How Much Value is there in Voice Lessons
Someone recently asked a great Quora question about the value of voice lessons, and my answer might surprise you. The short answer is, it depends. It depends what your goals are and who your voice teacher is. Even though I run a vocal school and see the tremendous benefit of voice lessons on a daily basis, it’s not crucial for every single type of vocal goal and can be detrimental if you find the wrong voice teacher. That said, I’m (unsurprisingly) a strong advocate for voice lessons.
What All Good Voice Teachers Should be Able to Do
Let’s start with what you should be able to gain by taking voice lessons, if your instructor isn’t a total hack:
- Sing on key
- Manage airflow so that your voice is neither breathier than you want it to be, nor overpushed and unhealthy
- Create a balance between your vocal registers…that is, help you create an even tone from low to high so that you don’t suddenly lose all your power when you get to a high enough note
- Brighten your tone so that you don’t sound woofy or have that Kermit the Frog sound
- Lift your soft palate so that you aren’t overly nasal
- Give you vocal exercises that help strengthen your voice, build muscle memory, and stamina
- Identify areas of excess tension and teach you to release that tension.
However, there are some things to look out for in a voice teacher that could negatively influence your singing. Watch out for these:
- A teacher who forces their style onto you in the interest of having you learn “good technique.” An example of this is the teacher who believes that opera is the be-all-end-all and teaches you to sing a Beyonce song like an opera singer. Don’t get me wrong, operatic singing can be wonderful…when it’s used for songs that you want to sound operatic on.
- A teacher who favors one vocal register over the other (especially when you’re interested in a genre that favors the other). I’ve seen (not so great) contemporary music teachers just stop when a student gets to head voice, saying it’s unimportant because it isn’t part of their full voice. And just as bad, classical teachers who make the student perpetually stay in head voice.
- A teacher who puts you into a box. In other words, someone who decides that because you currently have a head-dominant voice that you should only be singing head-voicey soprano songs; or someone who decides that because your head voice isn’t very good yet that you should only be doing belt songs; or worst of all, someone who decides that because you don’t have a good voice yet that you shouldn’t be singing and should try something else (definitely ignore that person).
The difference a voice teacher can make also depends on your goals. If the only thing you want to sing are singer-songwriter songs in the range of “Riptide” and already sound great on them, feel comfortable doing them, and don’t feel tired after a set, you’re honestly probably going to be fine without a voice teacher. Not to say that a good voice teacher can’t help with that kind of music. I love working with my students on stuff like that. But if that’s the extent of what you want to sing and you can already do it in your sleep, I wouldn’t sweat it one way or the other. If you want to go for versatility, add music that stretches you, expand your style, increase your power or just learn to dress up the stuff you’re already good at, then a good voice teacher who has a solid handle on your style is definitely a huge asset.
Here are some things to keep in mind when considering hiring a voice teacher:
- Does the teacher feel comfortable with your style? I’m not saying that if you want to get great at glam rock that your teacher has to be a glam rock specialist. But she better be really comfortable helping you learn to belt!
- Do you want someone who’ll feed you repertoire and stretch you out of your comfort zone, someone who’ll help you get good at the songs you love and request, or a little of both? It’s not a rhetorical question. All three of those options are totally valid, and many voice teachers will feel comfortable with only one or the other of those options. Make sure you find what you’re looking for.
The right teacher will meet you where you’re at and help you reach your goals, or perhaps help you discover goals you didn’t even know you’d have. The wrong teacher could actually make you worse at the stuff you’re eager to learn.
Molly is the founder of Molly’s Music. She is a dedicated singer and pianist whose musical journey spans 2.5 decades, with stops along the way to sing for the pope, pass Certificate of Merit at the highest level, study with Gwen Verdon and Ben Vereen, and record an original album.