Singing is a very personal experience, and one which can leave a person feeling very exposed and vulnerable. It’s important that students who are looking to study this art with a teacher, be aware of some of the possible pitfalls they may encounter, in order to make an informed decision. Following are some unfortunate personifications of voice teachers that you may want to be aware of in order to avoid spending time in an environment that is less than productive.
“The Piano Player” These people are usually excellent piano players, or style and language coaches who claim to know how to teach vocal technique, yet have had little if any training in vocal pedagogy. They want everything bigger, harder, louder and wider. “Belt, belt, belt” is their mantra. They seem to think that if you can yell and scream then you can sing. They want you to stretch your raw chest voice as high as it can go. “Support” to them is simply pushing the voice to its extremes. These people don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to vocal technique and can be the source of serious vocal damage to their students. These teachers can be of some value to a singer who has already built their voice and/or is working with a legitimate vocal technician. In order to work effectively with a coach, you must be at a level where you can learn to translate in your mind what it is they are asking for and give it to them in the healthiest manner possible. There are many good performance coaches who don’t mess with singers’ technique, and if possible it’s best to seek them out over finding “The Piano Player” who thinks they are a voice teacher.
“The Blabber” This teacher tends to talk for 80 percent of the lesson, often about their own problems. The student can often be paying for lessons but acting as the teacher’s therapist. This teacher is very endearing, and is difficult to handle for many because of the fact that they tend to become the student’s “best friend.” Remember, you are paying for vocal training, not socializing. If you feel like your time is being wasted, it may be time to either discuss the problem or find another teacher.
“The Cult Leader” This phenomenon comes in more than one package. One manifestation of this type of teacher claims that they alone have the one and only true method of singing, and without them, the student is doomed to failure. If the student would ever leave the teacher to seek training elsewhere they will fail. They may claim something to the effect that their technique was handed down to them verbally, and that the method has never been written down before. Often there is much mystique surrounding this personality. Another manifestation of this type of problem teacher is one of (either tacitly implied or directly stated), “If you leave here you are never welcome back.” The Cult Leader wants to keep you forever. You are never free to explore your voice on your own. They may have many recitals in which you are required to participate (which often are ploys to exploit the natural talent of a few students solely in order to recruit new students). Ask yourself what you think might happen if you told this teacher you are quitting. If you can imagine them saying something like, “That’s fine. It’s been a pleasure teaching you, and you are welcome back anytime. I’d love to work with you again,” then you are probably in a studio that is free from this syndrome. If not, then you may want to rethink things a bit.
“The Diva” They can be very psychologically and emotionally abusive to their students, consistently hurdling insults about the student’s singing, physical appearance, etc. and constantly playing the “Difficult Artist” role to the hilt. They make it clear that you are lucky to be studying with them at all, and at any moment you could be thrown to the curb if you don’t tow the line. They talk about themselves a lot. Sometimes the Diva can have some good information to impart, but often it is more flash than substance.
“The Artiste” They are forever running late, double booking and tend to be scattered and unfocused. They are often very good performers and singers, but not necessarily good teachers. They are often not good at running their business. Their students pay the price of always having to work around the schedule of the Artiste and can have their lessons canceled a the drop of a hat if the Artiste has a sudden gig pop up.
“The Charlatan” This is a very nefarious teacher. They often have had no formal training themselves and are in it strictly for the money. Sometimes, these types have self study courses published to give an air of “authenticity” to their operation (please note, that some excellent teachers also have books and courses published as well). The Charlatan often doesn’t have an original thought, but rather lifts aphorisms and bits of information from other books and teachers that they hear about. These people know little or nothing about how the voice actually works and can often be the cause of extreme damage to the students that they dupe into working with them. Remember, that your voice is your own. If something hurts then don’t do it. If you aren’t getting results, it could be because the teacher doesn’t know what they are doing.
“The Sleeze” These people are the bottom of the barrel. Often they are excellent vocal teachers, but they use their positions of self appointed “authority” to be sexually inappropriate with their students. This kind of sexual abuse can take the form of off color comments, verbal come-ons or fondling and groping under the guise of “fixing the posture,” etc. These teachers can often even be quite effective in getting their students into bed. It is very important to note, that sometimes physical touching can be appropriate in a lesson. It is a legitimate teaching modality. There is often no better way to fix the posture or help the student find the proper support than by using a “hands on” approach. However, if the bulk of all your lessons tend to be with the teacher’s hands all over you, especially in areas of the body which make you feel uncomfortable, you may have a problem. As a rule, most good teachers will always ask permission before they lay a hand on their students, and if the student is under age, they will be sure a parent is present when they do so. If you feel uncomfortable, tell them “I’m not comfortable being touched.” If they have a problem with that, find another teacher.
Being forewarned is being forearmed. There are plenty of excellent voice teachers in the world. There is absolutely no reason to waste good time and money, not to mention your own voice and peace of mind on a bad teacher. If you don’t feel good about who you are with, start auditioning other teachers. Once you find someone who is right for you, you will know. Your voice will thank you, your emotions will thank you and your wallet will thank you too!