So many of us love to belt out our favorite songs in the shower or car, but clam up when other people are around. But if you really love singing, why not consider taking lessons? After all, singing lessons can be benefit you in so many way, like helping you develop your natural talent, increasing brain function, honing your listening skills, helping you overcome any fears about performing in public, and giving you a way to express yourself through music. Plus, it’s great training for some awesome carpool Karaoke.
We spoke to Pamela Thomas, a singing teacher in Manhattan on Thumbtack, to find out what happens in singing lessons and how to go about finding a great instructor. And don’t worry if you think you can’t sing. Thomas says, “Most people have a good voice, but they’ve just been told they don’t.” You may not end up on “The Voice,” but at the very least, you won’t feel like you have to roll the car windows up when you’re at a stoplight.
Look for a Teacher Who Can Help You Achieve Your Objectives
Thomas says, “The best thing you can do is be very honest about what your goals are.” That way you’re much more likely to find a teacher who can help you achieve them. For example, Thomas’ specialty is classical and Broadway, so she doesn’t tend to take on students who want to be famous pop stars. “I could teach someone who wants that and help improve their voice, but it’s not my expertise and I’m sure there are other teachers who are better at it than I am,” she says. She asks all of her potential students to fill out questionnaires first, so that she can decide if they’d be a good fit and give them a serious quote. “I look for people who have some knowledge of what they want, even if they’re brand new to singing and just want to explore their voice,” she says. What it’s really about, for Thomas anyway, is a level of commitment. But don’t worry; even if taking singing lessons is going to be more of a hobby for you, there’s someone out there who’s a perfect match. You just have to be honest and upfront about what you’re expecting to gain from the experience.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Several Teachers
“When you’re looking for a new teacher, you have to see if you’re a good match,” Thomas says. “I think you have to take a few lessons so that you get an idea of the teacher’s approach and the teacher gets to learn about your voice.” After three lessons, she says, you can usually tell if the teacher is passionate or if they’re just there to make money. “Is the teacher excited and do they make you excited?” Thomas asks. “Because it’s really about how you connect. And if they’re not right for you or if aren’t sure, you should go out and try some other teachers. Maybe you’ll come back and maybe you won’t.” Ultimately though, she says, you should not automatically stick with the first teacher you meet unless you really connect and feel like it’s a good fit.
Re-evaluate Your Teacher a Few Months In
Thomas says the most important thing about your singing coach is that you connect and that it’s a positive relationship. “But you also want to make sure the teacher is able to adapt things specifically to your voice,” she says. If they’re teaching the same thing to everyone, that should be a red flag. It can also take a few months to really gain momentum. “That’s when the teacher knows more about you and can help better guide you,” she says. “But, if you’ve given it a few months and you’re not getting any better, you should leave and find another teacher. Don’t be afraid to say you want to keep looking. It’s hard to have that conversation, but it’s your voice and your career.” And it’s also important to remember that you learn something different from different teachers, so even if you’ve had a great run, it still may be time to switch things up.
Find a Teacher Who is Trained and Continues to Work on Their Training
“There are a lot of teachers who aren’t really trained,” Thomas warns. “Teaching singing is a skill you have to learn, but you also have to have an ear for it.” Though she’s been teaching for over 30 years, she still works with her mentor. “He teaches how to teach because it’s not just going through exercises, it’s figuring out which exercise an individual needs. If an exercise isn’t working, you have to come up with something else.” Therefore she recommends you look for a teacher who has experience. It’s also not just about that though. “You also want to look for someone who is positive when you meet them, who is realistic, and who is honest about how much you need to practice.” You should also feel like you’re in a safe environment to learn. “You want a comfortable studio and you want someone who you feel listens to you.” No matter what, she says, you don’t want any kind of yelling or disparaging. “I’ve studied with people who are harsh,” she says, “and I just don’t believe that works.”
Understand That Singing is About a Lot More Than Just Singing
“I spend 30 minutes of the lesson working on exercises and then 30 minutes on the repertoire and songs,” Thomas says. And one of the first exercises she gives is about breath. “You have to understand how you breathe because there’s a steady stream of air that has to be expelled in a controlled way in order to sing correctly.” She says a lot of time tension in the jaw gets in the way, so she teaches exercise that change the muscle memory. Basically, if you want to become a better singer, you’re going to have to put some real work into it; it’s not all fun and song.
Be Honest About How Much Time You Can Commit
Money and time will probably both be factors into how much you can really put in to your singing lessons. Thomas says most of her students come once or twice a week and that she suggests they practice for at least an hour every day. “You really need to work on the exercises,” she says. However, a lot of people don’t understand how to practice, so that’s something else she teaches them. After all, she says, “The people that make fast progress are the people you know are practicing.” Lessons in New York City can be anywhere from $65/hour to $100-200/hour, which means some people can only afford to come every other week. “That’s okay,” Thomas says, “as long as you are committed and work in between.”
Remember: Anyone Can Take and Benefit from Singing Lessons
Thomas says, “I had one student who wanted to put on a one woman cabaret show for her 80th birthday party. We worked for about three or four months and I didn’t help her technically as much as I worked with her dramatically. She wanted to do something that was personal and I just helped guide her and give her confidence. And she did a wonderful job.”