Why do I need vocal coaching if I’m already talented? The answer to this is similar to why olympic athletes need coaches. Talent, while certainly important, is overemphasized, and that can get you into serious trouble. Every year commercial music icons cancel shows or cut tours short because their voices are failing. That usually isn’t because of a lack of talent. Often it’s because they don’t understand the most efficient and sustainable way to use their voices when performing on a 7 day a week schedule. The truth is there isn’t much sensation directly around the vocal folds. This means that damaging habits, oftentimes, don’t physically hurt, and performers often blow their voices out before they even realize anything is wrong.

Should I take lessons from the best singer I can find? A lot of performers turn to teaching when the money is tight. But teaching isn’t like performing. A performer has to know their own voice, but no one else’s. They usually don’t have a background in education techniques and the science of singing. Oftentimes they haven’t faced the specific obstacle their students might be dealing with, and have no concept on how to actually help them. I’m not saying incredible performers can’t be incredible teachers - they can and sometimes are! My point is that the two are very different skill sets, and each have to be developed in their own right. A skilled teacher, on the other hand, has hopefully coached thousands of voices and come up with a structured approach that can be applied and modified to fit any individual. They will teach you the technique that you need, specifically, and know how to best explain it so you make the most amount of progress in each session.

How do I know if a voice teacher is good? This is a difficult question to answer. How do you know if any professional you hire is good at their job? In todays world, we often look at training and credentials to determine how skilled a person is. This is a good start! Unfortunately, training and knowledge, while important, don’t automatically make someone a good teacher. I think it’s helpful to use a dual approach when appraising the quality of a voice teacher. First of all, do their students get better, no matter how talented they are? The real test of a teacher is how consistently people that work with them improve, rather than how high profile their clients are to begin with. Secondly, once you start working with a teacher, evaluate if singing feels easier with every lesson. Of course their will be tough days, and times when physically your voice isn’t in it’s best shape due to things outside of your control. Generally speaking, though, your trajectory should be towards singing which feels easier and easier with each session. If that’s not the case, go find a new teacher. 

What sets your work apart from someone else’s? First of all, every coach brings something unique to the table. I encourage all my clients to go work with other coaches, provided the experience isn’t confusing or detrimental to their progress. No single vocal coach is perfect, or right for everyone. That said, I have over the years developed an approach that I think can be described with one word: “synthesis.” I do not believe in dealing with any obstacle in isolation - meaning that there are several causes and several approaches to overcoming whatever difficulty you’re facing. I believe this approach to problem solving increases progress exponentially, meaning with every added element, you rate of improvement is multiplied.  Because I have a background in acting, music directing, singing, bodywork, and non traditional (and traditional) education I am able to combine these viewpoints into concrete exercises to ensure you make the fastest possible progress. Every exercise I give you is simultaneously addressing several aspects of learning at once. The beauty is, though, you don’t have to worry about that. I’m a big believer in simplicity. I make everything as succinct and easy to understand as possible. Lastly, as an expert accompanist, I am able to help you directly apply anything you learn to your music, and prepare you appropriately for auditions and performances.  

What is Technique?

Technique. Its a word that has achieved pet status among singers and voice teachers alike. Perhaps its a compliment on how “good” your technique has gotten, or a complaint like “if only [insert latest pop star icon here] had better technique, they wouldn’t have had to cancel their tour.” New performers are encouraged to build it, experienced ones are warned not to lose it, and artistic work is even rated because of it (“their such an incredible performer with AMAZING technique” or “He wouldn’t be flat all the time if only he improved his technique” etc..)

So what is technique, exactly? If your experiences have been similar to mine, you’ve probably never had anyone give you an actual working definition of it (which is kind of ridiculous considering how much the word is tossed around). Don’t you think it’s a little absurd to work so hard towards something and not even be able to clearly articulate what that thing it is?

tech·nique: a way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure.

That is, literally, Webster’s definition. So concise, right? Technique is just the way you do something. This applies to athletes, scientists, musicians, actors, etc.. My opinion is that we can take this one step further. What you do, when you aren’t thinking, is your technique.  Not what you wish you did. Not what you would like to do. What you do, now, by force of habit. The other thing might be ‘technique in training”, so to speak, but your real technique is just the normal thing that happens the majority of the time. 

So, the question is, are you completely satisfied with your current abilities as a performer or speaker? If the answer is yes, there is zero reason to read further, or ever worry about this topic ever again (or talk to another human, you narcissist). Of course, I’m speaking in hyperbole. None of us are so gifted that we couldn’t improve in some way, and if you think otherwise, well, good luck! A question we should all be asking ourselves is what exactly do we want to learn? What is our end goal? Are we seeking out colleagues, mentors, and environments to work towards those results? Do we even have a clear picture of what we want? If you don’t actually know what kind of performer or communicator you’d like to be, it’s going to be hard to feel like you’re making any progress.  

Once you have an idea what you’re working towards, the next step is figuring out what steps to take to actually improve. Learning any skill involves three things: your body, your mind, and the connection between them. Your mind starts with an impulse, or thought, which is translated (hopefully accurately, but not always) to a body part, and then muscles are activated to perform an action. Science has shown that muscles themselves can be embedded with patterns, so once you practice something enough times you’ll do it without the brain even needing to trigger it. (you can see this in people’s posture, which is completely a habitual neuromuscular response). So, first you have to know what you’re working towards. Then you can give your mind a new thought, which will illicit a different reaction in some part of your body, which will hopefully be a little closer to your ideal. Or sometimes your body can be prompted to discover the new thing and in turn relay that to your mind as a new or altered sensation which you could replicate in the future. That would be working the system in reverse. 

Notice, I haven’t labeled anything as “good” or “bad”, yet.  But, if you practice enough to make a difference (which, honestly, is any amount of practice; also, we use our voices ALL THE TIME), you will turn whatever you’re practicing into your technique. Know what builds neural pathways? Repetition. This is why practicing anything is one of the most dangerous things you can do! But it’s also how you change (as far as I can tell, its the ONLY way to change). So, now you understand why I am skeptical (and you should be too) of anyone I'm going to let influence me. 

Ask a potential teacher to give you a clear idea of what they are working towards with their students. See if you hold similar artistic values. For example, my goals with any singer or professional speaker can be summed up in one sentence:  

“I want to cultivate sound that communicates to an audience in an efficient, honest, dynamic, and meaningful way, while working within the structure of a given style and staying aware of the commercial implications of said choices.” 

If that resonates with you, at least you know we have similar end products in mind (it doesn’t mean that my ideas and how I communicate them are any good, however). It’s a nice first step, though. Another helpful thing to do is to get as in touch with your own body's sensations as much as you can. Usually you can trust your instincts (not always, but usually). If someone is presenting you with an idea that is contrary to what you previously thought, take some time to examine it. Feel it out. Try it out in an active way, don’t just think about it. With experiential skills like singing or speaking you typically will know when something feels good and when it doesn’t. 

And just remember, you are always learning something, so ask yourself, are you learning what you actually want to learn?