1. Am I being taken care of? Has a connection been made between my singing and who I am? Your singing teacher is not your psychotherapist, confessor, nanny, or anyone but your vocal guide. Nevertheless, you and your voice should be treated as one and the same: what’s good for your voice is good for you, and vice versa.
2. What seems to be the teacher’s purpose? ‘Shopping lists’ of skills (forte, piano, coloratura, a top ‘C’) will not get you very far if you want to sing well. Can you tell if your ‘problems’ are being tackled at their roots or is the work cosmetic, ‘fixing’ problems rather than eliminating them, or overly goal-directed? Are you being offered a ‘way’ (technique) of singing or expressing music, or is it as though these things are part of you, arising from within you organically? Are the various aspects of your voice being treated as though they were inter-related or separate entities? Bear in mind that it can take time to release the instrumental and expressive qualities of your voice. Impatience for a product will help neither you nor your teacher. Nothing fixed can be flexible. If your voice felt free and flexible at sixteen it should feel even more so at twenty-six.
3. What’s behind it all? It might help to discover if your teacher thinks of singing in broader terms than the means of singing songs and arias accurately, beautifully or skilfully enough. This will have a bearing on the level and thoroughness of your work, and ultimately on the quality of your communicating skills.
4. Am I being pigeon-holed? You may want to know ‘what you are’, but remember that labels are manmade. Trying to fit into the German Fach system can seriously curtail your development. You can fulfil your potential only if you are not limited or moulded at the start. Vocal qualities and skills need time to emerge and develop, and aiming to be a certain type of voice can lead to all kinds of abuse and distortion leaving you unsatisfied because you haven’t found your true vocal identity. Repertoire must help the present process of development. Your voice will gradually come into its own and you will discover what really suits it as you go. Trying to make a voice fit a preconceived idea is a denial of responsibility, and it is the pupil who loses out.
5. Am I being controlled? Teachers who are authoritarian or dogmatic are usually insecure and limited in what they have to offer. This is likely to limit you and do nothing for your own security. You should have the feeling that your teacher is interested in your sense of self-worth, in empowering you, in helping you to discover what you have rather than imposing what he knows. Training is something active, and it is the experience that counts, not mental know-how, however clever-sounding. Save those grey cells for relevant musical and literary study, and for intelligent musical and communicative performance.
6. Promises. Beware of promises such as ‘I will turn you into the next Maria Callas’ or ‘I can make you a singer in six months’. I have come across a number of young singers who suffered due to such empty promises, only to be blamed for their eventual disappointment.
Harrison, Peter T. The Human Nature of the Singing Voice: Exploring a sound basis for Teaching and Learning. Dunedin Academic Press Ltd. 2006