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.

  • What is a voice teacher and what do they do?
  • What is a vocal coach and what do they do?
  • What’s the difference between them?
  • And how do I choose?

Voice Teachers

What is 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.

What does a voice teacher do?

“singer”

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:

  • positioning of the mouth, throat, and voice box
  • seated and standing posture
  • airflow and control

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.

What is learning with a voice teacher like?

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.

(Give Sage Music singing lessons online a try to see how well it can work for you!)

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.

Here is what you can generally expect from a lesson with a voice teacher:

Evaluation

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.

Description

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.

Demonstration

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.

Your turn!

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.

Experimentation

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.

Habit formation

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.

When would I want to choose a voice teacher?

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:

  • You are a beginner
  • Your voice is changing
  • You are unable to sing something you want
  • You think you can’t sing (I promise you can)
  • You want to expand your ability to sing

Vocal Coach

What is a Vocal Coach?

‘Vocal coach’ is a more complicated term, because it has different meanings depending on the circumstance.

Let’s see the different types of vocal coaching:

Language Students: When a student is practicing to become fluent in a language they might use the help of a vocal coach to learn a specific accent.

Public Speaking: Public speakers may use a vocal coach to improve their diction, presence, and the performative nature of speaking to a crowd.

Music and Singing Performance: These vocal coaches will help with your singing performance, and may also be the person you turn to in order to improve your stage presence.

We’re going to focus on the musical version, but wanted you to be aware that the others exist, too.

Musically, I think the best definition I’ve seen of “vocal coach”  comes from Wikipedia “… a music teacher, usually a piano accompanist, who helps singers prepare for a performance, often also helping them to improve their singing technique and take care of and develop their voice…”

I know that you are thinking that this definition is very close to “Voice Teacher”. It is! There is often some confusion between the two terms. The confusion often arises because both voice teachers and singing teachers may focus on improving singing technique and how to apply it to music.

The most important difference here is that the vocal coach’s primary role is to help you prepare for performance. The voice teacher’s primary role on the other hand is to help you develop your technique.

Let’s look at the wikipedia vocal coach definition in more detail.

“a music teacher”

Yes, a vocal coach is a music teacher, they do teach music. This separates it from the other types of vocal coaching we talked about above.

“usually a piano accompanist”

Note that the vocal coach is usually a pianist! The vocal coach may also be a singer, but it is actually not required that a vocal coach be a singer.

The reason is that performing and interpreting music is a skill that all musicians develop. You don’t need to have the same instrument to teach interpretation, artistry, or stagecraft.

Also, singers often need the support of a musical ensemble or a piano in rehearsal. A solid pianist who has good performance skills is perfect for this role. They can provide instrumental support for the vocalist in rehearsal, as well as advice for performing or interpreting the music.

Not all singers have the piano skills necessary to accompany other singers. That’s why the vocal coach is usually a pianist.

“who helps singers prepare for performance”

A vocal coach’s primary job is to help you prepare for performance. While a voice teacher might help with this, it’s not their primary role.

There is a subtle implication here. If the vocal coach is helping you perform, it assumes that you already have the technique needed to perform.

That means it is less likely that a beginner or developing singer is going to work with a vocal coach. But that doesn’t mean a vocal coach can’t help with technique. Sometimes, a vocal coach is also a voice teacher and a singer.

“often also helping them to improve their singing technique”

The key word here is “improve”. This is different from “teach”. The vocal coach probably isn’t going to help you learn singing technique. But they can often help you improve that technique as you are preparing for performance.

This assumes that you have some working technique before you work with a vocal coach. They can’t “improve” something that you don’t already have!

“and take care of and develop their voice”

Performing can be a difficult business. Singers who perform in operas, musicals or even popular bands can put on 2 to 3 or even 4 hour shows. That’s very demanding. And add to those hours the rehearsal time needed before the show, and you’ve got some very long and vocally tiring days.

So it is important to take care of your voice when performing. A vocal coach has either performed as a singer, or has worked with many performing singers.

They will be able to help you keep up with a performing and rehearsal schedule without overdoing it, and without damaging your voice.

Because with no voice, there is no performance!

The vocal coach not only gives you the building blocks to properly sing but prepares you for the performance in its many aspects. From the spoken voice to the physical portrayal of the song, a vocal coach will prepare you to be your best.

What does a vocal coach do?

When was the last time you went to a concert, musical, or show of any kind where the performer stood still and sang at you?

If you did, I’m pretty sure that you never went back.

The vocal coach is the one who helps turn a singer into a performer. They take you from being a singer, and mold you into a performer. To perform in such a way that the audience always wants to come back.

With a vocal coach, there is more than singing technique. You learn how to maintain your technique while moving, dancing, or just moving energetically while performing.

What is learning with a vocal coach like?

Learning with a vocal coach is like having an energetic therapy session. A vocal coach will talk you through WHY you are doing what you’re doing, what is the “motivation” in the music and in the lyrics.

It’s like having an acting coach who will ask you to look at every note and figure out why it’s there. With a vocal coach you learn how technique can inform movement and how the intention can inform technique. The effects this can have on both your performance and technique can stick with you for years!

When working with a vocal coach you can expect to work on:

  • connecting with the audience
  • performing expressively
  • incorporate movement into your singing
  • work on phrasing, intonation, tone, and interpretation
  • putting on a show!

While this may be a less structured approach than with a voice teacher, it’s still a lot of work to do. There is just as much effort and skill involved. It’s just s different set of skills.

When would I want to choose a vocal coach?

There is a lot of overlap between these roles but with a few major differences. A vocal coach builds on your fundamentals.

With the vocal coach comes the experience and knowledge that the singing voice is only one small aspect of learning to perform.

With that said, most vocal coaches tend to focus on individual sessions NOT the recurring lesson style of a voice teacher. That’s something to keep in mind when deciding on a schedule.

In my opinion, the focus on performance preparedness in tandem with technical skill means that the vocal coach is for those students who are serious about their musical career and those who are looking to stand out in their next audition or performance.

When to choose a vocal coach:

  • You already have some technical singing skills
  • You are preparing for a performance
  • You are preparing for an audition
  • You want to learn to put on a better show

Do I want a Voice teacher or a Vocal Coach?

While it might be best to have both a voice teacher and a vocal coach to get the best of both worlds, that can be harder on both the schedule and the wallet.

So if I had to endorse one I would argue in favor of…whichever is right for you.

If you’ve got some skill but have upcoming performances, or auditions, or want to improve your performing, go with the vocal coach. They can begin to tie proper technique to the on-stage movement!

The voice is inherently different from other instruments because the audience never expects the singer to sit still on stage. With that expectation and understanding of movement comes applicable technical skills that you cannot easily emulate in a small practice room setting.

But if you’re looking to just learn those fundamentals of mouth position, posture, and airflow then the voice teacher will be able to provide all that you need and then some!

Both the Voice teacher and vocal coach want you to LOVE singing so find someone who matches your needs today.

About the Author:

Paul works as both a vocal coach and singing teacher at Sage Music, San Antonio. Formerly, he taught at Judson High as a Private Voice Teacher, and has much theatrical experience, from performance to directing and almost every aspect of technical production, including stage direction for countless shows at Sea World. He holds degrees in music and theater from Texas State University.