Every voice teacher with a private studio has had a call that starts out with the following statement: “I just want a few lessons to help me with…….” If you have been teaching for a while, you have probably also gotten a call that begins with “could you tell me how much you charge?” And, of course, there is the inspiring “I’d like to find a teacher in my neighborhood” person who starts with “where are you located?”
You know before you get to the second sentence that these conversations are doomed, as you are dealing with someone who has no idea what learning to sing entails. You have to decide if you are going to take the time to educate the person about how the process works and, if you do, you know you still risk having the person tell you something like “Oh, I didn’t realize. I guess that’s not what I want after all”.
While people absolutely have a right to search for teachers they can afford and who are located in a place that is accessible to them, neither of these criteria is the best for making a choice in terms of choosing a singing teacher. One would hope that the potential student would be interested in the teacher’s background, approach, philosophy, and experience teaching. It might also be hoped that the person would be looking for someone who was willing to work with a student who had their qualifications — such as beginners, professionals, people with vocal health issues, people singing only specific styles, etc.
If I had a quarter for all of the phone conversations I’ve had with people who started out with the above sentences, I would be set for retirement. I use my “educated guess” barometer when deciding the type of response to make (long, short, simple, detailed). A lot depends upon my mood and the amount of time I have. I try to be open, polite and helpful whenever possible. I might end up referring the caller to a colleague or giving other kinds of advice. I do this because the person calling can’t help that they don’t know and because we want all aspiring singers to get whatever help they need, and if facilitating that happens to fall to me, then I have to be responsible. On the other hand, it isn’t really my job to elaborate, and it is well within ethical standards to simply be respectful and brief. This is a judgment call to be made by each individual teacher.
If we had a society that promoted study of music in general these questions might come up less frequently. Perhaps in our work, especially through those teachers who can and do write about training singers, we can help educate the public about what goes into learning our wonderful vocal art. In the meantime, when you get one of those calls, remember, you aren’t alone!