Perhaps you've seen your child's face light up on stage, heard a stunning voice coming out of the shower or watched your child crippled by stage fright. For whatever reason, you decide it's time to look for a voice teacher. Each human voice is unique and intertwined with one's identity, so finding a great voice teacher for your child is akin to finding a great pediatrician: it's about fit. Here are some tips for your search and questions to ask prospective voice teachers.

  1. It's about fun

    To get the most out of voice lessons, both student and teacher must have fun. Dr. Sean Young, PhD discusses the importance of achieving small victories in his book "Stick With It." When students are set up to succeed each week by conquering small, achievable steps, they are more likely to get multiple feel-good dopamine releases that will get them excited about their progress and keep them interested in the work. When student success is prioritized, both student and teacher will be at ease, a level of trust will be established and the learner will thrive.

    Q: What kind of students do you enjoy teaching? How do you keep learning fun?

  2. It's about style

    Namely musical style. Think about the singers you love - Broadway triple threats, rock stars, opera divas or killer karaoke singers at your local bar. They each sing with a unique style. A common misconception is that all good singers must have a classical singing foundation. Dr. Matt Edwards, Associate Professor of Voice and Voice Pedagogy at Shenandoah Conservatory, says it is essential that students learn techniques that are complimentary to the style they want to sing. "Numerous research studies have shown that classical singing techniques are not the same as those used in musical theater and commercial styles. There is no scientific evidence supporting the idea that students must study classical voice before singing other styles." The American Academy of Teachers of Singing shares Edwards' opinion and published a paper in 2008 stating that classical, musical theater and commercial styles "are different aesthetically, physiologically and acoustically, and thus demand different pedagogic approaches."

    While the Pan American Vocology Association is in the process of creating a professional recognition program to help identify highly skilled voice teachers in various styles, it is still a few years away from being launched. Credentials like music degrees or performance credits do not prove effective teaching capabilities. Sometimes there's a correlation, but in other cases there is not. Testimonials can be useful, but don't just look at parent testimonials, look at student ones, too. Word of mouth is often the best way to find someone. If you keep hearing the same name coming up over and over again from singers you admire, that is a positive sign.

    Q: What style of singer do you enjoy working with? Do you use style-specific techniques in your teaching?

  3. It's about inspiration

    If the only time a student sings is during his weekly lesson, growth will happen very slowly. Singers are "vocal athletes" who produce their sound with a set of muscles that needs consistent training. Because of the athletic nature of voice training, how a teacher inspires a student to sing outside of lessons is just as important as what happens in the lesson. Excellent teachers inspire their students to sing outside of the studio and suggest opportunities to perform. If your child isn't practicing, it is not necessarily their fault. Chances are, she isn't inspired to sing, which usually stems from not knowing how to practice and/or not having an achievable performance goal in mind.

    Q: How do you motivate your students to practice? Are you able to suggest performance opportunities appropriate for each stage of development?

  4. It's about dreams

    If you can dream it you can do it, right? Finding teachers, coaches, programs and opportunities to make your child's dreams come true is a challenge. Whether your child has dreams of Broadway, writing music, American Idol, school musical roles or singing in a band, or is still looking for his tribe, it is important that your child's voice teacher understands how to help realize those dreams.

    Q: If your child has a specific goal in mind, ask teachers if they have experience guiding students down that path.

    It's about process

    Like any other athletic endeavor, building a voice will not happen overnight. Some singers are born with natural gifts, but many others are not. Great teachers will be able to offer a strategic plan to develop each student's voice as a unique instrument, not a carbon copy of another singer. They will also understand concepts from related fields like exercise physiology and motor learning theory, and will be able to apply those in lessons.

    Q: What is your process for developing a voice?

Whether your child is a budding star or still looking for a niche, consider private voice instruction. The tips and questions provided above should lead you to a voice teacher who's just the right fit for your child. If you're interested in learning about the thriving vocal music scene in Washington, D.C. (including family friendly music venues), need ideas for setting up a musically-rich home environment or have additional questions about voice instruction, please visit cantabomusic.com/resources.


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Celesta Kirk is the owner and director of Cantabo Music LLC, a voice teacher cooperative in Washington, D.C. When she's not in the studio, you can find her cheering on local singers of all ages and styles, playing soccer, practicing yoga or taking lessons herself in the voice studio of Cate Frazier-Neely.