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How to Find the Right Voice Teacher for You, Part 3: What Questions Should I Ask Before I Decide?

Once you have the name (or name), of some voice teachers that you’re thinking of studying with, then what do you do? What questions should you ask him or her before committing to take a lesson?

In Part 2 of this series, I suggested going with a friend to his or her voice lesson, where you can observe first-hand the teaching style, skill and personality of the teacher. Ideally, you should be able to speak to the teacher afterwards. But if the teacher immediately has another student, you may have to  save your questions for a phone interview later.

If you have done your own research online or by asking around (see the previous post for lots of suggestions on how to find good teachers), then you will need to email and/or telephone the teacher whom you wish to contact. Before you contact the teacher, make sure you thoroughly read the information on their website first! You can find out if a major point such as student age or style of music is the wrong fit for the two of you before you contact them. This will save you both time and aggravation!

Once it looks like the teacher might be a good fit, if you have the phone number, CALL. This way you have direct contact and can really get a feel for the person over the phone— their communication skills, enthusiasm, willingness to answer questions— all will come across clearly on the phone! And please, if you get their voice mail, LEAVE A CLEAR MESSAGE. I can’t tell you how many times people (particularly younger people) say to me— “I tried to call you so many times, but you never called me back.” But they never left a voice mail on my cell, or a message on my home answering machine! Guess what? No busy singing teacher is going to call you back if you don’t leave a message.

Now, if you only have an email address, start there. Send a brief, friendly email asking if they are taking new students at this time, and leave your phone number, asking the teacher to call you. You can request their phone number as well, although some teachers may wait to share that information until further in the process of taking you on as a student.

Lastly, please DON’T TEXT! If someone is inquiring about lessons with me and sends me a text, I feel like they are putting out minimal effort to really connect with me, and I also find it a little invasive to hear from someone I don’t know in that way. Once I know you, texting is fine. But until you’re my student, email or call only, please! I’m not the only voice teacher who feels this way.

Alright— now let’s say you’ve finally connected with the teacher you are interested in by phone. What questions do you ask?  

1. Briefly discuss your goals in singing. Let the teacher know why you want to take lessons, if you have had any previous study, and if you are having any vocal issues. Let him/her know what style(s) of music you want to sing, and ascertain if the teacher works with that type of music on a regular basis. Some teachers focus on only one area— for example, just classical, or just contemporary. (I work with most styles of singing, but I’ve found that that’s pretty unusual). Be very clear— you don’t want to work with a teacher who only does opera, if you want to sing jazz! (that being said, the classical vocal technique would be great for you, but that’s a discussion for another day).

Also, include information such as if you are (or want to be) a soloist, or
do you sing in an ensemble? Is this a hobby, or are you in a college
program, or looking to be a professional? Or perhaps it is for your
child? Does the teacher work with students of that age group?
Also, does the teacher require an audition in order to take on a new
student? Some very busy teachers keep waiting lists as well.

2. Make sure this a voice teacher, and not a coach.
Please refer to Part 1 of this series if you have not already read it. You
want a teacher of technique (body, breath, and vocal exercises) who
preferably can also coach you in your songs.

3. Find out exactly where they are located.  Some teachers have a
mailing address on the Web, but may actually teach in a different or
multiple locations. Make sure they are somewhere that is a good
location for you.

4. Ask specifics about the rates for lessons, and the lesson
lengths. Now you are getting to the nitty-gritty! Lesson fees vary
widely, depending on where you live. A voice lesson fee in rural Kansas
will not be the same lesson rate as in New York City or southern
California. Here is where you need to do your homework and research
the going rates of comparable teachers in your area. Ask around, or
just do your own research by visiting teachers’ websites and finding
out what they charge in advance. My rates are right there on my
website.

Also, many teachers only do half-hour or hour lessons. I do both,
and 45-minute lessons as well. Ask what increments of time the
teacher regularly works in. Also, ask about lesson frequency. Most
teachers want students who come every week at the same time.
Others are more flexible, and may float the lesson time from week to
week, or even let you come in less frequently. I do all of these things,
because time and money are an issue for many people, and I believe
that some instruction is better than no instruction!

5. Ask how/when the teacher likes to be paid. Some teachers want
cash-only, some want checks, others like PayPal or other forms of
online or electronic payment. All teachers wish to be paid in a
timely manner, usually right at the lesson.

Now— be careful! DO NOT SIGN UP FOR MULTIPLE LESSONS
right from the beginning! Take a few lessons first, to make sure you
really like the teacher, and that you’ve made the right choice for you.
The relationship between a voice teacher and his/her student is a
unique and personal one. Don’t be in a rush— it has to feel right!
Don’t let the prospect of a discount for buying a package in advance
lure you into this trap. Frankly, I don’t offer discounts, as I think it is
unfair to my other students who pay full-price. Also, I definitely
do not offer free “trial lessons”. I find that people who ask for this
are not usually very serious, and disappear after that first freebie.
Most well-established voice teachers do not offer free lessons. You
are paying for our time and expertise, especially in that first lesson,
where we are watching and listening intently, assessing where you
are at in your development, and what you need to work on technically
as you begin your vocal studies.

6. Ask about the cancellation/makeups policy! This is a major point
that you want to be clear about from the beginning. Standard music
studio policy is that 24-hours’ notice is required to cancel, and then
receive a makeup lesson. Some teachers have more flexibility about
this, while others do not. I generally give everyone one “emergency”
cancellation with less than 24-hours’s notice, where I will allow for a
makeup lesson. I also do not want coughing, sneezing, feverish
people in my studio, so I will definitely excuse someone who is sick
enough to contaminate me! One of my students gave me a horrible
respiratory infection that turned into pneumonia, and I was sick for
months. Never again! I’d rather that students stay home when they’re
sick.

Also, find out when you need to do the makeup lesson (applicable
if you’ve given more than 24-hours’ notice). Some teachers
require it to be made up in the same week, and some in the same
calendar month. Then if it is not made up within the prescribed
time period, the lesson is forfeit. And no sane teacher makes up a
missed makeup lesson!

In the final analysis, while this may seem like a lot of information to
discover in a very short phone or in-person interview, it really boils
down to a few key points that will help you make the most informed
choice possible when looking for a voice teacher. And remember,
nothing is ever forever! If you try a teacher out and realize it’s not
a good fit, part ways graciously and go on to the next candidate.
Following the advice above, and your own gut instincts, you will
find the best voice teacher for you!

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