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Am I too young to teach lessons?

Hello all, 
I am a freshman vocal performance major at a university in Nebraska.  I have taken private voice lessons since the age of nine (yes I know, a tad too young of a start), and I have classical and contemporary performance experience.  I have an understanding of vocal technique that I have built upon for many years now, and my friends and family are urging me to teach lessons to kids in my area.   
However, I would love some input on if I'm qualified for this or not.  I would only teach a few kids (5-10) at a beginner level.  I would be honest about my inexperience teaching, but my experience in regards to performance/song writing/recording/technique.  
Essentially, my question is this - despite any experience I have, is 18-years-old too young to begin teaching private voice lessons? 
 
Thanks, 
Taylor
on December 28, 2014 11:12am
Dear Taylor:
"Too young?" That may not be the correct question. Here are a few questions to ask yourself, and some food for thought:
 
First, do you feel you are qualified to privately teach/tutor a vocal student? Or to put it a different way, do you have something to offer your students?' Obviously your musicianship is good enough that yes, you have something to teach a beginning student -- what hopefully, they won't remain a "beginner" for long!! What happens when that student advances? I suggest you speak with your private teacher(s) and get their take on this and the other questions below. Maybe sit in and observe the lessons of other students and/or private teachers. Watch the lessons not as a student, but as another teacher... it is a very different vantage point... Talk to the teacher afterwards and see if you came up with the same outlook, objectives, items to work on. See how you would 'counsel' the student, what exercises would you have them work on? In the vocal exercises, what items would be a priority to work on, and what items would not be such a priority? See how those private teachers prepare for each of their students, and see how they structure each lesson. What do they do when the student brings in music from their upcoming concert? (Yes, you can use it to reinforce lessons in the method books... (*))
 
Secondly, and quite importantly, if there is something "wrong" with the singing technique of a given student, do you have the ability to recognize it and correct it? Only you can answer that. Personally, I have done a lot of singing and choral conducting over the years. I know how to get a choral group to warm-up, rehearse and perform at or above their capabilities, and I know myself how to produce a decent vocal tone and sound (Luciano or Sherrill I will never be!). But could I be a private voice teacher? Uh, nope, because there are too many aspects and skills of that craft that I have not learned, and I'd be scared of unwittingly hurting something in someone's vocal apparatus. Again, only you can answer that question for yourself.
 
* Third, what method books and other materials would you use? I humbly suggest that you find three or four different series, and become a "pedagogy hound", because new and different series are coming out all the time. A series that works well with a H.S. age student might go too fast for a M.S. age student. On the other hand, a very motivated E.S. age student might require a different series. And then there are the method series for students that want to learn to play/sing, if only just to enjoy themselves. I know that as a private teacher of low brass, some method books work very well on both Trombone and Euphonium... for entirely different reasons.
 
Lastly, remember that a teacher/student relationship is not just one or two lessons. It could be long term, as in YEARS. I have private students that I have had for one or two years. I also have some students that have been private students of mine for six or seven years. I usually end my private teaching when the students graduate from H.S., but not always. (I've had college-level and adult students...) Are you planning to remain in "your (geographical) area" for the long term? While it might be too early for you to answer many of these questions, please rememeber that if/when you move, that is going to be a major change to the studying of your students who may not be moving with you. Are you going to be spending any time (summers? semesters?) away from "your area", e.g., on 'study abroad'? Hopefully for your educational growth, you will. But what will that mean for your student(s)?
 
Again, only you can answer these questions. Best of luck on all counts...!
 
Ron Isaacson
Germantown MD.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 29, 2015 4:18am
Hi Taylor,
I endorse what Ron Isaacson has written but I add a comment that has been my experience of vocal teachers in general, and may well be more appropriate to those stating out.....  There have been many "vocal techniques" promoted by as many teachers over the years and just which one is appropriate for an individual student is very much a matter of judgement - and success or otherwise is often a matter of luck in finding the "one that works".  MOST teachers have already gone through some process of vocal training and it is likely that a good singer stumbled on a successful method that works for him/her.  It is then very easy to be blinded by the success of some favoured "Vocal Method", quite often supported by the publication of a tutorial book or something like that.  But that does not mean that all individual students will gain by following some technique - no matter how successful it was with someone else - including the teacher.  Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to get to know the positives of what "methods" are out there and also to appreciate that some of those "methods" are contradictory in approach.  The old saying "there is no substitute for experience" is very relevant.  Here I draw on my own experience - I had my first genuine vocal lessons over 50 years ago and as each of my teachers retired or died, I believe I have now had 4 people who contributed significantly to my status today.  They all contributed something - but those contributions were far from even.  The most effective of them (for me) was the great Erich Vietheer in London who said something like "there is no such thing as an ideal method - my job is to find out what works for you" then proceeded over the next couple of years to get the physical side of me to match what he perceived my voice would turn into - eventually....  But I had already had about a decade learning the basic art from a couple of others - and was an established oratorio singer by then.  Erich put the icing on the cake - so to speak - but even that took years - and my approach to singing became very different from what had gone before.
 
This is a long-winded way of observing that your students are relying on you to help them - and it is your responsibility to make sure that happens.  Mostly, students don't know what they are aiming for - only that they "need lessons" - and you have to make many judgements for them.  As Ron Isaacson points out so correctly - it is a long term process - YEARS - and I add that usually it has to be in several stages - and has to take into accounts that the student ages and the voice also ages with that process.  The person who is going to learn most is you as you deal with many singers - and that will also take years.  A suggestion - go to as many vocal "master classes" as you can - there is always something to be learned.....  and those teaching masters have had valuable experience.....
 
Rod Reynolds
Melbourne Australia   
Applauded by an audience of 3
on December 29, 2015 6:16am
Taylor, I agree with Mr. Isaacson that "too young" may not be the right question. The real question is whether you know enough to be a benefit to your students. Unfortunately there are far too many voice teachers who have been teaching incorrect technique for far too long. I know this in part because I have had many students who come to me in college loaded with the burdens of myths and inaccuracies which time alone cannot correct. Also, be very aware that, regardless of how much you may know now, you will learn to become a better teacher with the experience you gain from teaching. In other words, your students will teach you, as long as you recognize that you will continue to learn, evolve, and grow as a teacher and keep an open mind to what can be gained from teaching. This is something for which there is no substitute, no matter how long you study. By the way, nine years old was NOT too young to start lessons. I have had students as young as 5 and as old as 82. Obviously I don't teach all students exactly the same way. But when I get an 18-year-old college student taking voice lessons for the first time, they come in with a decade-and-a-half of singing habits, most of which are usually incorrect. The sooner correct habits and techniques can be taught, the better off they are.
 
Dr. Hank Alviani
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Applauded by an audience of 2
on December 29, 2015 8:19am
You will likely take a vocal pedagogy course as a part of your degree.  You will probably feel much more comfortable and confident in your teaching if you wait until after then to take on students.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 29, 2015 9:05am
Taylor, 
I think it's great that you came to this forum to ask.  I like the fact that, even though you have had much experience/training, you are not artificially-confident.
I think the key words in your question are: "..my friends and family are urging me to teach lessons ..."  It is quite possible that you would be an excellent teacher for local students.  However, to be certain, I suggest starting by having one or more "pedagogy sessions" .  Get an adult or very mature H.S. student - one who is mature enough to understand that you are well-qualified, but you are making a sincere effort to strengthen any weaknesses. You may wish to offer this one  lesson for free. ( Mention that this is not necessarily a requirement  - many voice teachers, unfortunately, think they can teach with less experience than you have - but something you are initiating yourself.  That qualifies as "value added".)  Set up a time when an experienced, renowned, college teacher will observe you, and remain when the student leaves, to give you feedback/ideas.  (It might be well to do this after the procedure that Ronald describes, where you observe from the teacher's point of view.). It also might be interesting/helpful to have an English/Language Arts teacher to observe, and give you feedback as to how well you did with expressing the ideas, hints, techniques, that you gave the student. (Personal anecdote: Though I have a Master's, including Vocal Pedagogy, a have sung and taught for several years, it was my English-teacher student who helped me realize that a simple phrase like, "Get out of the way so your air can reach your voice." , was the most helpful thing I said to her.) 
I think it is wise that you are limiting your teaching, for now, to beginners.  You may wish to talk with some more-experienced teachers, to whom you could pass your students, especially those who prove to be highly-talented, quick learners.  (I do this with my guitar students - though I have played, taught,  and picked up a lot over the years, I am not as qualified as a guitar major.  As you describe, I am honest at the outset, and pass them along to a more advanced teacher when they begin to show readiness.)
Another helpful idea might be to take your students, after they have studied with you for 4 - 12 months or more, to a Master Class from time to time.  They will benefit from observing and/or participating. You and the student can then pick up and discuss/continue some of the ideas in your regular lessons.
Be sure that you do not over-simplify when students ask you about auditions, career advice, etc..  That is more complex and you may wish to bring a more-experienced teacher into that conversation ( even by email, SKYPE, etc.)
Finally, as long as you remain in contact with excellent teachers, and pass some of those techniques along, don't belittle what you can offer.  In some areas, you might offer fresher perspective, newer repertoire, and energy - for less than more-experienced teachers would charge.  Such a deal! ;)
i feel confident that you are on the way to a good career; continue to be careful, and creative.  Contact me through the Choralnet inbox if I can be of further assistance.
-Lucy
 
on December 29, 2015 11:16am
I would recommend that you begin with a small community choir instead of teaching private vocal lessons.  It would be great fun for the kids, who might not otherwise be ready for the intensity of private lessons. I have taught such choirs for decades. You can teach good singing habits and strengthen their range and quality in a group. You can introduce all kinds of repertoire, even classical vocal music (all of my choirs, except the church choirs, learned "Caro Mio Ben" at some point).  You can give members of the group solos and coach them.  From there, you can see if any children might be capable of studying privately.  And you can do all of this while you are learning more about vocal pedagogy, yourself.
 
I taught piano and violin from the age of sixteen, including all the way through college, and I know that I encouraged and strengthened many young musicians during that time, but I didn't have the skills I have now.  I think voice training for young children is tricky. You want them to have good habits.  they may have been drawn to the activity because they have been imitating some singers with poor habits, and you may have a lot of work ahead of you.  Some parents may not support your teaching because of your age.  If you are successful with a small group, you have a better chance to win the parents over to what your training has taught you thus far.
 
Best of luck to you!
 
Nan Beth Walton
 
on December 29, 2015 12:05pm
Taylor,
 
To all of the excellent advice, I would like to add few questions and a suggestion.
 
You said that you have an understanding of vocal technique, but where did it come from? If you gained it through your own lessons, you may find that you have a blind spot or two. The first is that you may have no advanced knowledge of the vocal techniques for the other gender. While there are many constants, men and women do sing differently and correct their issues differently. The second is that you may find your students have needs you have never encountered and don't know how to address. I was teaching a high school junior and the way she sang just confounded me. I finally stumbled on to part of the issue and solution, but felt that a more experienced teacher could have done more sooner. The vocal technique classes are why I was able to do what I did, but I am still not certain it is enough. Her needs were both different from mine, outside of the norm, and great enough that I felt rather like a home health aid filling in for a gastrointerologist.
 
If your skill is based on your experience, it may be more limited than you think.
 
The observation I wish to give is that teaching is so very different from learning. Ask anyone on the street about teachers, teaching, and education, and they will all have an opinion on what is wrong and how to fix it. After all, they were educated for years, some of them 20 years and watched teachers great and poor. But, standing on the other side is just different. Little things that students miss turn out to be absolutely key to success and the route from introduction to mastery is not as plain as it looks from the student side. I would second the suggest that you watch some experienced teachers from the other side. Take notes, ask questions, ask yourself what they did and why. See how they prepare and reflect.
 
All that said, you certainly have a good foundation and may do quite well.
 
So, I will leave with a final question. You said others are urging you to teach. Do you want to? If you do, why? The answer to these questions, which you need not share with me, are very important and will likely tell you if you should move forward. Regardless, I wish you success and joy, regardless of your path.
 
Marianne
on December 29, 2015 9:26pm
By all means, if you have experience in the field and if you've got time in college taking lessons at that level under your belt, then yes, teach. You'll be providing a useful service to the community. I would ask your voice teacher for help with materials and pedagogical tips.
on December 30, 2015 4:30pm
I like Ms. Walton's suggestion of starting with a chorus. It's a good opportunity to teach the general fundamentals of singing technique, and will allow you to ease into the specifics of individual needs. An excellent resource is "Prescriptions for Choral Excellence" by Shirlee Emmons and Constance Chase (Oxford University Press). Virtually every choir and chorus I've trained and directed over the years had had no prior training in the most basic aspects of choral singing, so there's plenty of work out there to be done.
 
One particular difficulty you're apt to encounter with young students is the tendency to imitate the vocal (and other physical) mannerisms of current pop performers, some of which can lead to real vocal damage. This situation can be made worse by a Stage Mom (or Dad), who is probably the one who will pay for the lessons, wanting you to teach the youngster to "belt" so as to get the lead in the Broadway musical the high school has unwisely chosen as something suitable for young voices (see Emmons and Chase on that particular subject).
 
That said, all the advice given above is excellent. Find the shoes that fit and wear them. Best wishes in your career.
on December 31, 2015 10:31am
I say go for it, but be very choosy about your students, to be sure you will have something to teach them.  
 
A staggering number of teachers turn to this forum for advice when they are suddenly put in charge of 3 middle school choirs and all their training is for band, with zero singing experience.  You are at least a singer yourself.  But I would suggest you teach very young students, or very beginning students.  Students who need to learn to count a rhythm properly and how to use solfedge to figure out the notes, or how the keys on a piano correspond to the notes on the page, so they can check that they are singing a part correctly.  You would be teaching music reading and getting them familiar with some repertoire as much as you would be addressing their singing technique.  And your teaching of singing technique for little kids should be limited to the things you can teach with no danger of them hurting themselves.  No attempt to work on the extremes of their range, for example.  Everything should sit comfortably in the middle of their voice.  But learning to take a good breath without lifting your shoulders before each phrase isn't going to hurt anyone.  Learning to stand up straight and not to fidget isn't going to hurt anyone either.  The emphasis should be on singing and having a good time, not serious vocal pedagogy.  Leave that til they are older.  If you decide to try it, you will likely learn a ton from teaching.  But only beginning students until you get a bit of experience.  
on January 1, 2015 9:45am
Hello.
 
I agree with much of what has been said. "too young" is not the issue.
 
From your post, I see that you have what I think is a very important characteristic of a teacher - humility and the ability to ask for help.
 
Now you need enough information to know where to turn. So you need to have some knowledge about many different approaches but don't let that stop you. When a child is standing in front of you and all your efforts to help their volume level have barely improved the problem, you will search for the answer and you will learn.
 
I would suggest you start with these steps:
1) observe another teacher/mentor
2) perhaps offer to share your fees with that person to sit in on the first few lessons you give to help you
3) observe a teacher who uses different technique
4) find 1-2 students and start with them
 
Those teachers whom you observe can be great resources to you. I do voice lessons for people of many ages but if I hit a problem I can't fix or find that I'm not providing value add, then I use another teacher's help. I have paid the difference to take a student to a super-exerienced teacher and sit in on the lesson. I have paid to take lessons myself from that teacher and observed him teaching my children for a couple years. I have also sent students to him and he refers beginning students to me. Personally, I directed a choir of 60-80 people for 7 years- all ages. Then, like you, so many people asked me to teach their kids. I took on one of these children for free because their parents have no money and I had no experience. Then business grew from there.
 
Similarly, after years of my doing conducting and then private voice, my daughter, who was 13, took on a 5 year old who was running around belting. Since the young child was going to hurt herself singing wrong, my daughter was sure she could help. She taught this child for free for 3 years with me always in the room. I accompanied the lessons, gave ideas, and helped if my daughter asked. In this way, I mentored my daughter. This child is now 9 with a beautiful production, good breath support... And my daughter is a good teacher who still only has 1 voice student and teaches for a very discounted rate.
 
But interestingly, this young student is really worried about next year when my daughter goes to college. She very much prefers my daughters younger voice to mine and sweetly loves my daughter. She will be really sad when Katherine goes away.
 
Similarly, I have found that I develop a nice relationship with most of my students and these last years. If you are only around for the short term but are working with young beginners, know that their sweet hearts may break if you leave. They will recover but teaching voice is not just teaching voice but providing loving support and guidance to vulnerable little ones.
 
If you lived near Houston, I'd gladly let you sit in with me. I think you will be great with your attitude and with continued kindness, intellectual curiosity, and humility.
 
Rachael
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 1, 2015 10:10am
I agree that it is not necessary to teach "serious vocal pedagogy," but at any age it is critical to teach CORRECT vocal pedagogy, which I think is serious enough. So be serious about correct posture, breathing technique, and the mechanics of musicianship. It is also excellent advice to concentrate on establishing a solid tonal production in the middle range. I have students who come to me wanting to expand their range when it is their "normal" or "comfortable" range that needs attention first. I don't start teaching kids to shoot 3-pointers until I know they can accurately hit 12-footers and free throws. Also, a great challenge for ALL singers is learning to comfortably negotiate the passagio, which of course they cross over back and forth in their "normal" or "comfortable" range. Many students will have difficulty addressing their upper register (which many choose to refer to as "head voice", an unfortunate and meaningless term) for the simple fact that the lower register ("chest voice") is usually more developed because most people speak in the range. I use a 3-word phrase for address this issue: strengthen, equalize, connect. Strenghthen the upper register untill it is equal in quality to the lower register, then work on connect the two seamlessly. If your tennis forehand is much stronger than your backhand, on which are you going to spend more time learning to strengthen? Once these techniques are mastered (?), then you can consider expanding range.
on January 1, 2015 11:05am
I am not a believer in formal individual voice lessons for young children, although I must add that I am a choral conductor, not a vocal pedagogue. Occasional vocal coaching, note-learning instruction, etc. -- this is fine. Anything beyond that seems a lttle like taking elementary kids and putting them in football pads and helmets and getting them to memorize play-books -- too much, too soon. Let them be kids!
 
The suggestion that you start a chorus is easier said than done, although I would certainly recommend that young singers be encouraged to enroll in a quality children's chorus, if such a program exists in your locality. A good children's chorus is the best way to teach a child accurate intonation, fundamentals of breathing and musicianship, and the rudiments and rewards of ensemble performance.
 
One salient problem with privately teaching a child is that there are few, if any, appropriate vocal models for kids. Who is a child going to imitate? A young Julie Andrews? She was an anomaly---the product of another time and artistic sensibility, and late in her career, she developed something like vocal nodules. How about Charlotte Church, Jackie Evancho or Amira Willighagen? I am not sure these kids are singing correctly; they seem to be manufacturing an "adult" sound with the help of microphones to achieve a superficial success. The best models may be the boys in an English treble choir -- but then, they are not "soloists," but first-rate choristers. In a good choir, a child's natural head tone is encouraged; the individual singer need not be pushed to produce more volume than is natural and healthy, because the choir produces volume not by force but by intonation; and the goals and achievements of the group establish a "team mentality," by which musicianship is shared as an outcome of musico-social interaction -- just like language.
 
Although it is counter-cultural to say this, the best music-making is collaborative, in which the individual "star" conforms to the artistic goals of the ensemble, and the most engaging, rewarding musical experience is one of group resonance, rhythmic cooperation and coordination, and artistic sympathy. These should be the aims of vocal training for children before they reach young adulthood, and even after.
 
Stephen Mager
Masterworks Chorale, Belleville, Ill.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 2, 2015 6:59am
The emphasis should be on learning to sing WELL, at any age.
on January 2, 2015 7:13pm
Is there a church in your area that needs someone to direct the children's choir?  I remember seeing ads like this on the student bulletin board when I was a clarinet major.  Does your college have a program where students give music lessons in the public schools?  I subbed in such a program during college (clarinet, not voice), and there was a short training program for us and some oversight by our professors.  Do the public schools lack resources for adequate music programs, and are there community groups who would like to improve this?  When I started teaching elementary music with no vocal training 14 years ago, I attended a series of Saturday trainings in NYC, run by the school board and the Met. Opera Guild, and sponsored by Seagram's, to train volunteers to provide any kind of singing experience to the 80+ elementary schools in the city with no music programs (When is a school not a school?).  Can you set something up like a vocal instruction internship or independent study with your college professors?  This way, you could have some guidance and get course credit.  
on January 5, 2015 9:05am
Hi Taylor,
 
If I may repeat what a few have mentioned here, you should teach voice if you want to teach voice, regardless of what others suggest you do; regardless, in fact, of whether you are good at it at first. We improve at teaching—just like we improve at writing and singing—by doing it over and over again. The desire to do it well is going to drive you to find the resources you need to solve your students' problems. So, don't be overwhelmed by the ocean of what you don't know yet; just start, with compassion for your students and the humility to recognize your own short-comings. You will quickly learn if the marketplace supports you as a legitimate teacher, a teacher-in-training, or something in-between.
 
Certainly seek out the ongoing advice and feedback of a mentor in your area. I would strongly suggest you offer to pay them for their time. This demonstrates your commitment and also removes any conflict of interest on their part.
 
If you want a jump-start on both the functional and progressive nature of good classical vocal training, you might start with Dr. Stephen Austin's three-part series, "Building Strong Voices Twelve Different Ways" in the NATS Journal. The way in which this information complements and confounds your current thinking may be helpful. 
 
A few have mentioned starting a choir. I think you should definitely do this if you want to start a choir. You will gain overlapping, but not exactly—as several commenters have mentioned—the same skills as if you were to teach privately. 
 
Good luck!
 
Ian Howell
Vocal Pedagogy Director
The New England Conservatory of Music
Boston
 
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