A while ago someone said to me that I blow my chances in finding a great vocal coach because I only want them to teach me in a certain way. They don’t even have a chance. That might be correct. Just like every one of us, we come with a baggage of old habits, ideas, the culture we grew up in and so on. It’s never a clean slate. But since I am paying for the class, I’d like to get the most out of it.
I counted the other day that I’ve had about 20 vocal coaches up until now. Why so many? I’ve moved around a lot, moved countries too, plus I’m always curious what and how do different people teach. With some of the coaches I had just short meetings in masterclasses, some I’ve had for years. But how did I chose them? Some I did choose, some I didn’t, I mean I ended up with teachers that I didn’t want, but were teaching in schools that I attended.
Yes, I do have many expectations. I expect that I am not taught anything that is damaging, I am expecting that my range is widening not narrowing. I am expecting support and challenges. I am expecting that the bar is set high, maybe I can’t ever reach it, but it’s better than setting the bar too low. In my opinion, setting the bar too low will result in a frustrated student and it’s just not right to underestimate the student. Expecting too much? Well, I do pay for it. It’s just like in any other business area, you do want value for your money, don’t you?
In my mind there is a difference between a vocal coach and a singing teacher. A coach is more like a mentor, he or she will help you not just with your singing, but with your life. Seriously! A teacher on the other hand, and this based totally on my own experience, will teach what they were taught, that might or might not work for you. They are not tailoring their teaching to your needs.
I think the best quality a vocal coach should have, is the ability to see the true potential in each student. They should understand that everybody learns differently and coach accordingly. They can communicate well and they know the topic that they teach. From a technical point of view they teach the correct singing technique that I want to learn, the Mix. Mix is the technique that allows you to sing with both registers in an even voice without any apparent breaks in your voice.
If you want to know more about Mix: http://www.ivtom.org/mix-true-bel-canto/
Hence, I seem to have trouble with teachers that teach you to sing in either chest or head voice. I had a teacher that said they never use anything else then chest voice, which actually was not true. They mix, but they just don’t know about it. Okay, fine, agreed, you can sing jazz only in your chest voice, it’s more of an issue of style, but why do you want to limit yourself? To complicate matters, to my understanding every voice that comes out of you has both chest and head in it, but it’s the proportion that matters.
Obviously some things are just about chemistry between two people, with some you get along better than with others. Even if you get along, you really need to take a good look at what they are teaching. I can say from my own experience that many teachers say that they do teach the Mix and a healthy way of singing, but when it comes down to the actual training part, whatever they ask you to do will hurt. Really hurt. For an example I had a teacher long time ago that I had to work with. Unfortunately I was taught to keep my ribcage open by force all the time I sing, to support, plus to put it (the sound) into the mask and to open. I did this for 3 years. As a result I had a sore throat for 3 years. It came to a point where I was supposed to have tonsils operation. I had the feeling that my sore throat had nothing to do with the tonsils, but the incorrect singing technique. I never went to the operation. I stopped whatever she was teaching me to do and going to her classes all together and like a miracle, my sore throat issue disappeared.
I advise you to find a teacher that can engage your whole body and mind into singing. It’s not something that happens in your mouth or throat, it’s your whole being that sings.
I’d also say and this again just from my own experience, avoid teachers that teach you how to breath and make you do breathing exercises. You breath automatically, I don’t think that that’s an area to touch, even if it seems that your breathing is too shallow, I mean too high. I find that breathing will fall into it’s natural place by doing other exercises while vocalising and again engaging your whole body while singing.
And lastly, a vocal coach is not there to tell you how things are suppose to be, but to help you feel the correct sensations in your body while singing.
I’d advise you to trust your instincts when looking for a vocal coach. If it doesn’t feel right for the first time, I’d say it never will. I understand the fact that I’ve learned a lot from the wrong teachers, but occasionally I do wish I could’ve avoided them all together. It would have made my life easier and probably theirs too. Yet, I consider myself lucky, I have a met a few vocal coaches that I can rely on and can trust. But it certainly took a while.