* this article was written several years ago, prior to Eric's writing and recording his entire program on running a private lesson business.
So you've been thinking about becoming a voice teacher? Good choice! Becoming a voice teacher, vocal coach or singing teacher is a great career path that offers many rewards and challenges.
So how do you become a voice teacher?
Well, like a teacher of any other discipline, a singing teacher's focus should be on the student, the singer. Your students will come to you with a wide spectrum of goals and abilities. It is your job to help them toward those goals. For some, becoming an amazing performer worthy of filling a stadium is their goal. A difficult one to be sure, but it's their goal nonetheless. For others, they may simply want to sing better in the church choir, or on karaoke night, or just have more fun singing in the shower!
As a vocal teacher, you have to have the personal singing skill and training to understand your own voice first, THEN comes the study of the voices of others. Teaching is as much about "getting into the head and emotions" of the student as much as it is understanding the technical aspects of the voice and voice training. How a student feels when singing effects his/her voice dramatically. Understanding this goes a long way in helping that individual conquer their vocal technique issues.
Now, with all that being said, let's focus on the two primary focuses you must have as a private vocal teacher. First, you have to understand how to train singers, and second, you have to understand business. It's similar to a self-employed plumber. Not only does he have to be a very good plumber, he also has to have a steady stream of customers to serve, and that's the business piece of the equation.
An experienced, effective vocal teacher can make a very good living. Even beginning voice teachers typically charge between $30-$50 per hour, depending on the market and their skill level. Experienced teachers can charge $100 per hour and up because of the speed at which they can make changes in a singer's voice.
The Vocal Expertise
First of all, you have to have your own singing voice together. In other words, you need to be able to sing throughout your entire vocal range without any vocal breaks or shifts in sound or tone quality. You have to have a solid, even voice, everywhere in your range. If not, you can't expect to be able to teach others.
Second, you'll need to observe an advanced teacher teaching lessons to many different singers. You should watch a good teacher work with singers of different musical styles, different age groups, different stages of vocal development (not just advanced students or just beginning students), male and female students, etc.
Although the principles of good vocal technique is the same across all styles, ages and genders, each student is different, and comes with a different vocal, emotional, and cognitive approach to the way they sing. As a voice teacher, you need to be able to help a student capitalize on what they already do well, and to improve the areas of the voice that can grow. Observing many hours of the teaching of an advanced, successful voice teacher will shave off years of experimentation and trial and error. Such observation will steepen your learning curve dramatically, and will help your singing students advance at a much faster rate.
Finally, you need to continue to grow as a singer and as a teacher. To do so, you should continue to take lessons yourself. You need a teacher who will specifically teach you how to teach and how to improve your communication with students. Learning how to sing well doesn't make you a good teacher any more than knowing any subject matter means you can teach it well. You'll need a master teacher to help you develop as a singing teacher. You'll certainly have your own personality and style of teaching, but finding the fastest way to help students improve and enjoy singing more is vitally important, and you want the direction of those who've developed some very efficient paths to learning.
Running Your Business
Even a very talented teacher won't be teaching much if he or she doesn't know the business of running a teaching studio.
- Certification -
Many people want to know what makes you a voice teacher. What kind of training do you have? What is your performance background? How much teaching have you done? These are legitimate questions. It is helpful to have a degree in vocal performance or to become a certified voice teacher through a comprehensive voice teacher certification program. Aside from the fact that you will learn to become a superior vocal teacher / vocal coach, you'll be able to show potential students that you were and are serious about your profession and about improving your abilities as a voice teacher by pursuing advanced training. People like to know that they aren't just taking lessons with some guy who can play a little piano and did a bit of singing here or there a long time ago. Be serious about your professional development.
- Professionalism -
If you want to be a professional voice teacher, then it starts with very basic professionalism. Be at your lessons on time. Dress neatly. Your teaching environment should be clean, inviting and without distractions (construction going on outside the windows, pets in the teaching room, etc.). These should be obvious, but I mention them because to some, they aren't as obvious as they should be!
- Pricing -
One of the first things you need to do is find out what beginning level voice teachers are charging in your area, as well as the most expensive. This will give you a baseline from which to start. You are by no means obligated to start at beginning level prices, but I suggest you start with a lower price until you fill up the number of teaching hours you want to fill. The most important thing is that you become an incredibly good voice teacher! As your skills increase, you help people achieve their goals faster. As that happens, demand for your teaching will increase and your prices can adjust accordingly.
- Finding Students: Advertising and Marketing -
There are many ways that voice teachers get new students, and it varies with every teacher. Online advertising, special promotions (e.g. buy 1 lesson, get 1 free for new students, etc.), networking with local singing groups and directors, print advertising, signage, volunteering your time with vocalists and vocal groups, and the list goes on. You'll have to experiment to see what works for you in your area. Watch what your more successful competition is doing. You might learn a thing or two about how your market area responds to certain types of advertising/marketing. Also, you need to go with an advertising style that fits your personality as well as your budget. There are also many books written on the subject of small business marketing and advertising. Read up! Of course, doing a great job for your students and getting word of mouth referrals is the best way to get new voice students!
- Location -
You'll need a location to teach that is convenient for people to get to. If you live out in the middle of nowhere, you may have to rent a space closer in town. Now, you might choose to teach out of your home. Many teachers do this. Just be sure that you have a waiting area separate from the teaching area so that shy students aren't worried about others listening in on them. Also, the waiting and teaching areas should look neat and clean, and be sure that the members of your family aren't also using that area of the house when students are there. Again, professionalism.
- Equipment -
There's no need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on fancy recording or performance equipment. To start, all you need is a basic keyboard or piano, and something with which to record the lesson for the student. A simple computer with a CD burner is fine. Also, you'll need ability to play CDs or mp3s that students may be singing along with. Having basic amplification system would be nice, but not necessary to begin with. When I started teaching 30 years ago, I only had a tape recorder and a small keyboard. Your ability to train the voice is most important. All the fancy equipment in the world won't make a bad teacher any better (although it might look pretty impressive!). You'll grow into it.
- Scheduling -
Be aware that private voice teaching will tend to necessitate your teaching in the evenings and on weekends. Although you can choose when you want to teach and when you don't, the most common time for people to take lessons is weekday evenings and on Saturdays. The more you can carve out those time frames for teaching, the more voice student schedules you'll be able to accommodate.
- Full-time / Part-time -
You may only wish to teach only part-time. Voice teaching is perfect for you! If you only want to teach Tuesdays between 3-8pm because that is the only time you can commit, that's fine. If you want to work full-time, then continue to build your number of students to the point that you can quit your current job and only teach voice lessons. This is a career path that allows you a lot of time and income flexibility.
- Vocal Styles -
If you teach a technique that can only be applied to one vocal style, then you need to improve your concept of good vocal technique. Only teaching students the style(s) that you like will limit your number of potential students at best, or even worse, you'll try to force-feed students music they don't like. Your job is to help the students meet their goals, not change their goals to meet your own tastes. Expand your own musical and vocal styles horizons. You might actually find that there is good music and some great vocalists in almost every style out there!
- Age Groups, Genders, etc. -
Now, some teachers are going to love working with kids while others really have a difficult time with kids. The same might be true for teaching females instead of males, or vice versa. The more you learn to relate to different people of all ages and genders, though, the more easily you can build your studio and you can help more people. That being said, it doesn't mean you have to teach everybody, but if you are only teaching certain ages or genders because you don't know how to teach voices of particular ages or genders, then you need to improve your ability to do so. The principles of vocal technique do not change no matter the age or gender. It can be very enjoyable teaching singers of all ages. You may just need a little practice to get comfortable with it!
Teaching singers has great rewards. You are helping people fulfill some deep desires of expressing themselves through singing. That means allot to allot of people. There are few things in this life as exhilarating as singing really well. Helping others do that can be very rewarding. You can also support yourself and your family very well financially with teaching voice as a career. You can teach full or part time, depending on your own financial or lifestyle goals.
Learn all you can about both sides of the business of teaching singers: being a great teacher and being a smart small business owner. If you stay focused, work hard, and show real dedication, you'll be very talented, successful voice teacher.