Success never happens in a vacuum in any career, and this is true of music as well. Maybe you have a natural gift for singing, and that's great, but you still need someone to help channel that talent properly and guide you on the way to reaching your highest potential as a singer. If you're serious about a singing career, you need to find a vocal coach.
With that said, finding the right coach can be tricky. There are a lot of con artists out there running scams, trying to bilk money from unsuspecting aspiring singers, and there are honest, well-meaning coaches who lack competence. Additionally, there are well-qualified, successful coaches who nevertheless may not be a good fit for you, your unique voice, and your particular style.
Before you even start looking for a vocal coach, there are some things you need to know. Some are things that you have to know about yourself, while the rest are things you need to know about what makes a good coach.
Before you start looking for a coach, you need to do some reflecting on who you are and what you want to achieve as a singer. Some of these are things that your eventual vocal coach will be able to help you with, but a basic understanding now will save unnecessary time and effort later.
If you're considering a musical career, chances are that you already have a good grasp of the basics, but it doesn't hurt to take stock of what you already know and brush up on areas where you may be lacking. Do you know how to care for your voice and keep it in shape with hydration, vocal warm-ups, breathing technique, etc.? Have you discovered the best range for your voice, and do you know how to choose songs that are within that range? Can you identify your own strengths and weaknesses as a singer? When you are ready to choose a coach, it will be helpful for both of you if you can explain what you already feel you do well as a singer and what, specifically, you would like to improve.
Do you want to sing in at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, or do you want to perform at the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville? You absolutely need to know this before you even think about looking for a vocal coach. You don't want an opera teacher to teach you how to sing country music or vice versa; it will only end up causing a lot of frustration for both of you.
There are pros and cons to either approach, and there are quality vocal coaches who will work with you either way (some may even be willing to do both). Some vocalists like the convenience of working with a coach over the internet, while others prefer to be in the same room as their coach. Whichever way works best for you is fine, but it's a good idea to decide this before you start looking because it will help you to narrow down your search.
Now that you've thought about who you are as a singer and what you want to achieve, take a look at the rest of the list, including things you need to know to make an informed decision when choosing a vocal coach.
What do Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Julie Andrews, and Mariah Carey all have in common? Besides successful careers in music, they've all suffered from vocal nodules, calluses on the vocal cords that result from overuse, poor hydration, and/or bad vocal technique. While not life-threatening, vocal nodules can be painful and are seriously detrimental to a singing career because they affect the vocal cords' ability to function properly. Nodules can be difficult to treat, often requiring surgery, and, in some cases, can end a singing career permanently. The best-case scenario is to prevent nodules from forming on your vocal cords, to begin with, and a coach who understands vocal anatomy will be able to help you to develop healthy singing habits and preventative measures that will minimize the risk.
As mentioned above, an opera teacher will not be able to teach you how to sing country music, because the techniques are totally different. Similarly, a coach who specializes in folk music won't be able to effectively teach you how to sing pop, rock, or gospel. Before you choose a vocal coach, make sure he or she specializes in the style you are interested in performing; that's why it's important to decide on a style before you start looking for a coach.
Some prospective vocal coaches may try to attract as many students as possible by not specifying a vocal specialty, or claiming expertise in several specialties. It doesn't automatically mean they aren't qualified, but if you can't nail them down on a specific specialty, it's probably best for you to keep looking.
This is crucial. Singing is a demanding physical activity that can put a lot of stress and strain on the delicate structures of your vocal folds. Your voice is your instrument, and you need a coach who can teach you how to avoid both short-term and long-term damage to that instrument so that you .
The sad truth is that anyone can claim to be a vocal teacher, and not everyone who does so is honest or has your best interests at heart. You want to pick a coach with a sterling reputation, with provable past success both as a performer and a coach.
This doesn't necessarily mean that you pick a coach who has worked (or claims to have worked) with big-name singers, however. Talk to other singers and ask them for the names of the best coaches they've worked with. This will be beneficial to you and coaches as well; giving the name of a current or past student will tell prospective coaches that you're serious about singing and have done your homework.
Being a good singer doesn't automatically make you a good teacher. You don't want a coach who’s going to make harsh comments and nitpick every little thing you do wrong until you're afraid to even open your mouth. On the other hand, you don't want a coach that's going to fawn over you and tell you that everything you do is brilliant; that may be good for your ego, but it's not going to help you advance your career. You need a coach who will offer you the correct balance of encouragement and constructive criticism, who will praise you for what you do well and help you to improve on what you need to do better.
While it's important that your coach specializes in your style, that's only one of the ways that the two of you need to be compatible. Your coach needs to be flexible enough to arrange lessons that accommodate your schedule and to tailor lessons that are specific to your unique needs as a singer. Most of all, you and your coach need to have similar values, goals, and work ethic. For your professional relationship to be fruitful, you need to be able to trust and depend on one another.
Another important teaching quality is accessibility. Will your coach be available for you to contact with questions while you're working on your own, or will she or he only be available to you during your scheduled lesson time? To be clear, that's not to say that you should feel free to call your coach with questions at all hours of the night; if you expect your coach to be accommodating and respectful of your schedule, you need to extend your coach the same courtesy. With that said, however, your coach should be willing and able to provide contact information and specific hours that he or she will be available for you to contact outside of your regular lessons.
While the referral and interview processes are important, perhaps the best way to find out if you and your prospective coach will work well together is to have an introductory lesson. This low-pressure, no-strings-attached introductory lesson should give each of you a good idea of whether you will be compatible in the long run. Because it is a trial introduction, without a commitment being made by either party, your prospective coach should offer it at a reduced rate from the usual fee.
As you embark on your singing career, your relationship with your vocal coach may be the most important relationship that you have. Use what you have learned here to assess yourself and prospective coaches. Then, when you choose the right coach, your professional relationship has a better chance of being long and rewarding for both of you.