Helping singers to find their voices is an exacting privilege. It requires not only intimate knowledge of the workings of the instrument and ways of enlivening it in young bodies, but considerable maturity and wisdom. Teaching singing, as well as being specialised, is a highly personal matter. Having a degree does not of itself qualify one to teach singing any more than it equips one to sing. One cannot learn to be a voice teacher by reading a book, studying a method or following instructions.
Nor is a career as a professional performer any guarantee that you can help a singer to develop their own individual voice. Many great singers are hard put to explain how they sing, and end up trying to get pupils to do what they imagine they do. Their instructions are often quite unfounded physiologically. There is a delightful YouTube clip in which Luciano Pavarotti states that all tenors have a break at f or f#, and then proceeds to sing a scale without one.
Many pianists set themselves up as singing teachers when their only relevant experience is some musical coaching or playing for singing lessons. That’s like a nurse becoming a surgeon without the appropriate studies or experience – ouch!
Teachers need many personal qualities specific to the job of teaching per se. Then they need specialised knowledge regarding the singing voice. Above all, they need to develop a suitably analytical ear.
In a modern musical institution there is no place for charlatans to hide. However, we should beware of placing our faith totally in either ‘received’ or newly-available ‘knowledge’. As yet it is fraught with inconsistencies. No fixed ‘method’ can possibly cater for the innumerable differences and varying needs between singers.
In our conscientious attempts at getting up to date we should not sever our roots with the past. The Old Italian School knew a thing or two even if we have only hearsay evidence. The singing voice has not changed any more than the rest of the body. We are dealing with one and the same God-given instrument. Their concern was to make the very most of it. Ours should be the same.
Considering the nature of voice training, it stands to reason that a singer needs constant, caring and progressive attention. It is not good enough to clock up the requisite number of hours.
Harrison, Peter T. Singing: Personal and performance values in training. Dunedin Academic Press Ltd. 2013.