What Makes A "Good" Teacher of Singing?

There is no definition of what makes a good teacher of singing. There are no singing organizations that have “rules” or “regulations”, no set of principles, no guidelines at all to help someone seeking a singing teacher to know what to look for or what is important. It really is a case of “buyer beware”. Even if the singing student were to find someone with a doctoral degree, it doesn’t mean the person will be a good teacher or even a teacher who can teach what the student seeks to learn.

Further, no one sets out any guidelines as to what “good” singing is. It takes a long time to understand what the “big picture” is and while you are trying to find out you can waste a lot of time……years and years.

A good singing teacher understands vocal function. This means that he or she will understand how the vocal folds work, where they are located, what happens above the vocal folds in the vocal tract, how to track vocal acoustics (resonance) and how the body is structured and works so that breathing is efficient and deliberate. A teacher will also understand how all the many things that need to happen in order for singing to be freely done should occur.

A good singing teacher will take into consideration the age of the pupil, personal background and training in related skills, (such as playing an instrument or dancing), and what kind of music the person will sing. The teacher will also understand how to hear the signs of vocal health problems that interfere with vocal performance and well-being. The teacher will understand how vocal exercises work, how to teach them in an appropriate manner (so that they are not too hard or too easy) and what to expect from each person in terms of progress if they are practicing the given exercises effectively. The teacher will understand what various kinds of music do to a performer’s voice in terms of the effects the style produces on vocal behavior if the person is singing on a regular basis. The teacher will take into consideration the amount of time and type of speaking the pupil must do.

A good singing teacher will also know a great deal about whatever style of music he or she teaches. If it is classical music, the teacher should know songs in English, Italian, French and German, of various levels of difficulty and of various historical eras, written by various composers from many countries. The teacher will understand the nuance of each style, the correct SINGING pronunciation of the language, and the appropriate songs for each voice category and type. The teacher will understand how to teach dramatic communication of text and will also be a well-trained musician. A good classical singing teacher will understand that classical singers must generate high decibel levels, clear tones, consistent resonance in the 2800=3200 Hz frequency range and will know how to teach all of this on an individual basis. A good singing teacher will also understand the differences between classical music and those styles which are now called Contemporary Commercial Music (see previous posts if you don’t know this term). The teacher will understand what distinguishes a country song from a Broadway song and a jazz song from a rock song, including how the vocal quality changes, the way the music is expressed and what happens with the presentation, so that the pupil sounds appropriate and good in any style.

A good singing teacher will understand human nature. He or she will not teach through embarrassment, harassment, fear, humiliation, intimidation, or arrogance. The teacher will understand how to be honest while being compassionate, clear without being rigid, and adjustable without being vague.

A good singing teacher will understand the professional criteria each style demands if the persons they teach have expectations of going out into the world as singers (not teachers). This means that they understand what the profession wants here in New York City, or in London, or LA, or Nashville, and that they teach with those standards in mind. The teacher will not decide that he or she has the only REAL standards and that those people “out there” in the marketplace are all “just wrong”.

The teacher will put the needs of the student first, over and above all else. The teacher will seek to always improve, stay in touch with the latest developments of the profession of singing teaching and interact with colleagues to be sure they are not isolated.

The teacher will sing well. (Please see previous posts if you don’t know what that means). If the teacher sounds bad, the pupil should be highly skeptical. If the person is not motivated to sing well herself, and cannot find a way to apply what she is teaching to her own instrument, it calls into question whether the person can do for someone else what they cannot or will not do for themselves. I think not.

There are more ingredients, but not less. I wish someone had told me this when I was 15.

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4 thoughts on “What Makes A "Good" Teacher of Singing?”

  1. As a new teacher, I’m trying to stick to function, nothing fancy. And practicing deep listening to unearth what the student is asking for and where they need to go. Sometimes I feel that I’m hanging out in space with this, but the path seems right. Being a new teacher is scary and challenging, the first rule for me being “do no harm.”

  2. Great post. I do wonder though, just how much knowledge of how the vocal folds work and other technical pedagogy is really necessary. There were master teachers long before anyone knew muscularly how things work. Do we really sing better for such knowledge or does it unnecessarily complicate singing and confuse the student?

    I’ve asked my teacher what the most important asset is for teaching. He said “a good set of ears.” Curiously, that’s the one thing you don’t highlight here.

  3. Since Somatic Voicework is an aural method, I think you can assume I want teachers to have a good set of ears. But, YES, you must know where the vocal folds are, what they do, and why. Not to know this, in the 21st century, is absurd. We can’t teach like they did in 1700!! If teachers do not know what the vocal folds do, they won’t understand at all why things work they way they do and they won’t understand what is wrong.

    Yes, you can teach in ignorance with a “good set of ears”. You can also navigate the streets of New York City blind, but if you didn’t have to, would you?

  4. I’ve studied with some well known teachers (some who sang very well and whose names you would recognize) but I have to say that one of the most exceptional teachers I had did not sing very well at all. He knew how to listen, possessed a great understanding of vocal function, and was also well-versed in the history of vocal ped. He knew how to communicate effectively, much better than others I experienced who could sing beautifully.

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