Having been re-reading and editing the content for my ‘How To Sing’ book (coming soon!) I’ve been struck by the importance of finding a good teacher as a means of kick-starting your career as a singer. Many singers have had experience of being ‘led astray’ by certain styles of singing that weren’t right for them. I certainly experienced it and so did my interviewee, in my case studies section for the book. It’s very common to be brought up attending a choir or singing group in school that focuses on a more traditional, classical style of singing when what you really want to do is sing pop songs. This can be incredibly frustrating. Not only is it unhelpful to be pushed to sing in a style you don’t like, but it saps the creativity and enthusiasm out of you.
So to help you avoid working with the wrong kind of vocal coach, here are my top 3 tips for finding the right kind of teacher for you.
1) Ask yourself why you want singing lessons
This sounds so obvious, but it’s an essential point. It’s no good having classical, opera-orientated singing lessons if what you want to sing is Katy Perry songs. It’s great to get some variety and try lots of different styles, in order to feed your songwriting and improvisation, but if you’re looking for a more ‘beginners’ style lesson the fundamental difference between classical singing and pop/rock singing is so great, that you’re likely to get very frustrated and put off by the results if you pick the wrong style lesson. If you want to get singing lessons to learn some of your favourite songs and improve your vocal strength singing them, that’s also very different to getting lessons to prepare for an audition for a musical. Think about what you want to get as a result of the lessons and the clearer you can be about that, the more likely you are to get exactly the kind of teacher you need. Don’t be afraid of discussing this with a prospective teacher and agreeing to try someone else if what you want to achieve and what the teacher specialises in are different.
2) Think about what level you are at and what experience you already have
If you’ve had singing lessons before, or you know enough about scales and arpeggios from playing the piano that you have a good general knowledge of music, then you may already want to specialise somewhat in the type of lesson you need. Do you want help in fixing certain problems with your voice, or are you looking to maintain what you already have but just build confidence with it and gain inspiration of how to take it to the next level in becoming a professional singer? If it’s the latter, you may need to invest in working with a teacher who’s also a seasoned performer and can give you career advice and songwriting tips as part of the content of the lesson.
3) Think about your level of commitment. What’s at stake for you?
If you just want to have lessons for fun, you may need an entirely different kind of teacher than if you want to take lessons to be able to learn how to improvise, sing at gigs and write songs because you want a career as a singer-songwriter. The former is about having fun singing songs you enjoy and learning new approaches to singing that you can explore with no deadline. The latter could involve learning how to improve certain areas of your voice and how to build up a steady base of musical knowledge that enables you to take risks and improvise and write ideas for songs, that might work best if you do so as a set course of lessons. Maybe you have a goal in mind of writing and recording an album of songs by the end of the year. In which case, it’s probably best to take an intensive run of lessons that will feed into your songwriting and career-planning process. If you don’t commit to this, your goal may slip. How would you feel if that happened? That’s what’s at stake for you – feeling hugely disappointed that another year has gone by without the significant progress you know you’re capable of. It’s likely that you’ll need to be very focused and organised for this more professional kind of approach too, so make sure you schedule regular practice times as well as lesson times. Be prepared to make the commitment to a block of lessons and stick to it. You wouldn’t cancel tour dates when you just felt a bit overwhelmed with things to do, so cancelling lessons that are going to push you forward in your career won’t work either.
I hope that you found those tips helpful. Keep me posted on the kinds of work you’re doing and what you’d like to find out more about on the blog next.
Rowen Bridler is a singer-songwriter, actress and voice coach. She lives in Prague in the Czech Republic but works with clients all over the globe via Skype. She specialises in coaching actors and singers with an issue with a song or speech that needs fixing, or a performance to prepare for, using simple and systematic techniques to target problem areas quickly. She is currently working on a Danish film,'1864', where she plays Johanna von Bismarck, speaking in German. She has a 'minisongs' series of short 15 second videos of her own songs on Tout, which she releases every Friday. In her spare time, she can be found wearing Cookie Monster t-shirts and pearls and reading old copies of Vogue.