If you’re considering adding a vocal coach to your training team, it’s best to have some questions on hand as you shop around; there are important things to consider when investing in a voice trainer. Although this list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a solid starting point for determining the questions you might want to ask prior to booking an initial session.
1. “Are you a voice teacher, vocal coach, or both?”
Although the distinction between “voice teacher” and “vocal coach” has become blurrier in recent years, it’s important to determine that your candidate is able to help you achieve your goals.
Traditionally, voice teachers in the contemporary commercial world tend to focus more on technical aspects of the voice (expanding the range, achieving more flexibility and consistency of tone, etc.), whereas vocal coaches have dealt more with the ways in which a performer engages a piece through the voice.
2. “What’s your philosophy for training the voice?”
Some voice trainers work from a single school of voicework (like those founded by Linklater, Estill, or Lessac, for instance), while others combine many approaches or create their own. Whatever the case, your coach should be fluent in the fundamental anatomy and physiology of the vocal mechanism, especially if your focus together will be technical in nature. If you’re planning to audition for contemporary musicals, it’s important to confirm that your teacher is fluent in techniques and industry standards particular to contemporary commercial performance.
3. “What are some of your students’ professional accomplishments?”
Provided that your goal is to work professionally, it’s extremely helpful to know what your trainer’s former and current students are up to. (Or, in the case of a college audition coach, where their students are currently studying.) To train the voice generally means allocating significant finances to the pursuit, so the more you know before you invest, the better. Of course, some aspects of whether a teacher will prove a good fit can be learned only after experiencing a few sessions together.
4. “Do you play the piano?”
Some—but not all—vocal coaches are skilled pianists. If it’s important to you to sing with live accompaniment, be sure to confirm that your candidate has the ability to provide it. Otherwise, you might need to pay an accompanist to attend lessons with you, particularly when working toward an upcoming audition.
5. “Do you coach virtually? If so, what’s your process?”
Virtual coaching’s not for everyone but some prefer it. If you think you might be interested in a virtual/in-person swap at some point, ask about your prospective coach’s process and approach to virtual coaching ahead of time.
There are few hard and fast rules for what makes a voice trainer great, and the recommendations above aren’t meant to indicate must-haves or make-or-breaks...unless they’re make-or-break for you. Ask trusted friends for the name of their coaches. Check out reviews. Remember, too, that unless you sign with a vocal coach long-term (and I wouldn’t suggest it, at least not at the very beginning), it’s always within your purview to try out a few options and to switch individuals if things aren’t working out. And as you navigate the world of professional vocal coaching, remember that the best piece of advice was belted out by Liza Minelli in “Flora the Red Menace”: Sing happy!