Voice Teacher vs. Vocal Coach
First, I'd like to clear up any confusion. While voice teachers and vocal coaches both work to improve singers' skill sets, they focus on different aspects.
A teacher works on vocal technique while a coach works on musicality and performance.
For this article, I will focus on training to become a voice teacher, a skilled technician with vast knowledge in vocal technique who can quickly diagnose vocal faults and make corrective measures for the student.
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Can I Teach Without a Degree?
It is estimated that half of working voice teachers have no college degree, and only one-third have an advanced degree in music.
I know many successful singing teachers who do not have formal training or a degree in voice or music education. I take nothing away from the skills and discipline you receive with a music degree, but it is not a prerequisite for becoming a singing teacher in private practice. However, a degree will likely be necessary to work in a public school or at the university level.
What Skills Should I Already Have?
You should have a high degree of vocal skills (or be well on your way) with a strong background in studying voice. This could be years of private lessons as well as performance.
I also recommend basic piano proficiency. You will need to play vocal exercise scales, and it is highly recommended you be able to accompany your students on a basic level as well as some fundamental music theory. While I have seen teachers rely on prerecorded scales and karaoke tracks, these can slow and interrupt your lesson flow.
You also need a HUGE desire and capacity for learning. The best voice teachers are constantly studying, reading, attending conferences, discussing voice with their peers, and developing their own singing skills. A passion for learning will take you far.
Vocal pedagogy and technique should fascinate you (and trust me, it is a never-ending rabbit hole of wonderful discovery). A further study of voice science and vocal health will give you key knowledge to better understand the singing voice.
A desire to help others is critical. When you become a teacher, the focus is no longer on you, the singer and performer; it should be completely on the student. Their wins become your wins, and a student-centered approach will be a component of your success.
Unless you decide to work for an institution or music academy, you should have an entrepreneurial fire in your belly. Becoming an independent voice teacher is incredibly rewarding, but it also means opening a small business. So you should plan on learning how to market your services to create a successful studio.
A shortlist of skills and experience that will help you become an effective teacher include:
- Voice lessons
- Being in a band
- Music production
- Musical theatre performance
- Singing back up
- Choir performance
- Praise and Worship bands
- Playing an instrument (especially piano)
A great singing teacher needs great ears. Your ability to hear and diagnose vocal faults during vocal lessons quickly means you can get faster results for your students, which will directly affect your level of success.
Listening to and analyzing singers should be part of your study plan to develop your teaching skills.
An understanding of voice science can make you a better listener. When you have a deeper understanding of why certain conditions occur in the voice, you can more easily recognize and categorize what you are hearing.
This deeper understanding will help you choose the right exercises and corrective measures for different voice types.
Also, being able to understand various musical styles and vocal styles as a music teacher will expand your opportunities in the music industry.
In short, the better you hear, the better your students will sing.
Here is a video I did for my students where I break down how to listen to strong belt voices:
Where to Get Training
There are no prerequisites to being a singing teacher or coach in the contemporary music world. Many of the most successful vocal teachers I know do not have university degrees. However, they do have vast amounts of training and experience.
There are a couple of ways to achieve this. The first is to take voice lessons and achieve a high level of proficiency. Then start taking on voice students and refine your process by trial and error. This is how it used to be done.
If you have a good relationship with your teacher, ask if they would be willing to mentor you. This is how I got started. During my lessons, I would ask what my teacher heard in my voice and why a certain exercise was chosen.
I would also observe him teach other students, constantly taking notes. This was my first teacher training.
More recently, a number of teacher certification and training programs have been developed for voice teacher training.
While you should be singing at a reasonably high level when entering one of these programs, a good program can reduce the trial and error phase of teaching voice and accelerate your knowledge and experience.
Seeking feedback from experienced teachers is a great way to sharpen your skills.
I would have teachers review my lesson recordings and observe me as I worked with a student. The real-time feedback and critique were invaluable in my development.
Your own vocal training should be ongoing. Working with different teachers and various styles of vocal coaching will keep you fresh and your voice ready for the challenges of teaching singing.
NOTE: My book, Teaching Contemporary Singing has helped new voice teachers worldwide start their training.
Gaining Teaching Experience
No matter how much you read and study, most of your skill comes from applying your knowledge to students. There is no substitute for this experience.
At first, you can practice with family and friends - even if they don't sing. However, unless you reach the very highest teaching levels, a large portion of your student base will be beginners, and beginners can teach you a lot!
You will experience a wide variety of vocal issues and learning styles, and trial and error will be part of your learning, so it's best to gain experience with non-paying, friendly clients.
Once you feel comfortable with teaching people you know, it's time to take on the paying public.
Working for an established music school is a great way to gain experience quickly. In addition, they will be able to fill your schedule with students quickly, so you don't have to take on the burden of running your own vocal studio business.
Your skill set should grow rapidly by working with a large and varied clientele, combined with consistent study.
Once you have a good grounding in vocal pedagogy basics, I suggest you specialize in an area where your passions lead you.
Being a specialist can attract the students you most want to work with while also charging a premium for your services.
Some teachers focus on audition prep, and others help rehabilitate damaged voices. I know a teacher who is renowned for getting his students on American Idol.
Areas of specialty include:
- Working with children
- Musical theatre auditions
- Working with choirs
- Professional performers
- Public speaking
As you gain teaching experience, you will find areas that you are passionate about. For example, while I work with all types of singers, I am drawn to those who sing at a professional level.
Great singing teachers are always learning. Constantly listening to fantastic singers, keeping up on the latest research, and reviewing recordings of lessons will grow new skills and keep you sharp and focused.
You should also work on your voice with consistent voice lessons and perform from time to time.
Becoming a voice teacher is a life-long journey into this greatest and most fascinating of all musical instruments - the human voice!
If you want to learn more about my books, courses, and the Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy, please visit johnhenny.com. And if you are interested in online singing lessons, you can reach out to our front desk at [email protected], and we would be happy to answer your questions.