Are You A Vocal Coach Experiencing Issues With Your Singing? [You're Not Alone]
It's more common than you'd think for singing teachers to experience issues with their own voices as they start to dedicate more time to other people's voices than their own. Your students are seeing incredible progress, and your method and technique are solid - but you might be feeling like they've left you in the dust a little as your own dedicated practice time has been eaten away while learning songs you don't know or even don't like for your students, researching the other methods they've been using or asking about and setting up lesson plans and exercises to help them sing better - it's time to let me help you with your own voice.
I coach almost as many singing teachers as I do general singing students - and I often find one glaring thing in common in the issues that they're experiencing;
They try to be ALL THINGS to ALL PEOPLE
Sure, you need to really know your stuff as a voice coach, and you need to maintain an excellent singing voice yourself - but being all things to all people really isn't possible. Think about your favourite singer - are they able to sing in five different styles, as five different voice types, with five different methods while also keeping a bizarre schedule in hundreds of different timezones all around the world?
Of course not - they excel at what they're truly great at, and you should too.
When I found myself at a similar point to where you might be right now as a singing teacher, I realised I was spending tens of hours each week learning songs that I just didn't enjoy, and putting together lesson plans to help singers do things that I just wasn't invested in myself. I'm just not a 'pop' guy, yet I was spending at least a couple of hours a week listening to pop songs and pop singers just to help my students learn their songs, and this is because;
I was trying to be all things to all people.
I was making the exact same mistake that I see many of my students who are also budding vocal coaches make. This led to frustration on my part, and really wasn't helping my students to improve in any way - in essence, I was doing ALL the work myself that the students should have been doing in between our sessions in their practice schedule - I was 'handing them' the voice they wanted, instead of helping them build it themselves. This meant that they really skipped over many of the important steps along the way and lacked some understanding where certain concepts were being explained in a one-dimensional way to simply help them achieve the sound they wanted, instead of giving them the tools to make these discoveries for themselves. I didn't personally just start out singing Chris Cornell songs, I started with the basics and built a vocal foundation that then allowed me to sing these songs with ease - there are no shortcuts in singing, and you shouldn't try and make them for your students either.
Time Spent Practicing Vs. Time Spent Singing
I even found that my videos on YouTube were suffering in the same way - in every video I tried to display something cool and 'impressive' so that people realised how great my voice was, when in fact the whole reason I started the YouTube channel in the first place was to give an alternative to that exact style of sensationalist "American Idol" style singing videos that many of the bigger vocal channels were employing at the time - instead of helping people sing, I was trying to prove how great I was and;
I was trying to be all things to all people.
You might be wondering why I've repeated that line so many times in this tutorial, but it's really the true reason my coaching has excelled and my studio now reaches singers and coaches just like you all around the world. One of the most important thing I've learned in almost a decade of professional coaching experience is that the best way to teach is to lead by example.
Sticking to your own practice schedule
My trick to maintaining my own practice schedule is to lock out an hour per day in my booking calendar for my own practice and down time, one full day a week for vocal rest, and half a day per week for "vocal day" where I sing my own songs, focus on writing my own material and dedicate time to songs that I truly want to sing myself - no lesson plans, no replying to YouTube comments, no emails - just vocal practice and dedication to my voice.
Saying "NO" when it's appropriate
It's okay to say "No" or say "That's not my thing" - I've learned to say "no" confidently when I feel something isn't in line with my vocal method. If one of your students finds a video on YouTube telling them that standing on their head is the only TRUE way to learn how to sing - don't try to dissuade them, or debunk the video, just let them go on their way. One of two things is going to happen, either it will work for them (which is great!), or more likely, they won't actually learn anything from such 'sensational' advice and they'll be booked back into your studio in two weeks time after this improper advice has created strain and tension in their voice. They will learn a VALUABLE lesson from this process, and you won't have to be the bad guy that is saying negative things about other teachers. You'll be the good guy that actually helped them learn how to sing better - and your advice will become indispensable and of immeasurable worth to them. Saying "NO" is an incredibly powerful teaching tool if you use it in the right way.
Make your students do the work
This was an incredibly important lesson that I learned along the way. My students would tell me which song they wanted to learn in the next lesson, and then I would spend the week learning and perfecting the song - and then in the lesson I would demonstrate just how great I was at singing this song. Now, this had the flow on effect of leading me to the exact impasse we discussed at the start of this tutorial - I was spending hours and hours each week learning to sing songs that I simply couldn't stand, and my students really weren't benefiting from the process I myself was going through each week to learn these songs.
Instead, I encouraged my student to learn the song themselves during the week between our lessons together and bring it to me with notes on the difficulty they were experiencing, and then in the lesson I would encourage them to troubleshoot their own singing - this is an indispensable tool as a teacher; accountability for your own voice. Simply singing an A4 for my students wasn't helping them learn the process that I myself had been through to get my voice to this point - instead, if they were able to identify an issue in their placement, they started paying more attention to their vowels, and they really started to hear the negative effects of a glottal onset and improper support on their own - all my students soon started to enjoy a similar level of progress, ergo, no more 'difficult students' who just weren't practising regularly because the onus had previously been on 'me' to learn their favourite songs.
Stop trying to be all things to all people
First and foremost, you're a singer - stop trying to be all things to all people, and instead allow your natural strengths to shine through in your singing. There's nothing more inspiring than a singing teacher who is confident in their own abilities, while also being honest about the difficulties they faced in the process of learning to sing - and even the difficulties they might still face with their own singing.
Where Do I Start?
If you've found yourself at an impasse with your own singing, or even with the progress your students have been making - it's likely that you're spreading yourself too thin when dedicating time and care into your own singing (don't forget - you're a singer first and foremost!), and in the process of overcommitting to your students dreams, you're actually hurting their vocal progress by taking the steps they them themselves need to take while building their voices and learning songs.
This is why I designed the Foundation, Growth and Balance approach to singing - and why the growth stage is ONLY available to singers who have completed the steps in the Foundation stage first, either through my course schedule, or through personalised coaching over Skype with me. Even with advanced students and touring musicians who are learning top level material, I still take them through each stage in the process - which sometimes doesn't win me any fans with more experienced singers who feel like they're 'above' the fundamentals, but in doing so ensures their continual growth and eventual balance in each aspect of the voice.
You'll see in the Foundation 101 course that the onus is on the singer to learn each stage, and how each element of their foundation works together to give them the tools needed to build their voice. You might also notice that I don't rely on superficial advice like "Smile when you sing" or "Yawn when you sing" or "Support like a bathroom movement" - because these are really superficial instructions that try to skip past the important steps that each singer must take to be accountable for their own singing. "Smiling when you sing" might have the coincidental effect of opening up the nasal resonator, but doesn't actually illustrate the relation between each of the three main resonators and your vocal placement - meaning, it's a bandaid solution to issues with placement. So you can see how these kind of instructions, while they are well-meaning and intended to make things easier for a student, take many of the important foundation steps out of the process and leave your student without any tangible progress and gains in the longer term - and really put the tools of improvement in your hands rather than in your students hands, which is ultimately your job as a voice coach.
Whether you're experiencing issues in your own singing, or whether you're having issues with consistency in your students' progress - the Foundation 101 course is a great place to get started with the fundamentals of singing that EVERY singer must learn, and every coach needs to employ and demonstrate by setting a good example to your students with your own vocal routine and vocal health.