I always love the first lesson with a new student. Young and old, new singing students are so full of excitement to come to study what they naturally love to do, and their energy is infectious! But how do you go about finding and choosing the singing mentor who is right for you? Here are a few things to consider.
1. Voice Teachers vs. Vocal Coaches
I say “singing mentor” because there are different types of professionals to choose from depending on what your goals are. Generally speaking, a Voice Teacher is someone who has a post-secondary education not only in performance singing, but also in vocal pedagogy—the study of teaching voice. A Voice Teacher helps someone to improve their vocal instrument, tone quality, technique, etc. using an advanced knowledge of vocal anatomy and sound. A Vocal Coach, on the other hand, is usually an experienced musician who helps a singer prepare for a specific challenge—like an audition, recording, or live show—and is almost always a deft piano accompanist. A Vocal Coach will help a singer to maximize a performance. Of course there is lots of crossover, and both Voice Teachers and Vocal Coaches will be able to guide singers through warm-ups, exercises, repertoire, and sometimes even psychological barriers. Both can help beginner voice students, and almost all of them will work with beginners.
2. Teaching Experience
A singing mentor may or may not have a university or college music degree, and that’s ok. A six-year-old beginner does not need to see someone with a master’s degree in Vocal Pedagogy. But they probably should see someone who has experience teaching six-year-olds. The most important thing here is teaching experience. Just because someone knows how to do something really well doesn’t mean they know how to teach it. A good mentor will have a well-rounded musical career, but they don’t need to be a Broadway veteran to help you reach your goals. A combination of education, years of teaching experience, and the age range of their students will give you an idea of what their background is and what their strengths will be as a mentor.
Most singing mentors work primarily in one genre of singing: classical, musical theatre, jazz, or pop. Some can help with more than one; Vocal Coaches are more likely to be generalists, and Voice Teachers are more likely to be specialists. Voice Teachers are also more likely to be classically trained. Keep in mind that most of the post-secondary music education available for voice is in classical or jazz programs, so a university- or college-educated mentor will likely be trained in one of these two genres. There are a few specialized colleges that teach musical theatre, like the Randolph Academy, but post-secondary programs that graduate pop singers are few and far between (here’s one). When seeking a mentor, keep in mind what genre you are looking to study. Personally, I believe that all singers can benefit from classical training, and it’s a fine place for a beginner to start.
As it stands, there is no legal regulation of private music teachers in Ontario. Anyone can hang their sign and say they teach voice. While I do believe that qualifications can come from a variety of different places, things to look out for would be a post-secondary music degree or diploma, years of teaching experience, and/or membership in professional associations like ORMTA or NATS. Teachers at private music schools have also been vetted by the school in the hiring process, and often have had a criminal background check done in order to teach children.
5. Price Point
Singing mentors in particular seem to come in a wide variety of price points. I have seen everything from $50 to $300 per hour, and that’s just in Toronto. The amount a teacher charges is based on many factors, including the market they are in, their name recognition, and their target demographic. As a general rule, the more professional your goals are, the more you are going to pay for the right mentor. The ones who charge more than $100/hour generally have name recognition in the music industry, but there truly are no rules. For beginners and hobbyists though, student teachers are a good quality, less expensive alternative to get you started.
How did you find your singing mentor?