Voice lessons are the single most effective way to improve the quality of your singing voice. Once you have decided to take lessons, the first thing you need to do is find a good teacher whose methods and approach are compatible with your musical goals and needs. As with any working relationship, a good fit is essential to success.
Before you look for a teacher for voice lessons, take the time to define your goals as specifically as you can. Do you want to sing a solo in church on Christmas Eve, star in a community theatre musical, or be the next American Idol? Do you see yourself eventually teaching music? Or, do you simply want to be a healthier singer with better tone and breath support?
The best way to find a good voice teacher is to talk with anyone you know who is involved in music—a school music teacher, church choir director, or perhaps the staff at a local music store. They should be able to recommend several teachers in your area.
Most music stores keep lists of teachers for referrals and/or have bulletin boards where local singing instructors can post flyers and business cards. They may even have teachers on staff.
College or university music departments can also be good places to find a teacher. Many advanced music students need teaching experience to complete their degrees, and private students like yourself can help them meet that requirement. Some music professors also take private students, but they are likely to charge much higher fees.
When you contact a prospective teacher for the first time, be prepared to tell her a bit about yourself, such as your previous musical experience (piano lessons in grade school? church choir? school glee club?) and goals. You should ask about her expectations for practice time, whether she holds recitals for her students, her qualifications and experience, and her fees.
If you and the teacher agree that you have a good fit, schedule your first lesson. Ask what, if anything, you should bring with you. Most teachers will want you to come with at least a pencil and notebook, examples of music you have sung or would like to learn, and perhaps a portable cassette tape recorder and blank tape.
Your teacher will use the first few voice lessons to get to know you and your skills, almost like a job interview. He or she will probably start by asking you to sing a song you know well, and will then listen to your tone and observe your posture and breathing. The instructor will then ask you to vocalize various exercises, such as singing scales or arpeggios on various syllables (“ah”, “hee”, “voo”, etc.), to evaluate your range and resonance.
The teacher will share his or her assessment of your voice and pinpoint areas in need of improvement. A good instructor should be sympathetic and supportive, not hypercritical, recognizing that he or she was once a student just like you.
After the first few sessions, most voice lessons will follow a similar pattern. The teacher will review what you did at your last lesson, have you demonstrate your progress, and give you feedback on how you’re doing. If you are having problems, he or she will show you how to overcome them. If one particular exercise doesn’t work for you, the teacher should have a repertoire of others to try.
After the warm-up and technique exercises, the remainder of the lesson will be spent working on one or more songs. You and the teacher should collaborate in choosing the songs you will work on. The instructor should respect your preferences, but you need to respect his or her knowledge and experience when considering suggestions.
After all, you’re paying your teacher to help you build specific skills, and you need to trust his or her expertise. Some songs you like may not be well-suited to the skills you need to learn.
When learning a new song, the process will be similar for any type of material. To help you learn the melody, the teacher will probably have you hum it or sing it on a single syllable, such as “loo” or “va”.
You may also be asked to “buzz” the melody (produce the tone through puckered, vibrating lips) to work on phrasing and breath support. If the song has multiple sections, such as verse and refrain, you will most likely do just one section at a time.
When you have learned the melody on a hum or syllable, then you will begin to sing the actual lyrics and work on dynamics (loudness/softness), diction, and expression.
A side benefit of working with a teacher is the chance to meet other students, even if it’s just a passing exchange. There is a sense of camaraderie that comes with knowing other students are grappling with the same challenges and obstacles.
Many teachers hold annual or semi-annual group recitals for their students. This gives everyone the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned, and also teaches you how to deal with performance anxiety (“stage fright”).
A good voice teacher can give you a strong foundation from which to begin the musical journey of your life.