How does one select a voice teacher?
First of all, you must be able to discern whether or not a teacher is primarily a voice technique teacher – one who shows you how to sing, or whether he/she is primarily a voice coach – one who shows you what to sing. Of the two types, the voice technique teacher is the most important, because without the technical ability to sing flexibly and clearly in all parts of your range, you are very limited to the material you can do.
For the initiated, a good voice technique teacher is hard to find. Many so-called voice teachers are just vocal „cheerleaders“, who bang away at a piano while you follow along. That is not teaching you how to sing, however. You just get a lot of practice following a piano, and memorizing the notes of a song.
Furthermore, when the teacher's methodology consists mainly of using terms such as „give it more support“, „sing from your diaphragm“ and „open your mouth“, you know you are in the wrong company. If you don't feel your voice improving in the areas of tone production and easily attainable range extension within a few weeks, you'd better find another teacher – fast! Many teachers give their students the same vocal problems which killed their own careers and made them teachers. Before studying with a teacher, ask for a simple demonstration of the teacher's own ability – especially his/her ability to negotiate their own passage areas. Audition the teacher!
Is there anything else to look for in choosing a teacher?
Yes. Be wary of any voice teacher who just teaches his or her own sex, or just the opposite sex. If a teacher understands good singing technique, he/she can leach either sex, and at any age. Also, be careful of teachers who try to make you sound like they do or like they think you should sound. A voice teacher should only try to develop the vocal freedom that will bring out the special character of your own voice.
Should a voice teacher know how to play piano?
He or she should have as much piano facility as possible, but never – never – at the exclusion of a thorough knowledge of the voice. He/she should at least know how to play all the scales and exercises used for vocal training. However, be careful of the teacher who substitutes the plunking out of notes for knowledge of the voice. Anybody can say, „Sing this note“. Few teachers, however, can show you how. It is unfortunate that piano skill often implies that a teacher has a more comprehensive knowledge of the voice than he/she really has. Teaching songs is no substitute for vocal technique.