Red Flags and Green Lights. What should you look for in a voice teacher?

This week in my private CWVS Clubhouse Facebook group, Lucia asked: 

“What would you consider red flags for voice teachers?”

She had been studying with someone who was well aligned with her vocal goals a few years ago. She recently started studying with them again, only now to realize that this teacher was leading her to sing in a rather unhealthy way. She left lessons feeling strained and frustrated that the teacher was encouraging her to use her voice in only one, exhausting way. 

Some voice teachers are excellent fits for only certain types of singers. Some voice teachers have no idea what they’re doing (true story). And thankfully, some voice teachers have a teaching methodology that allow them to help any singer find vocal balance. 

What should you look for in a voice teacher?

Finding a great voice teacher is a lot like dating. You might have to meet a few before you find your perfect fit! Here are my red flags and green lights when you’re on the hunt for a great teacher.

Voice Teacher Red Flags:

  • You feel frustrated, defeated, or confused after your lesson
  • You’re unable to choose repertoire you want to sing
  • You’re made to feel like your singing mistakes are your fault
  • You’re not given practical tips, advice, or exercises to address your specific vocal goals
  • Your voice consistently feels strained, exhausted, or hoarse during or after your lesson
  • You don’t make progress within the first two lessons (yes, that’s how quickly you should feel an improvement!)
  • Your “teacher” is more of a vocal coach- meaning they are great at helping you learn new music and coaching your performance, but they aren’t able or interested in working on your vocal technique
  • Your teacher’s only qualifying experience is their own performance career
  • You spend the majority of your lesson time talking or talking about singing instead of actually singing.
  • Your teacher talks a lot about how the voice works but is unable to demonstrate what they are trying to get you to achieve.
  • Your teacher can’t sing well

Voice Teacher Green Lights:

  • You leave lessons feeling inspired and motivated
  • Your teacher listens to your goals and dreams and supports your pursuit of them
  • Your teacher is able to identify what your vocal tendencies/issues are and gives you exercises specifically to balance your voice. Lessons are tailored to your needs and goals on any given day
  • You make progress within your lessons and at home with the exercises they give you to practice
  • At the end of your lessons, your voice feels like it just had a great workout- a little tired, but getting stronger
  • Your teacher challenges you with repertoire, and allows you to choose songs you love to sing
  • Your teacher has completed or is undergoing training specific to teaching voice- they aren’t relying just on their own vocal training or performance degree. Their teacher training might be a college degree in vocal pedagogy or a private certification, like from www.vocaladvancement.com
  • Lesson time is efficient and effective! You spend the majority of the time vocalizing and singing music
  • Your teacher can sing well and properly demonstrate what they are helping you achieve. (This doesn’t mean they need to be a professional vocalist or have great talent. But every good voice teacher should have a relatively balanced voice)

If you’re looking for a teacher who meets these green light requirements, check out vocaladvancement.com to find a voice teacher in your country/region/city who specializes in teaching vocal balance. Online lessons mean you can study with any of these amazing teachers from around the world!

Anything I missed? What are your red flags and green lights when looking for a private voice teacher?

Do Online Lessons Really Work?

Don’t take my word for it!

I was worried starting Skype lessons. Are they as good as in-person lessons? And the answer is YES! The sound quality is a lot better than you would think and Chelsea is more than capable of hearing what’s going on in my voice. And as someone who lives across the country from Chelsea, it’s totally worth it. AND I can do it in my pajamas! Total win.  – Hannah Bayles. Singer & Voice Teacher in Provo, UT

I would highly recommend taking Skype lessons with Chelsea. When you’re on the road singing the same material eight times a week, it is very easy to become complacent with your technique. I find Skype lessons incredibly useful because they reinforce my work ethic, and keep me striving to improve my voice in areas I may not sing in every day. Even through the computer, Chelsea’s ear is stellar in recognizing tension in my voice and diagnosing the cause of it, and giving me exercises to free up my cords.  It doesn’t feel like we’re in different time zones at all! – Isabelle McCalla. Currently traveling the country as Jasmine in the National Tour of Aladdin the Musical. 

My 12 year old daughter has loved taking voice lessons via Skype from Chelsea. Not only has my daughter’s singing range and tone improved, but her confidence in herself and her voice have increased dramatically in just a few months of lessons. As a busy mom I appreciate the convenience of not having to travel and drive to yet another one of my children’s many activities, and my daughter actually prefers singing from the comfort of her own bedroom. It has been a great experience all around for us. – Amanda Neilson. Westchester County, NY

Normally, there’s a slight delay so she won’t play the notes of the scale as I sing- she’ll just give a chord to indicate when and where to start. One word of caution- If you are an absolute beginner like I was many years ago and have trouble singing a scale without somebody playing the notes along with you, then Skype lessons will be difficult.  However, right now I have no problem singing a scale or an arpeggio after given a chord so I have no trouble using Skype. -Zev Aber. Singer, guitarist, and tutor in New York, NY.

Tips for a successful Online lesson: 

Find a quiet place with minimal distractions. A keyboard nearby may be helpful but is not necessary! Check that you have a strong and fast internet connection BEFORE your first lesson. Make a test call to a friend beforehand to check that everything will go smoothly the day of your lesson.

It is a good idea to play any backing tracks you want to use during your lesson on a different device than the device you are using for your Skype/FaceTime/Zoom connection. If not, whatever audio you play on that device may cancel out all sound for your teacher on the other end!

In which case, you will need:

  1. A device to connect to your online lesson platform on
  2. External speakers to play backing tracks through
  3. An additional device to record your lesson on OR if you choose to meet via Skype, Skype can video record your lesson. 

Skype is Chelsea’s platform of choice, while Brooke and Erin often use Zoom.

You may also want to listen to this scale, and this scale beforehand- we’ll use them in our lesson!

Who’s On Your Team? Find an ENT!

Want to be a professional singer? It’s time to get the right professionals on your team.

In addition to working regularly with a voice teacher, I recommend developing a relationship with a Laryngologist – an Ear Nose and Throat doctor who specializes in the voice.

If you have the means and the time, I recommend going in and getting a ‘base-line’ scope- the doctor will take video and pictures of your vocal folds ideally when you are feeling your most healthy. Then, if any future vocal issues arise, you and your doctor can refer back to your ‘base-line’ exam and really see what the difference is.

Shouldn’t a voice teacher be able to fix anything that might be wrong in my voice?

My friend and mentor, voice teacher Guy Babusek shared the following thoughts:

“I have witnessed voice teachers in the past saying things like “I don’t hear any nodules, so you’re fine,” “I can give you some therapeutic exercises that will heal your vocal damage,” or “My diagnosis is you have a polyp and need some vocal rest.” These kinds of comments are always quite concerning to me.

While a voice teacher may have some medical knowledge, a voice teacher (unless otherwise licensed) is not a doctor, and therefore is not qualified to diagnose or treat any medical condition, including that of the voice.

While it’s true certain vocal exercises can have amazing therapeutic effects, I recognize I am not a therapist, I am a voice teacher. Only within the confines of the protocol a doctor has outlined, am I able to recommend vocal exercises to a student who has been suffering with a disorder of the voice.

Please remember, a voice teacher who suggests any type of diagnosis or treatment of a voice disorder is NOT qualified to do so (unless they happen to also be a licensed physician). Any student who is worried they have a disorder of the voice,  should get him or herself to a laryngologist’s office.” …read more here

Looking for a laryngologist in your area? Contact me- I have some great docs I highly recommend and can connect you with the people who know the best laryngologists in your area. ‘

Having issues with your speaking voice or need vocal therapy? I’d love to refer you to a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) I trust.

Who is on your team?

Just like an athlete has a coach, a physical therapist, nutritionist, etc- singers need a great team to support them as well! Relationships with A laryngologist, speech therapist, voice teacher, masseuse, accompanist, and performance coach are beneficial to your success as a professional singer.