Our panel of vocal coaches and voice teachers weighs in on when and why to get help to improve and protect your voice.
Voice coaches are an important behind-the-scenes supporting player in the journey of many singers. The right coach or voice teacher can help you unlock new abilities or master complex songs. Their expertise also ensures your methods are efficient and sustainable, and that they are not straining or damaging your voice. We asked our roster of experienced vocal coaches for advice about when and how to seek professional help for your voice, and for their favorite vocal tips and tricks.
What sort of vocal instruction do you need?
As a novice, or even as a very experienced singer, you may think that a vocal coach is a waste of time. Both assumptions are wrong! Voice teacher and musician Renee Grant-Williams is an accomplished soprano and teacher who has worked with singers on four continents. Having consulted extensively in Nashville, her client roster includes country stars like Carrie Underwood and Garth Brooks. Grant-Williams knows that nearly anybody who use their voice professionally can benefit from help in maximizing and protecting their abilities.
The need is actually universal: young voices need to be nurtured and protected; professionals need to take care of the instrument that has given them their successes; singers need help when they are on the waning side of their careers, as an aging voice needs special care. It's a little like this: Mike Tyson might be a big, strong guy, but he doesn't get into the ring without his trainer in his corner.
When you are looking for professional help with your singing or speaking, you might work with either a voice teacher or a vocal coach. Not sure what the difference is and which one you need? Justin Stoney works as both. He teaches everyone from Broadway singers to pop-chart acts, and provides instruction for aspiring voice teachers via the NYVC Voice Teacher Training and Certification program. Stoney explains the difference between the two types of educators.
Truly, singers of all levels, ages, and genres can benefit from having a voice teacher. A voice teacher is an expert at the actual technique or the “how” of singing. This includes breathing, resonance, the larynx, anatomy, vocal registration, and more. Voice teachers may specialize in different areas or different genres, but should be able to help singers of many backgrounds improve their voices.
Vocal coaches are usually those who help singers master their musical, stylistic, and performance choices. So, they are generally a little bit more for advanced and professional singers, but not necessarily. At New York Vocal Coaching, we do both voice teacher (vocal technique) as well as vocal coaching (performance prep).
Finding a great voice coach
When you are looking to hire a coach, how do you find the one that you need? The credentials and experience of the coach are important, as improper instruction can cause long-lasting damage.
Brett Manning has taught singers from all across the world, including numerous Grammy winners. He’s also judged many singing competitions, and has created his own step-by-step vocal training program. With the experience that comes from teaching thousands of students, Manning feels that a bad coach is worse than no coach.
Literally every vocalist can benefit from a great coach, but it needs to be the RIGHT coach. Learning the wrong techniques can exacerbate vocal trouble. Much of my vocal coaching is un-teaching the bad habits. Many of my students have invested thousands of dollars, investing in lessons and vocal degrees and are now realizing they have to re-learn how to sing and reverse vocal damage.
Want to avoid doing damage to your pipes and learn proper techniques? Manning’s top three things to look for when seeking out the right vocal coach:
- A methodology that allows a modest and evenness of pressure on the voice from the lowest to the highest notes.
- A track record of students who exemplify methodology and who have demonstrated outstanding results over a long time span with numerous students. Or, if your coach is a newly certified coach, at least they should have credibility from an organization that continuously builds great singers.
- Word of mouth—look for highly recommended coaches.
Tips for improving your vocal skills
Beyond singing scales and time spent in the steam room, there are exercises that everyone can do in order to train their voice and the body that delivers it. Vocal coach and singer-songwriter Judy Rodman works with both singers and speakers, from major recording artists to voiceover talent. A published author with a popular blog, Rodman shares her favorite exercises, and an important technique tip.
I recommend the lip trills or tongue trills, sirens and staccatos, sustains and long scales to most everyone. BUT, I find that it’s even more important HOW a person does a vocal exercise. Form is everything. I teach vocalists to pull exercises instead of push them. This gets the balance of breath support and breath control that is so necessary to keeping the throat open throughout the range and on all vowels. It maximizes vocal sound and eliminates vocal strain.
Justin Stoney teaches a diverse array of clients, but has found that certain adjustments help nearly all singers.
We try to tailor-make our exercises to the needs of every single singer that we work with. However, universally speaking, there are some things that every singer can work on. First, of all breath support. A simple sustained Hiss sound can help a singer establish an exhale that is small and steady.
As for resonance, vocalizing on an NG can help singers to feel greater nasal and head resonance. This sound can be opened into any vowel for a sound with a balanced resonance.
Finally, singers need to make sure that they are working all the registers of the voice such as chest voice, head voice, and mix. The OO vowel up in falsetto and head voice can help stretch the vocal range and build those registers. More spoken exercises and ones that emphasize compression control can be used for chest voice and mix.
Do you already have an important tool for improving your voice in your own home? Renee Grant-Williams explains.
I highly recommend you practice in front of a full length mirror, so you can see if your body parts are aligned for optimal ease of singing. Get a recording device and record and listen back to yourself both a capella and with voiceless karaoke tracks. Try not to sing along with the singer more than a few times when you are learning a song so you develop the skills and attitude of a leader rather than those of a follower.
Use (and protect) your own voice
Your voice belongs only to you, but that does not mean that an expert cannot help you polish and protect it. By investing in the right voice instructor and practicing wisely and safely, you can reach your vocal goals and preserve your most irreplaceable instrument for years to come.
Your mic can have a profound impact on your live and studio vocals. Learn more with our Microphone Buying Guide.