How do you pick a voice teacher? After all of the logistics are worked through (location, budget, goals) how does one make that decision? Should you just take the first qualified looking person you find? Or should you go with the most expensive you can afford? Perhaps someone with testimonials from performers you admire?
The truth is, most people have NO IDEA what questions to ask a prospective teacher, what type of credentials they should have, or how anyone even gets into the business of teaching singing in the first place. Most wanting to take voice lessons will go to someone they’ve heard about through a friend or colleague, and this isn't necessarily a bad start. However, something to keep in mind is that ANYONE can put out a shingle and charge you for their time. There is no certification requirement or guarantee of training, like in the medical or legal world. The risk any student takes is substantial, because a teacher is undoubtedly going to teach your something, and you’d better be sure it’s something you actually want to learn. Poor habits are by far more difficult to break than no habits.
On the other hand, there isn't a prescribed path for becoming a teacher of singing. Academic credentials are no guarantee, though they can demonstrate a level of commitment. Neither is the person with the slickest advertising necessarily the best choice. I’ve met teachers with some degree of notoriety that had very little to offer, and incredibly gifted instructors that didn’t even have a website. It is completely up to you, the consumer, to try and review the product you are buying. It is always your right to ask for an explanation, but YOU have to be the one to ask! Don't let intimidation by someone's resume or talent get the best of you! Ask a prospective teacher to explain their process is, how they communicate effectively, and what their method is for creating healthy habits. Even if you're new to singing, this should make a good amount of sense. The job of the teacher, after all, is to bridge the gap between what you currently understand and what you don't quite yet grasp.
One thing to watch out for is any teacher that doesn’t talk about anatomy or reference research from the field of voice science. Most teachers won’t be an expert in these ares (though some certainly are) but in this day and age every singing teacher should have a basic understanding of the science behind vocal production. Another red flag is anyone that promises amazing results in a very short amount of time. Singing is a complex skill that requires intricate coordination and physical strength, and like anything worthwhile in life is not mastered quickly. Additionally, a good teacher should be able clarify the purpose behind any exercises or concept that is introduced (which is not to say that you will immediately fully understand every new idea - but you should have an idea of where you are going). Also, be careful of automatically judging someone favorably strictly based on their credentials. There are many routes to becoming an accomplished teacher, some less traditional than others. Teaching itself is a rather elusive skill, and a long list of professional qualifications isn't always indicative of a gifted communicator and instructor. In the end, a person's work will usually speak for itself. Beware, however, of assuming that talented students always mean the teacher is of high quality. Any teacher can take credit for the inherent gifts of a performer. Instead, look for consistent improvement among students with varying levels of talent. A good teaching method, properly applied and practiced, will improve individuals across all levels, not just among the most talented.
One final thing I would add is that an inflated ego has very little place in teaching. Anyone that believes they can never be wrong will probably eventually land someone in serious vocal trouble. Confidence, however, is not the same as arrogance: It is a necessary prerequisite to teaching someone well. That’s a difficult line to walk, i know, but in my experience the best teachers approach their work with a sense of curiosity and openness. It is useful (though an incredibly difficult character trait to acquire) to be able to embrace something fully, and still maintain an objective point of view about it. So, remember that when you start your lessons. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Be honest with yourself and your instructor. It's wonderful for you to get along well and have fun (singing is after all something we hopefully pursue for the JOY of it) but never hesitate to evaluate your own progress. It will most likely be slow, (because that is the nature of learning something new) but it should be evident. Stay open to possibilities; follow your intuition. That's probably what prompted you to sing in the first place!
- Jacob Thomas Carr