So you need a new singing teacher. There are so many out there, how do you go about choosing? As someone who has been teaching singing for a decade, and has been taking singing lessons for close to two, across a handful of different countries, and at many different institutions, I have some advice for what to do when you are choosing a singing teacher.

Cartoon image of a person singing and pointing to a musical note on a blackboard.

There are so many singing teachers in the world, all offering different approaches or methods, and every single one has a different personality. Many of them would probably teach you something of benefit. Some of them you would not get along with personally. Some of them would teach in a way that does not suit you. Others, you just might not like. Some might have wonderful stories of their time in the industry, but limited practical application. Others will be wonderful technicians, but know very little repertoire for your voice. A few of them will be the perfect fit for you, balancing everything you need right now. So, how do you go about narrowing down who to work with? 

Practical Requirements

Let’s assume you’ve found a list of singing teachers that are available to you, either by an online search, asking friends and colleagues for recommendations, or looking at faculty listings. Your next job is to limit the teachers available to you against some specific criteria. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you looking for someone who specialises in Musical Theatre, someone who teaches Opera and Classical, or someone who has experience in both? 
  • Are you at the beginning of your journey and need someone who is open to exploring your voice with you, or are you a more polished professional looking for more of a finishing teacher? 
  • What is your budget? Remember that paying more money does not always mean you are getting what you need from a singing teacher. In NYC you could be looking at paying $100-$200 for some of the top name teachers. If your budget is $200 a month, that might be one lesson a month. Consider if you can get what you need from someone who charges less, and is closer to home. As a beginner, could you have 4x$50 lessons instead, and see a teacher every week? Or are you at a point where you only need someone to check in with occasionally. Also, if anyone’s prices seem wildly outside the normal range of everyone else, this is probably one to avoid. 
  • Where do you live, and how far are you willing to travel? Factor in your travel costs to your budget, and consider the impact of travelling time on your schedule. Also consider if the teacher offers online lessons if you or they are out of town, or unable to meet in person.
  • How important are industry connections to you right now? If this is a crucial thing for you, could this singing teacher connect you with people who might help your career? 
  • What is this teacher’s professional reputation? For this, consider what impact they have had on the industry, rather than just anecdotes from your friends. Are they known for producing great singers? Is the press about them positive? An online search of their name and maybe some keywords like ‘teacher’ ‘opera’ ‘performer’ should bring up enough information and show where these people are currently working. (I include this point from experience; you wouldn’t want to forge a working alliance with someone, to maybe find out later that they had a criminal reputation which could reflect badly on your career).

Once all the practical things are decided, you should have narrowed down your list a bit. Now you must consider yourself as a singer, and what you personally need from this teacher.

The Singing Lesson Scene from Donizetti’s La fille du Regiment

Personal Requirements

For this I mean all the ways in which a singer and teacher work together on a personal level. The relationship with your singing teacher can become quite a close one, and you will progress the best if you feel comfortable working with this person.

These questions might be a bit more difficult to answer, and some of them might be less important to you than others, but use them to create a picture of what you are looking for in someone. 

  • Are you someone who needs to work with an empathetic / sympathetic teacher? 
  • Do you like to set your own goals, or do you like someone to set goals for you?
  • Do you need someone who expects you to work hard, or someone who accepts whatever you can do is enough?
  • Can you work with a very critical teacher, or do you need a lot of praise to succeed?
  • How do you best like to learn? Are you used to working with imagery to achieve your singing goals, or do you prefer to learn the actual anatomy of what is happening for your voice? Are you someone who learns visually, kinesthetically, or aurally? 
  • Do you prefer the methods of a particular singing school or technique?
  • Do you need extra support from your teacher which might cross over into mentorship or therapy? 
  • Do you see your teacher as a spiritual and emotional guide as well as a singing teacher? In this case, does your spirituality align with theirs?
  • What kind of personality do you have, and what would you appreciate in a teacher? Are you more extroverted/ introverted? Would someone bold and loud with a big personality intimidate you? Would you overpower someone with a quieter and calmer personality? If it helps, visualise yourself in a small rehearsal room with someone with these personality traits, and consider how comfortable you would feel expressing yourself emotionally in that room.
  • Does the gender of your teacher matter to you? Do you need someone who has experience teaching transgender, queer, and gender-diverse singers?
  • Do you need someone who is an excellent pianist? 
  • Do you need someone who has performed all of the same repertoire that you are studying? Is it important that they are the same voice type as you?
  • How much support do you need outside of your singing lessons? Would you prefer your teacher to be available outside of your singing lessons, for example to discuss auditions and performances?
  • Are you looking for someone who likes your voice?
  • How important is it to you that you can get to know other students in your teacher’s studio?

To answer most of these questions you are going to have to meet and work with the teacher. This is the point at which you should arrange a trial lesson. 

Black and white engraving of a scene from Trial by Jury. The defendant and the plaintiff embrace in the courtroom with everyone watching.
No, not like that!

The Trial Lesson

Offering trial lessons is a normal part of a singing teacher’s life. If they have time to fit you into their roster, they will be perfectly happy for you to try out whether you fit well together. It is in their best interests as well, and it gives them the opportunity of trying you out as a student. A good teacher will not be offended if you decide not to take up lessons with them afterwards; they have probably experienced this before, if not as a teacher, then certainly as a student. 

Remember, a trial lesson is not a free lesson. You should be prepared to pay for any lesson you take with any teacher, and to pay their full fee for the time. Some teachers might offer a free trial lesson, where they plan to recoup costs by signing you up for the next term. Even in this scenario, be prepared to pay for the lesson anyway. It doesn’t hurt to confirm the cost of the lesson in an email. 

I would recommend arranging trial lessons with a selection of different teachers. Contact them and politely explain that you are looking for a new teacher and are interested in taking a trial lesson with them, at their convenience. It is useful to explain a little bit about your experience and your goals, but don’t overload them with information. Give them your contact information. Remember to follow up after a few days if you haven’t heard back; don’t make a point of the fact they haven’t replied, simply restate your request for a lesson. 

Prepare well for your lesson. Look over the teacher’s biography and information again. Remind yourself of what you are looking for in a teacher, by going back over the questions above, but be open and responsive to the teacher’s methods when you enter the room. Ask permission to record the lesson, so that you can listen back afterwards. Immediately after the lesson write down your observations: how you felt in the lesson, what you thought of their style, and anything else that comes to mind. Don’t leave this task until later, as you will have forgotten exactly what it felt like. Then, a few days later, revisit the recording of the lesson, and listen back as an observer. Pay attention to how you interacted with them, was it easy and relaxed? Do you feel you could make progress with this teacher?

I personally always take the same music to different trial lessons. I will take an aria I know really well, and something else that I know well enough to sing but that I am still studying. If I work on the same pieces with several different teachers I get a clearer idea of their different approaches. It is also useful for them to hear something you sing really well. 

One lesson might not be enough to make this decision, and it is certainly a lot to expect from a teacher to learn everything about them in an hour. If this is the case, why not consider having 4 or 5 lessons with a teacher. Set yourself a limit, then after that many lessons assess whether this teacher is working for you. Without a limit, you risk letting yourself continue in an unproductive situation out of politeness. 

How to politely decline 

After taking a trial lesson or two with several different teachers, you might have settled on one that you really click with. It is really important to let the other teachers know that you will not be continuing with them. This can be tricky, as you might feel like you’ll hurt someone’s feelings by telling them you have chosen someone else. Remember that teachers are used to going through this and any good teacher would much rather you be with someone that works for you, and will be really glad that you have let them know one way or another.

It need not be a huge drawn out event. Just send a quick polite email like the following:

Dear Teacher, 

Thank you so much for the trial lesson we had on [Date]. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to work with you on [the music you covered].

As I mentioned when I contacted you, I have been having trial lessons with several teachers, and just wanted to let you know that I have chosen to study with someone else right now. I am really grateful for the opportunity to meet and work with you. 

Best wishes, 
Student

There is no need to go into detail about why you have made your decision, or who you have decided to study with instead. Stay classy, and always be professional. Also, don’t take it to heart if the teacher does not respond; most likely they are just really busy! 

The most important thing to remember on your search for a new teacher is that it should be your choice who to develop your voice with. If you feel that you are not progressing with a teacher, but feel obliged to stay in their studio, maybe out of kindness or guilt, this is not a good situation and it is time to move on. At any point in your journey, if a teacher makes you feel uncomfortable, is inappropriate or abusive towards you in any way, leave that situation immediately, seek support, and report the behavior. The same goes for teachers if a student acts inappropriately. 

I hope this guide will help you in choosing a singing teacher and I wish you the best of luck on your singing journey.

3 comments

  1. I’m over 60 but never achieved my dreams of being a gifted singer. The song lives in my heart (& throat haha). Thanks for the article target audience younger people but the video was great !

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