Updated: Mar 7, 2022
The choice of which moniker to use, Voice Teacher or Vocal Coach, is a personal choice. Most people think of themselves one way or the other - or in an entirely different way - and leave it at that.
In academia there are voice teachers. In the world of popular singing, there are voice coaches. It shouldn’t matter what you call yourself, should it?
The term you use to describe your professional self represents a mindset that will affect the way that you approach both your profession and your clients.
Language shapes the way you perceive yourself and your world. Your perception of yourself in relation to your world guides the way you interact with your world. So the name that you give your job matters.
A teacher is one who teaches. That implies a necessary hierarchy. The student does not know about a particular social construct, and the teacher does.
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Almost everyone learns to read in basically the same way. The written word is a social construct. It does not exist in nature. The only place it exists is in our minds. It is a construction of the human brain. What makes it powerful is that we all agree on that construct, and that the result of learning that construct is a predetermined outcome; namely, the ability to read and write.
Dialects notwithstanding, we all agree that the symbol A represents a particular sound, and when you use that sound in the context of a sentence - whether we are reading a written word or uttering a spoken word - it has the function of identifying or designating the concept of a singular thing. We all agree about the symbol, the sound, its function in grammar, and how grammar functions in language.
As societies, we have benefitted immensely from that agreement. As one person teaches another about the construct we call written language, that teacher empowers their student to expand their thinking and their world.
And now, about singing:
In much the same way, singing is also a construct of the human mind. With certain types of singing, the desired result of learning that construct is an outcome that is predetermined. Just like reading and writing. If you’re on either end of the transfer of knowledge about Western classical singing, then there must be an agreement about the desired outcome.
The person teaching must know how to transfer that knowledge, and the person learning must be clear that this is what they have agreed to learn. It’s a very specific construct. In this case, the teacher is, indeed, a teacher. The student does not know, and the teacher is transferring specific knowledge to the student.
In other types of singing, however, the desired result is not predetermined. In fact, in all popular styles of singing, the values around the construct of singing are powerfully influenced by the singers themselves. Popular styles do not have a universally agreed-upon aesthetic outcome. The values that a singer expresses are generated by the singer, not by the genre.
I’ll use a couple of my students for a simple example of this.
Sara loves singing music from golden age musicals, and jazz standards. She’s a stickler for pitch…it’s really important to her to be right in the middle of the pitch. Camden is a singer-songwriter who writes songs with a lot of lyrics that go by very quickly. She doesn’t care about finding the middle of every note. She cares about having her lyrics understood. These values are distinct, and particular to each person, so I pivot the way that I help them based on the outcomes that are important to them. I'll bring to their awareness values they may be overlooking, and together we can weigh their value. It may be an opportunity to introduce new skills while honoring their musical values and strengths.
I coach them.
Like other coaches
I think of myself as a coach because, like a business coach, an athletic coach, or a performance coach, I guide someone who already knows how to do the thing but would like to do it better. Or, within the framework of that thing, they are experiencing limitations that they would like to overcome.
Ideally, that’s the service that vocal coaches of popular styles provide to singers. We help them solve their challenges with an existing skill. We coach them. In that process, we have the opportunity to teach them how to use their voices in a way that will make their singing easier. We may be able to teach them some things about music and singing in general. But we’re not teaching them how to sing. They already know how to sing, and how to use their voice. We're coaching them to use their voice in a way that will get them closer to the singing expression they want.