A singing teacher or voice coach is responsible for assisting artists to develop their vocal skills for the purposes of improving vocal performances on recordings and live shows.
The singing teacher (or voice coach) is a professional instructor who trains students at many levels of the music industry. Some are tasked with introducing young singers to the art at a very early stage, working with children and teenagers to develop performance skills, lung capacity and in some cases, performance art (“stage presence”). Some of these young students pursue singing as a hobby, whilst others hope to progress to a professional singing career.
Other vocal coaches work with students who have more significant singing experience, aiming to improve their abilities, or overcome certain difficulties with range or projection within certain types of music, or with certain tones or scales.
Many vocal coaches are former professional singers, as it is necessary that the trainer be well versed in many vocal styles in order to enable others to improve. Students may visit the vocal coach at any point in their careers, but for differing reasons: sometimes, it may be a musician who is struggling to perform backing vocals, or perhaps an experienced vocalist who has been asked by their label to explore a different musical style for a forthcoming album. In every case, the singing teacher’s specific aim is to improve the vocal ability of the student regardless of their level or professional expectations.
At the basic entry point, the singing teacher may operate out of a favoured local studio and will charge per hour, usually at a cost of around £25 per one-hour session. For very well know vocal coaches, the fee can climb considerably, especially for those who are paid directly by a record company or artist management agency. In these cases, the vocal coach can expect to receive anything up to £500 per hour whilst working with major label artists or developing talents signed to these labels.
- Understand the specific professional objectives of the person being coached
- Devise and deliver a teaching programme related to the musical genre as per the student’s request
- Commit to a programme of development and manage several students' learning schedules at the same time
- Make adaptations to teaching programme as required
- Provide tailored feedback to student, parent, record label or producer as appropriate
There are no formal qualifications required to become a vocal coach, although a significant period spent learning and acquiring a reputation as a singer is usually deemed to be an essential part. Many professional vocalists will spend over 10 years developing their own skills before considering becoming a teacher of others. There is a seemingly endless array of performance, singing, artist and dramatic type courses available at schools, colleges, performing art centres and universities around the world; however, new candidates will find that students seeking instructors prefer a proven professional track record rather than any sort of academic diploma.
- Possess a thorough understanding of musical notation, key, harmony, scales, melody, etc.
- Be sympathetic to the student’s current standard of ability
- Be an excellent motivator to enhance the desire for improvement
- Have knowledge of performance art, dance and accompanying skills where appropriate
- Be able to make alterations to the teaching plan as requested
- Be flexible to the requests of artist managers, producers and record labels
- Be professional at all times, and be realistic in terms of achievable aims
Much of this work takes place in either a dancing studio or recording studio, although there are a lot of vocal coaches who teach at their home (or the home of the student). Those involved in music production usually have an intrinsic love of the studio, as it is a place which naturally fosters inspiration and innovation. A very busy schedule could see the singing teacher travelling between several locations, or teaching out of two schools or two studios concurrently, so it may involve a significant amount of travel.
It is virtually impossible to make it as a vocal coach without having some sort of justifiable reputation in the music or entertainment industry, even at a grass-roots level. Potential students will consider the professional reputation of the teacher, and in order to justify the commencement of a course, the vocal coach must be able to prove a pedigree in professional vocal performance. Often, a vocal coach will become synonymous with a specific genre of music, so there will be, for example, a “go-to” jazz teacher or opera teacher at a given studio, theatre, or performing arts college.
Premier vocal coaches develop a reputation in their own right which goes well beyond that of a mere “ex performer turned teacher.” Those at the top of their game can charge sizeable fees for their services, and will be teaching several high-profile artists at the same time, all of whom may have record deals or development deals with major labels. It is exciting for the teacher to be able to see new talent come through, and the reason most choose to persevere.
London Music School, RCM, City Academy, Tech Music School and the Vocalists Institute of Technology are internationally recognised learning institutions which offer courses tailored to vocalist development in the UK. For the inexperienced singer seeking tuition, there are countless options, and for exactly the same reason, the candidate has many options to explore when seeking a potential place in which to teach.
Cherry Chandon is a professional Thai jazz singer and regionally renowned singing instructor, helping a new generation of pop, jazz and blues artists in Asia develop their own singing talent.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I would always listen to music when I was young, and I would find it impossible to switch the radio off. I would sing to myself, and at that time, my parents realised I had a talent and supported me as I enrolled into the Dramatic Art College in Bangkok. There, I learned more about music and singing, along with acting, dance and stage performance. Now, I’m happy to make other people feel like a star, to experience the same things I did as I began to learn.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
I split my time between teaching at two very famous schools in Bangkok; one is Superstar Academy, a very high-profile school which is popular with upper class families. The other is Yamaha Music School, which is a name that is familiar to musicians and performers around the world. My class is tailored specifically to the demands of the student, and the only time that this changes is where I leave to work with the artist in a recording studio, such as G20, a hot new girl supergroup from Asia that I was coaching. This can mean very late night finishes.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Most of my students are teenage girls, but they can be from all sorts of backgrounds. I mostly teach singing, but some come to me for acting and performance coaching too.
What do you like most about the job?
It makes me happy to be able to create and edit my own teaching schedule. I design and plan it around the student. I also love being able to create a performance of some kind, so it’s a magical experience to watch a showcase with one of my students as the main star. Also, my students constantly push me, to be alert and to work harder.
What do you like least about the job?
Cancellations. It’s a statement of fact that not all the students who attend my class have the heart and desire to want to be a star; many come because they see it as a cool thing to tell their friends – a very fashionable “branding” to attach to one’s social life. They do not intend to be professionals, which results in a lot of making up for missed lessons, which is more hard work on my part.
What are the key responsibilities?
Generally, the improvement of the texture, power and tonality of the student’s voice. We start with a warm-up scale for 15 minutes, which is crucial for empowering the body, the muscles and the mind. The scale will change every week, so as to encourage development. I will then choose a song to work on based on their vocal range. We then progress to harder scales and harder songs. We record the student’s voice at the beginning of term, so we can judge progress during the course; that’s 12 hours of lessons over three months, plus two showcases.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
You really need to know music, to have a deep love and understanding of it. You must be familiar with a broad range of musical styles, and be open-minded to understanding genres with which you are not acquainted. I feel that the piano is an essential teaching tool as it can help when a student is struggling to show them the way. This is obviously an investment of time on the part of the teacher; I’m pushing myself to improve my piano right now. I want to relearn ballet again also, so that I can teach this too.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
Remember that you are trying to make people a star, so you should have a broad mix of skills: singing, songwriting, production, dance, acting – anything you can use to inspire people. Keep pushing yourself to improve, and it will become second nature when you turn your attention to teaching others.