Have you ever thought about teaching voice, but are intimated?

In this episode John talks about the joys of a teaching career, and how you can get started on your path.

Teaching voice is incredibly rewarding, and can provide a career full of music.

This episode is perfect if you want to get started, but don’t know how.



Episode Transcription

Episode 35 – Becoming a Voice Teacher

Hey, this is John Henny. Welcome back to the Intelligent Vocalist.

Today, I’m actually running around packing, getting ready to leave for a teaching trip to Japan, got to leave for the airport in about 12 hours. I’ve actually get up to a horrible time in the morning to get to LAX because the beautiful freeways in Los Angeles, oh my gosh, whether you get there really early or you get there late. You definitely pay for not having to live through snow with many other inconveniences. But going to Japan, I’m actually really excited, it’s my first trip there to teach. I’ve taught in places like New Zealand, Australia, London, Krakow,Poland, all over the US. It’s my first time to Japan, I’m really excited.

And it made me think about all the other opportunities just teaching voice has afforded me, and all of the wonderful blessings that have come from being a voice teacher. Now I tell you, I did not set out to be a voice teacher. I actually set out to be a rock star. I have planned at this stage in my life to probably be going through my 3rd rehab and playing all these circuits in the state fairs, but I failed miserably at the rock star thing. I did get a record deal and that horribly imploded, and the whole thing. Many years ago, I went to junior high and a little bit of high school with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, another bass player who I used to jam with when I was a teenager and went on to be a member of Great White. I’ve certainly been around people who’ve become rock stars, it just didn’t happen for me.

So in the aftermath of my failing rock star attempt, I remember being offered to play drums on a project that was getting signed, a pretty good deal. I got offered to go along, be part of the band, get signed, and start touring. And I thought, Man, I just got in my 30s by then, I had kids and like I don’t want to be in a band with these smelly guys going all over the country. And I kind of just fell into voice teaching. I don’t know if that’s the best way to do it. I don’t think anyone studying with me wants to think that, Hey I’m just doing this because my rock star dreams didn’t happen. But I’ll tell you, once I came to it, I really developed a love for it.

And there are many ways people come to teaching. Some people go out and have really big career singing. I mean, I performed a ton, not saying that, but it was never on the big show. But I did perform a lot, and I have ended up working with some of my music heroes, which is mind-blowing in teacher’s eyes. But going out and performing, some people come to it after a career in performing               . Some people study voice and realize performing is not for them and they come to it. And other people I’ve known have really just studied to become a voice teacher, known very early on that that’s what they want to do. I don’t know if that’s the norm, but if you find this calling early, Man, more power to you. That’s a fantastic thing.

Now I will tell you, when my first teacher suggested teaching voice I completely blew him off. I thought I have no idea what I’m doing. And then I ended up studying with a gentleman named Seth Riggs, and he taught everybody in LA, all the big superstars. And the time he was teaching Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, Prince and Donna – it was crazy. And Seth said to me, “Why don’t you teach?” And to me that was some passing of a little baton. He had many other people teaching under him that he had encouraged. But I was kind of blown away that he suggested that I could do it. And I let him know my doubts. I said, “Seth I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t do this.” And he said something I’ll never forget. He said, “Well at least you’re not going to hurt anybody.” And I did know enough to not hurt anyone, and did know enough about the voice.

That’s really not a great big goal. Nobody goes and finds a voice teacher just to think, “Well at least he won’t hurt me. Here she won’t hurt me.” No. they certainly want more than that. But you know what, that was a starting point. And if you are thinking about teaching voice, I want to say to you do not be intimidated. Okay

I’m going to step into the voice teacher pond here with its ever muddied waters and I’m going to tell you, the community – there are those that are very very welcoming and very encouraging, and I’ve found a small percentage that have a really really elevated view of what teaching voice is. And yes, certainly at the highest level, it does take experience, it does take study. It does take a number of years to become a top flight teacher. But you know what, everyone had to start somewhere. And I want to encourage you, if this is something you are thinking about, think about where you can start. Don’t let people intimidate you.

There’s a few ways to get into teaching voice. I wouldn’t recommend bouncing around on Youtube. And I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not studying with a good teacher. You’re going to need a mentor. You’re going to need somebody to work with, that can guide you through this and show you how to do it. And the best way to know if they are a good mentor is can they get you good results with your voice? If you’re getting good results, start asking them what it is that they are doing. Tell them that you are interested in teaching. I would hope that the teacher is not going to be intimidated.

I have, myself, help teach literally hundreds of people to teach. Some of them I’ve really mentored every step of the way. Some of them go through my online trainings. Some of them do a combination of my online trainings and then coming in and doing one-on-one studying with me. And a lot of them I have just work with in master classes, or like this trip I’m doing here.

Chris Johnson and Steve Giles would do the Naked Vocalist which is a fantastic podcast, which just pisses me off because it’s better than mine, and it’s funnier and has heck of a lot more listeners. But I’m going to give them a plug anyway. Steve tells the story of coming he and Chris Kane to a CA Master class I did in London, probably a decade ago. And it was my master class, and that inspired him to teach. And now this guy is out there, basically kicking my butt as a voice teacher. So I’m kind of begrudgingly proud. It’s like a moment when your son grows up and you realize he might be able to take you. But they found their way to teaching through that. And there are so many resources now to learn to teach. So I just want to put a bug in your ear, if this is something you think about doing, don’t be intimidated.

You know, this podcast, the original audience that I thought of, this was going to be for singers, people performers, who just want to know a little bit more about the voice, studying voice, but they weren’t sure why they were doing certain exercises, or why things work this certain way. And funny enough, I’ve actually gotten a number of voice teachers who listen to the podcast. Even though it’s not created with you in mind, you’re welcome! I love that you’re listening. And they told me that this has been a good resource for them.

So starting with this podcast, I will tell you without bragging, there’s a lot of good information here. As I ramble and bumble about in front of this microphone, I’m really kind of walking through of how the voice works. And if you go back and listen to all these podcasts, you’re going to get a decent grounding in vocal function, I would say, if you’re a super advanced teacher. And some people have told me they enjoy the podcast, who are just brilliant, and it freaks me out that they listen to this and makes me rather intimidated, which is why I’m saying OH and UHH a lot. Because I just see those people staring at me like I’m in my underwear as I talk about the voice. But this is a resource, good teachers are resource.

If you kind of figured out the voice on your own, that’s great. If you’re just a naturally gifted singer, more power to you. But I’m going to tell you, as a teacher you’re going to work with people who aren’t, and you’re going to need to really figure out how the voice works. And things that are really easy for you are not going to be able for a lot of people.

And I’ve worked with people who are just amazing singers, and their voices they just naturally figure out these transitions and it doesn’t crack, and they tend to balance their vowels really well naturally, and they do vowel modifications without really realizing they were doing it. Their gift is enormous and it’s rare. You’re really not going to run into a lot of people who have your gift. I have to tell you, you’re special. You’re going to have to really dig in and realize why you do the things that you do.

You know, my voice, I have said I feel one of the strengths in my teaching is that I’ve experienced just about every problem that my students have gone through, and I’ve had to figure it out in my own voice, and I’ve really had to break it down.

And there’s the old story of the horse who has to be trained. And there’s a horse that will naturally, once you’ve put the reins on the horse and you move it to go to the left or to the right, the horse will just naturally turn. You don’t have to do much to train this horse. And there’s the horse, as the old story goes, where they really have to take the stick and whip this horse to get it to do what they wanted to do. Not that I’m advocating beating horses. It’s an old story, go take it up with them. But as they beat this horse, they really get it into him, the story goes, but that horse learns it to its very bones.

If you’re looking at teaching and your struggles, that’s actually going to be a blessing for you later on because you are going to learn this to your very bones. And you are going to be gifted as a teacher because – not to say that if you are naturally gifted singer, you can’t be a gifted teacher, and I’ve certainly seen those – but you’re going to have to make yourself study things that are easy for you, and study them at a deeper level than you need to, for your own singing.

Those of us with vocal issues, we’ve had to do it. We’re forced to study and work it and figure that out.

What are the kinds of qualifications that you need to be voice teacher in terms of personality? You know what, empathy is a really really big one. People will come in for a guitar lesson who have never played before. And they don’t feel self-conscious or embarrassed because they can’t play a C chord or a G chord. Nothing would tell them that they shouldn’t be able to do that naturally. So you don’t have that kind of psychological block. They’ve also never been told that they are less than because they don’t naturally know how to play guitar.

But, Man oh Man, do you have people coming in all kinds of internal blocks against singing, whether they’ve been criticized by some choir teacher back in grade school. I mean, I’ve had people recounting this and crying as they talked about it and the psychological scarring that this teacher never realized that they’re doing. This teacher is just having a bad day, they’ve got to get 40 kids singing the right note, and they went off on somebody.

You know, 30 years later, that is still affecting this person. Also, we tend to feel embarrassed if we don’t sing well, or “I can’t sing.” There’s a lot of self-limiting and psychological blocks that go on with singing. Again, I’m going to recommend the podcast again, The Inner Singer by Michael Goodrich, very good friend of mine. Brilliant podcast, really on mindset for singing – you’re going to want to know this as a teacher. A lot of which going to do is you’re going to be listening, you’re going to be figuring out what’s going on and how to fix it, and then you’ve got to figure out how to relay it to that person in a way that they will get it and they will experience it, so that they can feel a vocal breakthrough. And you know, if you take the time to do that, if you get some good grounding in how the voice works, get some vocal tools. You know, people will say, “Oh my gosh, what vocal scales do I need to use?”

You don’t need to have a ton of them actually. A good handful of scales, if you know how to apply them and know how to use the tools of vowels and scale direction, if you should go higher or lower, and consonant combinations, things like that, if you know how to use those and you know what to listen for, and you know when you hear it, how to fix it, and more importantly how to fix it on that person, you are going to have great great success.

So if you’re listening to this, if it’s something you’ve just been thinking about, I want to encourage you to look into it. I have some resources, if you go to johnhenny.com, you could look at the products. I have a Vocal Acoustics course, New Science of singing, which really really gets in depth, and I also have something called Voice Teacher Boot Camp that if you really want to dive in, this will take you step by step through the entire teaching process. And I’m actually in the process of creating some more opportunities for people to learn to teach voice through me. But I don’t want this to be a commercial for me, even though that was a commercial and if you bought something I would not say no.

But if you find a mentor, find a teacher, find somebody who will show you, if you currently have a teacher, ask them “hey would show me how to teach?” They may let you come and observe a lesson. I used to do that but I kind of had to stop because it was disturbing my lessons and I was getting a few too people wanting to it. But if you start teaching, maybe you can ask your teacher, “hey can I bring this person to my lesson and watch you teach them?” You’re going to learn a lot that way. A lot.

And then, as you get more serious, there are some good organizations that you could join that can help mentor you. One that I belong to is the International Voice Teachers of Mix – IVTOM. Just Google it, International Voice Teachers of Mix. I should have the URL at the tip of my tongue but you know, the old Google machine will help you find it. That’s a great group of people who can totally mentor you. They’re currently setting up a great program to certify teachers.

You don’t have to have a university degree to teach voice. Much to the chagrin of a lot of people, I tell you, actually all you’ve got to have is a piece of paper, a crayon, and some masking tape, and you just tape a Voice Teacher sign over your door, for better or worse. But you know what, sure there are some bad teachers, but they don’t last. And if you’re earnest and you’re hardworking, and you can be humble and you can withstand a little criticism, and just look to grow, you can become a great voice teacher.

I’ll tell you what, I’ve worked with people that I’m fans of, it’s just blown my mind. I’ve been able to see countries I’ve never would have gone to, just from teaching voice, and to get people singing well and to see people have breakthrough where people are crying because they’re so happy in what’s happening with their voice. It’s priceless. It’s a wonderful way to make a living. So if you’re thinking about it, I really encourage it.

Hey, if you enjoy the podcast, please go to iTunes and give it a rating and leave a review. It really does help other people find it. If you have any questions or any comments to the podcast, email me [email protected]. Please tell your friends, etc. about the podcast. The podcast is growing, I’m very very happy. It really does help myself esteemed. Makes me feel like a better person, I walk a little taller and I’m actually a nicer driver when I have more listeners. I’m a little more patient with everybody so people on the roads of Los Angeles will thank you for sharing the podcast as well.

Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.