Voice Teacher vs. Voice Coach – Can they co-exist in the same person?

Years ago, I had a young student who walked into her half-hour lesson one day and announced, “Today I want to sing three songs and I don’t want to waste any time.” I said, “Okay.” We skipped the stretching and obligatory how-was-your-week discussion during same and launched into vocalises. She rolled her eyes and sighed heavily as I moved from lip trills to resonance exercises, and from articulation vocalises to scales. We started her first song. She made a mistake in the second line. I stopped to correct the error. We restarted the song. She made it again. We stopped. We started again and got to the same spot and she made the same mistake. I stopped and she snapped her fingers in my face and said, “Let’s keep moving! Time is wasting!”

via GIPHY

I stopped and said to her, “If you want someone to play happy little songs while you sing without any correction, then you need someone who plays piano a lot better than I do. If you want to sing those happy little songs and know that they will be RIGHT every time you sing them, that’s what I’m here for.”

I am a voice teacher. I am here to help you develop vocal technique that you can establish so that you can have consistency in every song you sing. I assign you vocalises and songs that will help you develop that technique. I have taken courses in vocal pedagogy for both classical and contemporary commercial music. I specialize in classical and musical theater. I know both golden age musical theater and contemporary shows – the latter not quite as well as the former because, well, I’m old. Ish. But I’m constantly learning about new shows.

A vocal coach is usually a pianist who specializes on working with singers. Sometimes their focus is on diction, especially in classical music, where they need to know a variety of language rules. Sometimes they are a répétiteur (literally, “repeater”), which means that they are teaching you the notes and rhythms of a song. A good vocal coach will help you find expression in a song, nuance in the text, and explore different possibilities in interpretation. This is a great article about the differences between the voice teacher and the vocal coach.

When you are a professional performer, you may or may not continue to take lessons, depending on where you are in your vocal development. You may hire a coach to accompany you, to help you take your audition or performance repertoire to a new level. When you are a student, particularly a high school student, your teacher often wears both hats. We teach you songs, and we help you develop your technique, and we explore all the elements of the song besides the notes.

I do that. I’m a teacher, first and foremost. I select music for you that will help you grow and develop. In my studio policies, I outline this:
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  • I will trust Christine’s choice of repertoire assignments for at least 3 weeks. If, after 3 weeks, I don’t like a song, we can discuss a replacement.

The crucial word here, which I have bolded, is trust. I’m not here to teach you songs just for the sake of songs. I’m here to help you on your vocal journey so that you can sing what you want, when you want. But especially when we’re first beginning that journey, you need to trust my judgment. I’m not saying we won’t work on songs that you want to work on! But they have to be right for you.

Just don’t snap your fingers in my face. Please.

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