In your search for the right vocal coach for you it’s important to consider what sort of qualities you need to look for in a teacher. Obviously you want someone that will be able to accurately identify your strengths and weaknesses and then set forth an effective strategy for shoring up what needs attention and making the most of what’s already working for you.
Deborah “Zuke” Smith of Brett Manning Vocal Method: East Coast, U.S.A. has identified six key qualities that she feels a teacher must have in order to be effective. She identifies these qualities as follows: humility, respect, punctuality, listening, diagnosis, and example.
“My first vocal coach was Eileen Farrell, a major Metropolitan Opera star,” Zuke said. “Thank goodness, at the young age of 18, I had no idea who she was otherwise I would have been very intimidated. She was so easy going and so inviting that even when I learned from my parents how popular she was, I was completely comfortable in her presence. She taught me that it’s not necessary for a teacher to boast or puff up her feathers to prove anything. It’s not about the teacher; it’s all about the student.”
Think of teachers you’ve had in school that taught a great deal about who they are and what they know but gave very little focus to who you were and what you needed to learn. Truly gifted teachers and coaches put the needs of the student first. Their professional credentials, accolades, and accomplishments, though they may certainly be impressive, mean very little if you, as their student, are not their number one priority. By putting you first and giving you their undivided attention, it shows you matter, and it can help boost your confidence and self-respect.
“As a teacher, it is important to be aware of the emotional state of the student and never to cross boundaries,” Zuke said. “It is such a vulnerable feeling at times to be a singer that when the student shows us their fragile side we must very careful not to do or say anything that may cause emotional distress. Every student of mine is the son or daughter of someone and I take that very seriously. I respect them as I expect other mentors and teachers to respect my daughter.”
You as a student must feel comfortable enough to open up. Real personal and professional growth requires profound trust as you open up areas in yourself where you lack confidence, are unsure; feel vulnerable. As these areas are strengthened you become more comfortable, more flexible, and more confident. It’s interesting that the ability to be tough enough to handle situations that come up in your personal and professional life required gaining confidence in those areas where you have been the most vulnerable.
For Estelle Poots, a Brett Manning Associate who teaches in North Queensland Australia, vulnerability has played a key role in her development as a teacher and singer.
Record Your Lessons
“I have learned so much from my singing teachers over the years,” Estelle said. “Being shy, it was always a challenge for me to take risks and to be vulnerable, but this forced me to find confidence and acceptance of who I am not just as a singer, but as a person. I started realizing so much about the way I interact with others, and about my voice when I started recording my lessons. In a way, the lessons that I listened to over and over are the lessons that have had a lasting impact on me. It is hard to take everything in and get past your own insecurities sometimes within the context of a lesson. So having some space to cringe and also be objective and then go ‘oh that’s what they wanted me to do’ is really helpful. I recommend this for everyone.”
For Zuke punctuality is another critical quality to look for in an effective coach. If they are always running late, putting you off or always asking to reschedule, you’re obviously in for a very bumpy ride of inconsistency and clamoring to get their attention. As a student you must demand in your teacher the same commitment to time and attention that you expect from yourself.
It’s Your Dime – Be On Time
“If the student is serious and yearning, they usually show up on time,” Zuke said. “I am a stickler for promptness and honoring the time we have scheduled together. If the student is at all thinking of a career in music, they will be booked on gigs where they need to show up on time. What kind of example would a teacher be setting if he had no respect or concern for the student’s time?”
Listening is another vital quality to look for in a vocal coach or teacher. And again, if a teacher is too self-focused to be aware of your needs or even something as simple as what kind of day you’re having there is much that may be missed in discovering your full vocal potential.
Listen Up For Direction
“The student isn’t only there to accomplish your dreams, they are there for so many different reasons and sometimes it takes a good patient ear to really hear what it is they want to do with their voice,” Zuke said. “It’s true, I have some who want to be rock or Broadway stars, but I also have a student who simply wants to get over her shyness, and another who wants to learn about the voice so she can become a speech pathologist. I listen and learn from each individual and that determines my direction of instruction.”
The ability to diagnose cannot be fully engaged without keen listening and other observation skills. These skills must be second nature for the teacher. You want a complete proper diagnosis so that a effective regimen and routine for strengthening and developing your voice to its fullest can be prescribed and kept in check.
Diagnose + Prescribe
“When the student is relaxed and trusts you, you can begin the process of diagnosing,” Zuke said. “You cannot diagnose what is happening in a voice unless you understand what and why the voice isn’t working at its best. When you do diagnose, you must be able to back up your suggestions with clear definable reasons that the student understands.”
For Estelle Poots, it is the diagnostic element of Brett Manning’s teaching methods and the prescribed dosage of exercises and technique that have helped her improve her skills as a singer and as a vocal coach and teacher.
What Clicks Will Fix
“Brett and his associates really took my voice to a whole new level as each of them gave me a slightly different take on the same principles,” Estelle said. “This allowed me to really connect with the technical side of things in a way I haven’t been able to before. It’s like my eyes were suddenly opened; and it all just clicked. And it continues to the more I study and go over my lessons and the programs. They also challenged me emotionally in a very real way which I think does more for a persons singing and their ability to connect then having perfect technique. This has made me a much more effective teacher. I have the tools I need to help people in a very tangible way now. I just feel like I have been given this wonderful gift, and it is such an honor to be able to share this with others and witness the way it can change their lives as well.”
One of the most effective tools a teacher has at her disposal is the ability and absolute necessity to provide effective examples to help a student understand and connect with lessons, methods, and objectives in every session.
Teach By Example
“Of course I’ve had teachers in the past try to describe what they wanted with very effusive terminology that left me with a huge question mark,” Zuke said. “The teacher needs to sing examples both correctly and incorrectly with clear descriptions of what is happening so the student will be able to find the correct feeling and sound on their own. All voices are unique, but they function the same so we must be careful not to make the student imitate our voice, but rather listen to the qualities that make it unique and correct.”
As for qualities that should be a red flag when looking for the right teacher or coach for you, Zuke has one storm warning that shouts out loud and clear with the full blown force of a angry approaching hurricane.
No Excuse For Abuse
“A parent told me that a voice teacher in my area intimidates the students to a point that they are afraid unless they sing,” Zuke said. “I compare that to the football coach who screams at his team to win. Personally, I’d rather have a motivator. If a teacher creates tension in your body by using intimidation, it can never be good for the voice!”
Both Zuke and Estelle see great value in tapping several resources if possible through team teaching. Each teacher will have specific areas where they are strongest; so, whenever possible, and affordable, look for opportunities to take advantage of team teaching. Planning a trip to Nashville to work with a couple of Brett Manning’s coaches would be a wise, life changing investment.
Dreams Come In Teams
“Team teaching is great,” Estelle said. “Having different perspectives on the same principle has really helped me as a student. The other thing is that we all have different voices and struggles and can offer different ways of helping people who may be experiencing the very same thing we have been through. I am always talking about my students with my husband and other associates, to get their perspective and often recommend that my students take lessons from them also. It’s also really affirming as a teacher to talk it over and realize that you are on the right track, especially with a difficult case. My students know as well that there is a whole team of people behind them, which I think builds confidence for them and me as well. We are so lucky!”
Zuke feels that she is constantly learning from other teaches as ideas and experiences are shared, but she also learns from her students. They take her places in her teaching that make the experience more rewarding while providing fresh perspectives and new ideas for getting her students to open up, gain confidence, and soar.
For both Zuke and Estelle they sense the presence of those who have inspired them guiding their hands and hearts as they embrace, engage, encourage, and enhance the gifts of their students.
Now Say Nay + Meow
“My favorite teachers have often become mentors to me,” Estelle said. “They have a great balance of having high expectations as well as being encouraging and honest. So all of these factors have shaped me in becoming more confident as a person, and quite empathetic towards my students who often feel inadequate and nervous venturing into this scary world of nay-nay-nays and meows.”
Deborah “Zuke” Smith
Zuke is a renowned music copyist, piano teacher, songwriter, vocal coach, and self-proclaimed “East coast chick,” who credits Brett Manning’s Singing Success with not only saving her life but forever changing it for the very best it can be. In 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and braved the brutal battery of tests, surgeries, chemotherapy, post chemo drug regimen and physical therapy. She believes that Brett Manning’s programs and method are absolutely essential to bringing out the full potential in any voice. You can contact Zuke by visiting our Brett Manning Associates page here. You can also call (615) 866-1030 or (888) 269-7758 for more information on bookings.
Estelle has spent years studying with the most sought after singing teachers in the world. Because of Brett’s teaching, Estelle is confident that she can offer you the answers that she has searched a lifetime to discover. She and husband, Mark, who is also a Brett Manning Associate, teach from their home studio in Ayr North Queensland Australia. She offers Skype lessons for all out of town students. For all those interested in booking a lesson with Estelle, go here. You can also call (615) 866-1030 or (888) 269-7758 for more information on bookings.