teacher Love Working With You

Skilled, in-demand voice teachers see a high number of voice students in a given week, all vying for their attention.

With an extensive roster of students, there will always be those that make the teacher’s job just a little harder – don’t be that student!

By being respectful of your teacher’s time and policies, and by showing up ready to work, you can become the student every voice teacher loves to work with.

In this episode, John gives you his best advice on how to be a model student, how to have your voice teacher to love to work with you, which in turn will give you the best voice lessons and experience possible.


Episode Transcription

Episode 39 – How to Make Your Teacher Love Working With You

Hey, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist. I so appreciate you spending this time with me.


So today, I want to start off with a story about when I was on a Teaching Trip in Poland. I was working with some wonderful singers there in the beautiful city of Krakow. And my host, Sonia, told me a story about an old music professor she knew at a local school. And he told her, “You know, when I was a young man my idea of the best student was the one who was practicing, learning the material, and showing up on time. As I’ve gotten older I realized my favorite student is the one who doesn’t show up but still pays me.” I don’t feel that way yet, I’m not quite that old yet, but I do understand some of the sentiment in that. There are some students that voice teacher look at on their schedule and they can’t wait to teach. They’re so excited to teach. And then there are students that they look at their schedule and think, “If that student doesn’t show up today, I’m not going to be so upset.”


In today’s episode, I want to make sure that you are the person that the teacher looks forward to teaching. The reason being is, when a teacher enjoys teaching you they are naturally going to be more focused, more aware, more energetic, and quite frankly, they’re going to go a little more out of their way for you, to help you. It’s a common sport when voice teachers get together to talk about some of the things we’ve recently learned in vocal ideas and exercises that are really working for us. But it inevitably turns to nightmare students, and complaining about students. And I’m going to talk to you about some of the common complaints that voice teachers will have. And I want you to really really think about if you are guilty of any of these. Because if you are, you’re affecting the relationship with your voice teacher.


Voice teachers are singers. And singers are people who stand at the front of the stage and connect with the audience. More than any other person on that stage, the singer has the connection with the audience. The singer is focused on pleasing people and people’s approval. Voice teachers often are not good at what they refer to as being the bad guy. When a voice teacher gets an assistant to help them with their scheduling, they may tell you the assistant is there to be their scheduler. But a big part of the assistant’s job is to be the bad guy so that the voice teacher doesn’t have to. When I’m dealing with a student I want our relationship to be positive and very focused. And when I have to deal with issues that I have to correct the student over, then it messes with that relationship. It puts me, the voice teacher, in an uncomfortable position. Again, it really is in your best interest to keep your teacher happy and enthusiastic about working with you. And I can hear faintly in the distance the cheers of voice teachers who may listen to this as I talk about this subject because some of these really do drive voice teachers crazy.


The first thing that you should do is be on time for your lesson. If you’re unable to be on time for your lesson you should send a text or an email or something to alert your teacher that you will be late. The reason being, voice teachers very often schedule students back to back. I would do this, where I ask students back to back, and forgo, not just eating but also using the restroom, or responding to important phone calls or emails, because the students has paid for this time. Now, I know in Europe and in different places have what’s called the professional half hour, which is actually 25 minutes. But I try and give my students the full 30. So if somebody is a few minutes late and they let me know, that gives me a chance to take care of a few things while I’m waiting for them so that time is not wasted for me.


If you are late do not expect your teacher to run over. If you show up 10 minutes late, don’t expect for your teacher to add 10 minutes on to the backside. Because what you’re doing now is bumping into somebody else’s time. If you expect that or suggest that you are going to cause stress on your teacher because they’re going to have to tell you No, I cannot do that. Some teachers are very very good at this, a lot are not. A lot of really good teachers struggle when it comes to enforcing their policies, and I don’t want you to mess with that student-teacher relationship. I want this to be really really positive for you.


The other thing you should do: don’t put a teacher in the uncomfortable position of asking for payment. At my academy, I have people and they get charged monthly.  But my one-on-one students, a lot of them I will just see as a one-off, and when somebody walks in and has their payment ready to go before the lesson start, that gets that out of the way, that little uncomfortable moment about asking for money. Teacher teach voice because they’re passionate about it and they love helping people, but they also need to pay their bills and they also need to get paid for their time. So you don’t want to make that situation an uncomfortable one.


Here’s a really tricky one: is when the lesson is over most students will leave promptly because they realized there are students after them. There are, however, those students who, as the lesson ends, they need to not only start putting all of their items together and get their books together and put their music back in and collect themselves and put their jackets back on, but suddenly they remember a whole list of questions they want to ask their teacher, which promptly begin asking, which puts the teacher in the position of having to cut you off and kind of hustle you out of the door. Again, it’s an uncomfortable position.


What I do is, when it is getting time for the lesson to end and a student wants to get chatty, I actually will stand up and begin walking to the door, and open the door and guide them to the door so that they can leave. Sometimes I very very much want to answer these questions. These are great questions and I’m happy to answer them. But some students will try and use this as a way to sneak in a little bit of extra time to get the teachers attention. The bottom line is, if you’re taking half an hour lessons, you may need to ask the teacher if you can have a longer slot so you can get all the information and pay the teacher accordingly. So, you want to make sure that you leave the lesson promptly.


And here is the biggest one: You need to honor your teacher’s cancellation policies. Every teacher has to have cancellation policies. Voice teachers are in the business of selling one thing. One thing is their time. During that time they will be analyzing your voice and instructing you, choosing the exercises, etc. But the only thing that they can set aside and monetize is their time. When you have made an appointment with this voice teacher, you have made an agreement to purchase this block of time. If it turns out you cannot use this block of time you need to give the teacher fair warning so that they can allow somebody else to book that time. If not, you need to pay the teacher without question for that missed time. I’m telling you this as, not just a voice teacher, but as somebody who wants you to have the best experience as a student. The better your teacher’s experience is the better your experience is will be. I promise you. Do not try and pull the fast one. Here’s how it goes:

So the student calls up usually well aware of the cancellation policy. Usually, the minimum is 24 hours notice, though more and more people are going for 48 hours notice which I think is fair, some even more than that. 24 hours at an absolute minimum. Just know that when you’re calling a student 25 hours before the lesson, there’s a good chance they may not be able to get anyone to take that slot, and that time is going to go unused and unpaid. But 24 hours does not mean 23 ½ hours or 24 hours and 1 minute. You really should give your teacher as much notice as possible to be fair. But let’s say you called the day before or you called the day of the lesson, so you are not within the 24 hour cancellation window . This is what students will try and do:

“Hey I’m sorry I can’t make the lesson today.” So the teacher says, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I will see you next week.” To which the student says, and I’m ready for the hair on the back of the teacher’s neck to stand up, the student will say “Yes. So when can we reschedule this lesson?” implying that they’re not going to get charged for it, or “When can we make up this lesson?” that’s what they’ll say. “Can I get a make up for this lesson?”


What they’re doing is they’re dropping it into the lap of the teacher and forcing them to be the bad guy. And every teacher this happens to is instantly pissed off. I’m telling you, you’re pissing them off. You are forcing them to tell you, “No I’m sorry you cannot make up this lesson.” You’ve made them be the bad guy. Or you may get what you want. You may have made this teacher so uncomfortable and in the moment they’ll just say “You know what, I can see you tomorrow. We’ll make it up then. “ But when the teacher hangs up the phone, they’re not happy. Part of them is feeling used. I’ll be frank with you.


What you want to do, first of all, you do want to call. Just don’t not show up. Give the teacher at least the gift of letting them know that you won’t be there and say up front, “I understand, but this is not within your cancellation policy and I need to pay for the lesson. And I’m okay with that.” Their cancellation policy is fair. It is standard.


I have had circumstances where people try and pull the “when can I get a make-up lesson?” and I informed them that they cannot get a make-up lesson, and suddenly they forget that they agreed to the policy. They suddenly have amnesia, and actually now they’ve began to argue with me. Here’s a hint: I don’t want to work with you. I’m not going to work with you. Okay? So that’s a huge one.


The other one is, if a teacher has rates do not argue their rates. Do not argue for a discount. If somebody, here again I will be completely honest, if somebody contacts me or my front desk now, the first thing they do is argue my rate and try to get me at a discount. My front desk is instructed that I do not work with this person. I will tell you why. Because the person that does that is, not only am I going to be working at a lesser rate, but they tend to be the biggest pains in the butts going. I learned this from a marketing expert a long time ago. I instituted this a long time ago, and I’ve never regretted it. Do not try and talk voice teacher down.


When I’ve been working with people and I see somebody really working hard and really trying to make lessons, and I get a sense that they’re struggling to afford my lessons, that’s a different story. That is something that I may choose to do – to work with very specific people at a discounted rate. I do not work with anybody for free because I don’t want my value of time with you to be nothing. There’s always going to be a charge. But there are rare instances where I will figure out what could work for both of us.


So, if you see a teacher and that teacher is too expensive, either figure out a way to come up with the money and make that a priority, or move on to another teacher who’s less expensive. Do not try and talk a teacher down on their rates.


This should be a very obvious one, but practice. Show up having worked. Show up so that the teacher can keep you moving. And that you keep the teacher, not only yourself engaged because there’s progress, but your teacher will be more engaged because there’s progress. There’s nothing worse than go over the same thing over and over. It’s painful for both you and the teacher. Show up having warmed up. If you’re a beginner and you’re just working with a teacher, you may not know how to properly warmed up but once you’ve had a lesson or two, take their exercises and warm up. I know it happens to all of us and I’ve certainly shown up to lessons like this where the time gets away from you and you rush over to your lesson, I would say, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t have the chance to warm up. Can we warm up quickly?” But the student, where every time they show up just says “Can you warm me up, can you warm me up” after a while, this is something you can handle yourself. (I know I’m totally getting into lecture mode, so excuse me if it’s showing up in my voice. Oh my gosh, I’m getting slightly annoyed as I get through this, so forgive me)

But warm up! Show up warmed up! The teacher wants to go ahead and teach you further exercises with you and there’s some technical things your teacher wants to explore, then fine. But the basics of warming up, Man, that gets boring week after week after week. So if you do your diligence as a student, if you take care of business on your end, you show up on time, you respect the teacher’s policies, you show up having worked on what you were given the week before and you’re already warmed up you’re ready to go, you’ve brought your own water, – I do provide water for all my students but I would have students that never showed up with water, and they would just expect me to provide it. Sometimes I would run out of water, and it was almost like it was on me “Hey where’s my water?”

Show up with your own water. Show up with music that you want to learn. Take control of your part of the bargain when you are entering a partnership with your voice teacher. I want you to uphold your end of the bargain.


The final point I want to make – funnily enough, this was actually going to be what the whole podcast was about, and I may make a future podcast just on this – but when you do make a choice to work with a teacher, be TEACHABLE. I know the last podcast I did was called TRUST But Verify, and the one before that was called Stop Studying Already, however, when you are working with a teacher you need to give a certain amount of trust. I’m not saying that you can’t question things. But if you find yourself constantly questioning a teacher and not trusting a teacher, you need to do both of you a favor and find another teacher.


You need to be teachable. You need to trust this teacher. You need to do what the teacher says in the way that the teacher asks you to do it. And then you need to make the decision, “Am I seeing the results that I want by doing this?” You have to give the teacher’s process a chance, an honest chance. You can’t just show up once or twice and decide the teacher’s no good, unless in some extreme conditions where you really don’t click with the teacher. But you have to give the teacher’s methods some chance to work. And you have to be coachable. You have to be somewhat pliable. You can’t be constantly questioning and pushing back against everything. The teacher, if you’ve done your research, has been doing this for quite a while and hopefully has a good track record with people such as yourself, singing music at the styles that you want to sing it. So therefore, you need to extend the trust to the teacher. And hopefully your trust will be rewarded.


Okay, end of lecture. Thank you so much for listening today. If you want further information about me, about studying with me, I am really beginning to close down my private teaching availability. However, I do keep a few slots open in my schedule for new students that really are a good fit for me. So you can go to my website, click on the LESSONS, and see if we might be a good fit. It’s johnhenny.com . You can also get information on my products there and some of the courses I have on Vocal Science and as such.

And if you’re a voice teacher you can join my Facebook marketing group, Studio Marketing Secrets Insider. You can also check out my other podcast Studio Marketing Secrets where I really delved into how to market and grow your teaching studio.


Again, thank you so much for spending this time with me. Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.