I was explaining to someone what sort of singing teacher I am and how there are different sorts of singing teachers. It got me thinking that maybe he’s not the only person who doesn’t know how I define myself as a singing teacher and the sort of work I do.
Writing this blog took me in all sorts of directions so that I now have another 3 blogs to share. Here is the section where I stay on track and discuss the categories of singing teachers that occur to me as I write it. I also realise there are so many more categories and types of singing teachers so I’ll redefine this as a riff about types of singing teachers
1 – Accompanist/MDs
There are singing teachers who are amazing musicians, usually pianists. They can accompany you and teach you the tunes to songs. They will know about musical stuff and your musicianship will benefit enormously from working with them. Some of these amazing pianists know about voice technique but if there is a technical thing that they’re not helping you might want a lesson or two with a technical singing teacher.
2 – Karaoke Teachers
I’ve heard people comment that sometimes lessons are like singing karaoke. They sing something and the teacher says something like “wonderful, do it again” all lesson (I paraphrase as I’ve never been to a teacher who does this).
I always assume the best of people and I think there may well be things these teachers are saying, or having the student do that the student doesn’t realise they are doing. Teaching can be a subtle art. However if you feel that your teacher is doing this and you do want more then maybe tell the teacher you’d like more feedback and instruction.
What desperately shy singers need
For some very shy singers that is a massive challenge.
I have taught singers who needed to sing with the singer and then they might be ready to sing without the singer, with a karaoke track, and then, a few lessons in, they would be ready to sing alone or with me accompanying them on piano. Yes, I do mean that these people are too afraid to sing any sort of warm up. That’s ok. I understand doing things that are scary and I will hold your hand whilst gently pushing you towards singing more and more.
For these people singing in front of anyone, even hearing themselves sing, is a massive deal.
3 – Classical Teachers
When I started having singing lessons all teachers, (I think, I didn’t meet them all), were classically trained. They believed that classical technique was the key to all singing and that was what they taught. I learned a lot from my first singing teacher (when I was 14) and I think she was great because she didn’t try to make me sing in any particular way.
I do believe these lessons explain why the most comfortable thing for me to sing Memory from Cats with a lot of vibrato and sounding like a middle aged woman. I am pretty sure I sounded like a middle aged woman singing that song when I was 15, just with a weaker voice than I have now.
There are still many people who suggest that classical technique is what all singers should study.
I don’t teach classical singing because I don’t know the repertoire, my language skills are appalling and I don’t know the fine details of how it should sound. I do, however, guide people with key vocal technique if they bring the occasional classical song to me and I do teach the occasional Italian aria to singers who are working on their “legit” style. If someone enquires with me about classical singing lessons I send them to one of my colleagues as I know my limits.
I hope that any classically trained singing teacher who is working with singers who sing non-classical repertoire will either study how to other styles or refer them to another teacher for that work.
4 – Genre Specific
I have taught a singer who was trained in Classical Indian singing but I didn’t look at that genre of singing with him because it’s not my field. My Punjabi is terrible.
I don’t teach people how to create distortion sounds as I’m not good at that myself and I’m not trained in teaching it. I will work with people who make those sounds to ensure they are taking care of their voices. I love rock music and when people make “dirty” sounds. Love it. I will also work gently with singers who want to explore it. I’m very cautious and gentle in the work. If that’s their main thing I’m not the right teacher for them.
I am not an expert in gospel singing, I’m not a jazz scatter, I’m a terribly mediocre rapper (ask my band). I’d better stop before I list all of the things I can’t do and completely put you off me.
I know people who are better at those things than I am. When new singers get in touch and want to focus on these things, (as well as several other things), refer onwards to other teachers.
What genres do I teach?
I teach singers who sing in any genre (except Classical). I work with singers on the style they know. I have helped people to improvise, I have improved their riffing until they are much better than I am at riffing. I work with screamers, gospel singers, Cantors, soul singers, rockers, wedding singers.
As a trained actor I love working with actors and dancers who have to sing or want to be able to sing in the future. I work with a lot of performers from local am dram groups. I warn you that I am a much harsher judge of acting than I am of singing.
I’ll describe more of what I do but generally I need the singer to know their genre or be happy to study it with me. I teach technique and enable the singer to sing however they choose. It is not up to me to tell them how they “should” sound.
What do I mostly do?
I work with people who want to do something new with their voices. This often includes classical singers who want to be able to sing different colours.
Yes I teach belting, and mix.
Yes I have singers who want to find their vibrato. This can be tricky usually takes longer than either of us want. It’s the time when I often reach for Caro Mio Ben. Check out Caro Mio Ben Here
I am often the teacher who teaches beautiful singers how to be uglier. This is from a singer who was classically trained and after a year of steady work on her contemporary sound played Fiona in Shrek with all of the right colours. I was so proud of her.
Terrified new singers
I work with people who are afraid to sing at all. I am adept at creating a safe space where it’s ok to feel desperately self conscious but to sing any way. I love seeing people who think singing is impossible for them find joy in singing.
This literally made me cry yesterday but that’s another story.
I am happy to work with singers who are in recovery from vocal problem and I know the roadmap for supporting a singer who may have a vocal injury. If I am concerned I always suggest a singer has their larynx examined at a hospital and will step back until they have been deemed well enough to sing by a hospital if that is required.
I am all about authentic performance. I want people to let the song sing through them and to tell the story or the meaning of the song in a simple and believable manner.
I teach in a holistic way.
I believe that the voice is an expression of who a person is and as such voices may need to be coaxed and treated gently. I work with you to train your singing muscles but this work is about mindset and unblocking as much as it is about musical and muscular training.
More on this topic to come….
I had fun writing this so there will be another blog to follow where I describe more types of singing teachers.
‘I have had lessons with Rebecca for year and it has been a worthwhile investment in my development as a performer.
I discovered that my local theatre group were putting on a production of ‘Shrek: The Musical’ and I really wanted to audition for the role of Princess Fiona.
The part was vocally demanding, requiring a number of vocal styles as well as singing while tap-dancing!
Rebecca helped me through the audition process so that I was able to enter the audition room feeling comfortable with both the legit and belting. As a trained actor, she was also able to help me with the delivery of the piece and forced me out of my comfort zone.
I was thrilled to be chosen for the part and Rebecca was then able to guide me through the other songs whch I needed to prepare, again, with guidance on acting and characterisation as well as safe vocal technique.
First-night nerves aside, the week went swimmingly. I was able to deliver the vocals consistently during each performance without strain or worry that my voice would ‘give out’ midshow.
Thank you Rebecca for all of your help and guidance, and for pushing me to grow as a performer.’