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Singing Lessons: Voice Teacher or Vocal Coach?

Singing Lessons:  Do I Need a Voice Teacher or a Vocal Coach?

Katie Hone Wiltgen, Chief Education Officer

April 4, 2024

So you want to work on your voice. Excellent! Having a great teacher to guide you is super important. Or, do you need a great coach to work with you? What’s the difference between a voice teacher and vocal coach anyway?

Read on, as the Forte team helps you break it down.

What is a voice teacher?

When you think about singing lessons, you’re likely thinking about working with a voice teacher.

Voice teachers are your go-to for learning vocal technique. When people start vocal study, they most often work with a voice teacher, typically for 45-60 minute private lessons weekly.

A voice teacher is likely trained in vocal performance, with a special focus on vocal pedagogy. The focus on vocal pedagogy means voice teachers have a deep and specific understanding of the teaching of voice, including performance practice, vocal anatomy, the diagnosis and treatment of typical vocal issues, and applied teaching in a private studio setting.

Voice teachers will work with students on various exercises that are designed to address vocal tone, breath support and control, navigating vocal registers, pitch accuracy, and the release of tension. They’ll also likely select repertoire that is appropriate for your voice, help you learn the music, and work with you on applying specific techniques to the repertoire.

How is a vocal coach different from a voice teacher?

A vocal coach typically does not focus primarily on technique, like a voice teacher does. Instead, vocal coaches are your guide to musical interpretation and vocal performance, working with you on your already prepared repertoire.

Sometimes coaches are singers themselves, but more often than not, they are collaborative pianists who specialize in working with singers. While they understand the voice and vocal pedagogy, they are experts in the interpretive aspects of singing, like phrasing, diction, expression, and stage presence and movement. Coaches help singers interpret the repertoire they’re singing, allowing them to really connect with the material and deliver a performance to which audiences also connect.

There is definitely a good deal of overlap between teachers and coaches. Many voice teachers can work with you on the interpretation of your music, and many vocal coaches are great with technique, but teaching and coaching are both really specialized skill sets. Typically teachers are better with detailed vocal technique, and coaches are masters of interpretation.

Who should I start with: a voice teacher or a vocal coach?

The voice teacher is your first point of contact as a singer. It’s important to first work on vocal technique before doing anything else, and that’s exactly what a voice teacher will do for you.

After you’ve built a solid foundation of vocal technique, you can also start working with a vocal coach for guidance on the interpretive aspects of singing. Your coach will expect that you really understand your voice from a technical standpoint, and they’ll also expect that you’ll still be working with your regular voice teacher to continue the vocal technique work and to address any challenges or technique-related questions or issues that arise in the process of interpretive discovery.

How can I tell which one I need?

You’ll likely always need a voice teacher. Voice teachers keep you in top vocal shape and work with you as your voice expands and evolves. 

Even very experienced singers take voice lessons regularly, including professional opera singers, Broadway leads, and many current pop and rock stars, to constantly focus on healthy, sustainable vocal technique.

If you’re a beginning singer, you definitely need a voice teacher, and you’ll continue with that teacher for regular vocal maintenance lessons to keep improving and growing.

If you have a big performance coming up, or you’re prepping for an audition or competition, you’ll likely add a vocal coach into the mix.