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What is a vocal coach?

This poor guy thinks voice teachers and vocal coaches do the same job!  The truth is, teachers and coaches focus on different aspects of singing.

We will assume here that most readers are familiar with what is addressed during a voice lesson.  But perhaps you have yet to work with a coach.  That is understandable, since you will want to have your vocal equipment working well first.

This next section first appeared on The Collaborative Piano Blog by Christopher Foley.

A clear explanation of the difference between a voice teacher and vocal coach was posted by Elizabeth McDonald on her blog:

The voice coach (aka: collaborative pianist) is the person who deals with the musical, language and dramatic demands of the vocal repertoire. They are pianists who have done training in diction, repertoire, collaborative piano and opera. The goal of the vocal coach is to serve as the other half of the music (piano part or orchestra reduction) and help the singing put everything together. They expect a singer to arrive with notes learned, language translated, and an idea about how the song should be presented. From there the coach is the musical “mirror” for the singer and reflects back what they hear and makes suggestions on how to make any necessary changes.

Voice teachers are not coaches.

A voice teacher is listening to her student’s vocal production​.  There is not enough time in a voice lesson for teachers to coach as well.

The reverse is also true:  a coach has too little time ​during a session to address vocal technique. 

Coaches are not voice teachers.

Speaking to my experience, I am comfortable demonstrating what I’m looking for, but would be out of my element singing a role or a solo recital.  During coaching sessions, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting changes in vocal technique to a singer.  My coaching time is devoted exclusively to interpretative concerns.

A coach will attend to the following aspects of singing:

musical ~ phrasing, including a breathing plan; tweaking a dynamic scheme to best fit your voice; finding a tempo to fit your voice; ensuring that the key is appropriate for you

language ~ even if you have taken language classes (and you should!), the manner in which words are pronounced (diction) changes between spoken language and sung texts.  Music elongates the vowel sounds (i.e., a single syllable sung on a half-note), so every vowel sound is heard as an exaggeration of speech by an audience.  If a diphthong (or worse) is a part of that vowel sound, or if a vowel sound is just plain wrong, it will be noticed.

Texts in your native language need to be coached.  For example, English has so many variations, depending on where you are from.  You could have one group of British songs, the next requiring a southern dialect, and then perhaps a group of Appalachian songs.  And every language is interpreted in the character of the piece.  That would mean using more or fewer elisions, very clear pronunciation or maybe a few dropped endings, etc.  (Think beat poet vs. Shakespeare.)

In addition, the gutteral sounds of spoken French are deemed vulgar by the French themselves when sung.  The sound must be altered.

Double consonants are also a factor.  How long do they last, and where in the music do they belong?

dramatic presentation ~ a coach can help you define your character.  Your character must be you!

stage deportment ~ a coach is a reliable observer of the way you present yourself on stage, be it for a recital or an audition.  From the time you set foot on the stage until the time you are completely out of sight, the way you present yourself is crucial to a judge’s or an audience’s perception of you.  Often, one small change in something you hadn’t noticed can make the difference between being accepted to a program, winning an audition, being asked back, or being dismissed.

repertoire ~ a coach will be happy to help you choose recital and audition programs.  The order of the program, in addition to the selections, matters a great deal.

cadenzas ~ a coach will help you choose a cadenza that fits your voice, help you write your own, or even write one for you.  Again, a problematic cadenza (i.e., someone else’s or the one from the book) can wreck your chances, while a perfect fit can be a winner.  You should not be struggling to sing a cadenza from a book that doesn’t showcase your strengths.

What coaches expect of their clients

Singers are expected to know the music in advance of a coaching session.  Coaches are not there to “feed” people notes and rhythms.

Translate the text.  If you need help with a phrase or a couple of words, that’s fine.  You can still translate the remainder of your texts.

Have your ideas about performing the music in place.  Who is your character?​  What are you wearing (in the scene depicted by the text)?  Where are you?  What are you singing about?​  Don’t expect your coach to teach you the basics.  We are there work with you.

That said, Happy Coaching!

What would you like to add?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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