If you are looking to improve your singing, you may see ads for a vocal coach or for singing teachers in the marketplace. With the rapid rise of online learning in music, finding a voice teacher or vocal coach is now easier than ever.
But wait, are coaches and teachers the same thing?
While there are many similarities, there are some important differences. Both the voice teacher and vocal coach can and will teach you to sing, although in different ways. Depending on your goals and experience one may be better than the other for you.
Our goal is to help you answer these questions about the difference between a vocal coach and a voice teacher.
Let’s start with the voice teacher, which is also sometimes called a singing teacher. Backstage describes the voice teacher as “a singer who focuses on proper vocal technique and how to apply that technique to the repertoire.”
To simplify, the voice teacher teaches you how to sing technically. And then they teach you to use that technique while learning new songs.
That definition of a voice teacher is really good. It’s short and accurate. But for the beginning singing student, you may not know everything that entails. So let’s break down that definition so you can better understand what a voice teacher does.
This is actually an important part of the definition. A voice teacher is a singer – often a well trained singer at that. They can sing. And that can do what they are teaching you to do with your voice and also demonstrate it. That also means that someone who is not a singer cannot be a voice teacher.
“who focuses on proper vocal technique…”
At the most basic level, proper vocal technique is a combination of three things:
These three things are the most basic and fundamental aspects of singing. Without them you couldn’t even speak, much less sing!
A voice teacher is going to describe and demonstrate exactly how to do these three things. Their job is to get you to develop good positioning, posture, and airflow so that you can sing music safely, while sounding great. We call this your technique.
“apply that technique to the repertoire”
Once you have developed some technique, your voice teacher then chooses repertoire that helps you to master your technique and develop good singing habits. Repertoire is just a fancy word for songs, or the musical selections that you will sing.
Voice teachers take an objective look at your current ability and where you need to work on improving. They will then choose repertoire that strengthens and reinforces the technique being taught. You end up with an approach to learning singing that is more efficient AND more interesting.
A lot of people who want to work with a voice teacher can feel a bit nervous about the dynamic of the singing lessons. But that is really just fear of the unknown. So let’s describe it so you won’t have to feel nervous.
To start, a voice teacher has one AMAZING advantage – THEY WANT YOU TO LOVE SINGING! And remember that they are trained singers, too. This means that they went through exactly the same process that you are about to go through. It obviously worked out quite well for them and it can for you too.
A good voice teacher also knows that you most likely aren’t required to take lessons. So they should try to build an atmosphere of comfort that makes you feel welcome, safe, and supported.
I personally know that singing, especially when learning technique can make you feel very exposed. Having taken years of lessons with many voice teachers myself, I know first hand how this can feel. So I work very hard to build an encouraging atmosphere, where you will never feel judged or uncomfortable. My goal is that you feel comfortable, are having fun, and getting better.
The voice teacher is going to ask you to sing what you have been working on. That could be music or that could be an exercise or a vocalise – another fancy word for a specific type of singing exercise.
They are going to take a look at your technique and evaluate how you are doing. Once they have an idea, they are going to give you some feedback about what is working well, and what needs some improvement.
Then they are going to describe what you should be doing with your technique. They may make corrections to your positioning, posture, or air control. Or they may congratulate you on a job well done to reinforce that good technique.
Since they are also trained singers, they will demonstrate what you are going to do. You’ll get the benefit of seeing and hearing it.
After you’ve learned what to do, and seen and heard your voice teacher demonstrate it, it’s now your turn to give it a go. Your voice teacher will help you through this and ensure that you’ve got the technique right.
The voice is a unique instrument. You can’t see the vocal folds inside your throat, or the muscles inside your body. This is unlike other instruments that you can actually see. This means you have to experiment until you get it right.
Experimentation is an important part of the voice lesson. You’ll give things a try until you get the technique right. Your teacher will let you know when you do.
Your teacher can’t see your vocal folds either! This is why it is so important to have a well trained teacher, they have to know what to listen and look for to understand that your technique is working.
You’ll also ‘borrow’ your teacher’s ears. What you sound like to yourself inside your own head is very different from what others hear on the outside. Your voice teacher will help you understand what your voice sounds like on the outside, so that you can repeat it.
Once you know what good technique and sound production feels and sounds like, your job is to repeat that at home until it becomes easy and habitual. Habits are an essential part of learning music.
That, in a nutshell, is what it’s like working with a voice teacher.
When done well, it’s easy, fun, and effective. And you’ll be sounding like a pro soon enough.
A voice teacher will teach you how to sing, technically.
With that expectation, you will find that some voice teachers will set aside teaching performing in order to specifically focus on teaching technique.
This is NOT a negative, at least not for every singer.
Nearly all beginners and many advanced singers need specific technical assistance and will find their time with a voice teacher extremely fruitful!
I would recommend the voice teacher for beginners, young singers who are going through voice changes, or anyone who thinks they can’t sing (you definitely can learn to sing).
In my opinion these specific groups get the most impact from a voice teacher as the voice teacher can help navigate the technical hurdles of the changing voice and guiding the vocal growth of someone who believes they are starting from the beginning.
Choose a voice teacher if: