The second episode of our new This Is A Voice Podcast arrived on 8th July. Gillyanne and I slug it out on the difference between the singing teacher and the vocal coach. Why our focus is different, what the differences and similarities are in the way we deal with lessons and students, and what happens when we swap students. We also answer an AMA on what happens in a typical 40 minute lesson – how long we usually spend on the warm up and how quickly we progress into the song.
Below is the transcript of the whole episode – you can listen on your favourite podcast platform including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher and many others. Or jump to our dedicated This Is A Voice Podcast website on https://thisisavoice.buzzsprout.com/
THIS IS A VOICE PODCAST EPISODE 2 – Singing Teacher versus Vocal Coach
This Is A Voice, a podcast with Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher
Hello, and welcome to our second podcast on this one is vocal coach versus singing teacher.
I feel a little bit of competitiveness coming on here.
Absolutely not. I’m Jeremy Fisher, and I’m the vocal coach.
And I’m Gillyanne Kayes, and I’m the singing teacher.
Okay, so fight. What do you think is the difference?
Oh, wow. You put me on the spot there
I know one thing I certainly feel as a singing teacher is that the level of musical ability please don’t shoot me other singing teachers. I think of a vocal coach, certainly the kind of vocal performance coach that Jeremy is having a very deep as well as broad sense of musicianship and a sort of an overview of performance, whereas what we singing teachers tend to focus on is the voice The body and tailoring that to the individual singer, the client, the client in the room, the student in the room, as we say. I’m aware that other singing teachers might not have that perspective, but it’s certainly the one that I have working collaboratively with Jeremy.
Okay, ask me the same question.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know you were gonna ask me this question. Blimey, asked me the same. What do you see as being the difference between a vocal coach and a singing teacher?
It’s actually quite interesting, because it’s very similar to what you said. The thing for me and I’m going to go straight to the same point that you did, which is musicianship, the vocal coach usually, and we’re talking generalities here, but I’m going to go with the general generality. The vocal coach is normally an instrumentalist first, so they will have been playing instruments since usually a very young age, which means they have a experience of music that is not necessarily vocal. So you have a experience of instrumental music, which means that you learn music in a slightly different way. And we may break that down slightly later in this podcast. Whereas the singing teacher has the experience, whether they’ve been instrumentalists or not, they have the experience of voice. And producing music with a voice, I think is a very different animal from producing music with an instrument partly because you can’t take your voice to the shop and replace it for a better one. You actually can… you’ve got the one you’ve got, whereas I went through three oboes when I was at music college, and I’ve played thousands of pianos, so I’m constantly working with whatever instrument is in front of me.
Unknown Speaker 2:43
I think that’s a very good point about each individual singer’s voice being an individual instrument, and that that’s what we’re working to develop and get the best out of as singing teachers.
I think the lines get quite blurred actually, because we’re talking black and white, really we’re talking the vocal coach doing the sort of performance and music coaching and the singing teacher doing vocal technique. And those lines do get blurred. And funnily enough, it depends on what the employer is, almost
Do you know, I mean, with your description, you’re saying that as a vocal coach, you’re an instrumentalist first. In other words, your first instrument is less likely to be voice.
As my first instrument was. I played three instruments I played piano and violin, as well as voice but voice was always my first. So that means that in a sense, you’re not a singer.
Yeah, I go with that.
Yeah, and maybe that’s that’s a slightly weird thing. Why do you think that gives you as a vocal coach a different perspective from me as a singing teacher?
Oh, completely superior.
Well, aside from that,
it is is to do with it really is to do with music, and how music works. And I, in a way, I can only speak for myself, which is I had… by the time I started coaching singers, and I was 19, I think when I first started at music college, and I had already been playing an instrument for 12 years, 13 years. And therefore I had to take on music and this is classical music at the time. I had to take on music and my story is and this is absolutely true, I started coaching singers out of desperation, because I couldn’t believe that they could make the same mistakes over and over again, or that they didn’t understand how a phrase worked or that they didn’t understand how words fitted together. So I genuinely You know, one day went Oh, for heaven’s sake, it goes like this. And this thing went Oh, that’s really good. Thank you. A good visit is a job in insulting people. That’s quite good.
I hasten to say that I was not one of those singers at least I didn’t think I was one of those singers. In a way you’re taking me to a place that I wasn’t expecting to go, but let’s go there anyway. It reminds me of when I first started singing as a professional chorister. And I was very surprised to get this sort of vibe coming from the organists and the instrumentalists that we singers were a bit dim, that we were a bit thick that we actually weren’t good musicians. It was really quite an interesting vibe that used to come across. And I don’t think that’s what you mean, because I think what you’re talking about is there’s a way in which the singer is an instrumentalist with the whole body and the psyche that I think is different from an instrumentalist who doesn’t use words. Maybe it’s Words as part of the medium of song that is one of the big differentiators because I don’t want to say that a singer isn’t an instrumentalist because we are instrumentalists. We happen to be playing the instrument of our body. Are we digging ourselves a hole here?
No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a really interesting one, this, it’s like a combination. First of all, you’ve got words, so you have a very direct means of communication that instrumentalists don’t have. And secondly, you are creating the sound inside. There is no real sense of creating a sound outside yourself. The sound is created inside and released if you like. So, in any instrument at all, you are creating a sound outside yourself. And I think that’s really vital. And it also says to me why singers need to feel and experience certain things and they need to they need to know what the sound feels like or as well as what it sounds like. And it’s a very visceral sense and Interestingly, I also know that that rumour that singers are stupid. And I don’t think it is I think it’s to do with the visceral experience
We are so going to get kickback for this
I think you’re right so it’s the Viscerality, is that a word?
It is the Viscerality of it.
And that’s what we respond to when we hear a singer sing. And it’s that that individuality as well that we respond to.
Okay. Whoo. So where do you want to go next?
So we’re still we’re still sort of on on vocal coach versus singing teacher and what are they and and it’s interesting because we’ve worked collaboratively for more than 20 years, it’s 24 years, 25 years,
Something like that 24 years.
We bits that we’ve rubbed off on each other, which sounds terrible thing to say, but we it basically we’ve picked up certain skills from each other and so um, I still think of myself as a vocal coach who has a very profound knowledge of vocal technique. But my my outlook is still as the overview, the the performance element, the music element, the putting it into context element, I still don’t think of myself as a singing teacher. Whereas you do
Do you know I think we might find it easier to define the difference if we talk more about what we do in our sessions. For example, you’ve told me that you don’t do warm ups in your sessions.
I am going to go this is slightly odd but I’m going to jump straight into AMA Ask Me Anything because we actually did get a question on this, in the tin. So can we just
we’re actually putting this on video on YouTube and I am not joking here is the tin. So if you can, if you’re listening on the podcast, have a quick glance onto YouTube at around this point. And you’ll see it’s a beautiful Christmas biscuit tin. That’s our AMA theme
gives me a happy a happy moment every time it plays.
And we had, we did have a question in here that I am because I put it in because I knew what the topic was today. And the question is a typical 40 minute lesson, the usual structure, how long do you usually spend on the warm up? And how quickly progress into the song? And this is such a great question, because you and I will have different answers
that come from one of our
training courses. Yes, somebody… It’s anonymous. I can’t tell you who it was because they’re just people just plonk the questions in the tin and we’ll answer them normally at the end of each day, and I kept that one because I thought it was rather good.
Okay, do you want me to start? So thinking about a typical 40 minute lesson? I mean, in a sense, there’s, there’s no typical because each singer is individual and what they bring with them is individual. I’ll say from my point of view about the generic things. First of all, finding out what the singer wants to do what they want to achieve from that lesson.
How do you do that?
I ask them. Duh
Just thinking there was some sort of psychic osmosis.
Now bear in mind that I work with adults. And it’s a long time since I’ve worked with children. And that is a slightly different situation when you’re working with children. Or if you’re working in an educational context where you the teacher and the student have certain targets. But even so you would review with that student what it was that they needed to achieve in that lesson, because what you’re doing there is you’re you’re laying the groundwork for the the 40 minutes. And it doesn’t matter if five minutes of that time is taken up with laying that groundwork. Because that’s you and your student getting into the zone, if you like for what the lesson is about. dependent on whether they’d sung that day you know, I might just do a five minute warm up, or it could end up being an eight minute warm up. Now, warm ups are sort of customised to the singer, but they will contain typical things. For instance, air flow and breath work, looking at breath and voice so that you’re taking the flow of the breath into the voice saying, exploring the ease of moving across the range, maybe a little bit of dynamic work. In other words, changing volume, playing around with resonance shapes. And then I would typically take some phrases from songs that the singer is going to sing or that the singer knows, so that they begin to use words and play around with those phrases, taking them up a semitone, down a semitone, and so forth. So that’s what a warm up would be. Now let’s assume that the student has brought a song and wants to do some work on that song because I certainly give lessons where a client will come in and say, I only want to work on technique today, in which case, the initial phase of the lesson, the chat will probably be longer because I will be finding out what it is that they want to develop. And I may then be structuring the warm up around that as well. I keep notes by the way, I have a physical notebook, and I will write those notes down as the client is speaking. That’s partly because that’s one of the ways that I process I like to write things down. I make lists. I could show you the list for today, which I haven’t even started because Jeremy took me off in another direction. That was deliberate, wasn’t it? So I might then look at the phrases from the songs I might look at the pitch range of the song or some challenging part of the song And devise some exercises around that particular challenge. So we might do some technique exercises. These are different from warm ups. These are technical developer development exercises, we actually do a webinar on this
webinar three called ”What’s in a warm up” and where we identify what actually is a warm up and what is a skill based exercise. And we see the two has been different.
I think what often happens is that singing teachers deliver, you know, the whole raft of exercises that they do, or that they learn from their singing teacher, and then you have 30 minutes of the lesson. And trust me, I have heard lessons like this, which are devoted to vocalises.
And you think, well, for those of you who don’t why what a vocalise is, imagine a melody sung to Ah and it could be anything classical, it could possibly be something contemporary, possibly a pop number. There are very few contemporary numbers- Great gig in the sky is the only one that I can think of right now that doesn’t actually have any words in it has six or seven versions of Ah.
So you’re moving up into semitones all the way through the top of the range, and then you’re moving down in semitones all the way to the bottom of the range with each exercise.
I know my reaction is WTF, why would you do that? What purpose does it have?
And I think it’s important to know what that purpose is. Yeah. If you’re only listening Yeah, let us know. It’s been a double eyeroll. Yeah.
Yeah, if you know what the purpose of those are, please do let us know.
So I slightly lost my turn. I’m talking about doing technical development exercises. And then moving in maybe straight to that part of the song and and say, right, let’s try that out in the song. And then trying out the whole song and then reviewing recapping, making sure that at the end of the 40 minute lesson, the client knows Why they did what they did what it is that they need to practice and that they have a sense of arrival and a sense of success and I think that’s very important. I think that’s probably enough for now about what might be a 40 minute lesson I’ve got more to say about what I might think of as lesson targets later on, should that arise
OK my turn. I have two questions. The moment anyone walks in and I’m before I start this, I’m gonna say I work with professionals almost exclusively. So usually I am doing additional coaching or brushing up or occasionally I will do slightly longer term training, but I do a lot of one off hits, because people go I have an audition tomorrow. But if I’m even if I’m working with the longer term people, I have two questions when they walk in. Would you like a warm up? And what are we singing today? Because there is no point in doing a warm up unless I know what the genre is what the piece is, what its demands are and I will tailor the warm up absolutely, specifically to the piece. And if we’re doing entirely different pieces, I will do a very short warm up possibly in two sections where I go, let’s target this one. And let’s target that one. So the warm ups are very, very specific. And I will do three minutes, maybe four minutes. I won’t do any more than that, because I don’t see the point. And obviously, I’m not going Right, you’ve had your three minutes, you are now warmed up, I’m listening to what’s going on, but very much because I know what I’m targeting usually three minutes is enough. And then I will get people to usually sing the entire song or a large chunk of it because this is about context. I need to know where that person is that day with that song. And quite often people will come in and go that phrase is really bugging me in this song and I’ll go great, Okay, good. We’ll do that phrase but give me a run into it. Sing 32 bars before that phrase because I need to find out what you’re doing before to set yourself up for why it’s not working. So how long do I usually spend on the warm up? Three to four minutes? How quickly do I progress into the song? Immediately because that gives me a very strong context for working. And then we can talk about what somebody needs to do, what they want to do, and then start diagnosing what the problem is. So and I’ve written a lot of articles on this and in fact, the new book Why do I need a vocal coach has got something like 40 lessons that I break down in working with different people.
I’ve got something to say here because I think it might help elucidate the difference between the vocal coach and the singing teacher. If I tell you why. I would refer a client to Jeremy sometimes you’re working on an aspect of vocal technique with a client And you can get a bit stuck. And sometimes the reason why you get stuck is a performance issue rather than a technical development issue. And that might be a time when I would say, do you know what? I think that you might resolve this by working on the performance side of the song with Jeremy and I refer them across for a couple of sessions. Another time when I might refer a client to Jeremy is if they bring a fiendish song, like, most Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown and they are getting ready to put the song on its feet for performance. They need to do the song with the real accompaniment. You know, I can vamp I can kind of work my way through almost anything but it will not be what the client or the student is going to hear in performance and they need to do that. Because it’s a collaborative thing between the singer and the pianist, or the singer and the orchestra, it’s not just you the voice
Duetting with a stranger in auditions. You know, you go in and you sing your song working with somebody that you’ve never met, usually playing something quite difficult. So I’ve done… I mean, when we wrote successful singing auditions, I had, at that point, done eight and a half thousand auditions in the West End. So I knew what I was talking about. And actually thinking about referring the other way, there are clients that I go, Gillyanne does this so much better, so much faster than I do go and have a couple of sessions with her because she will nail that technique in a way that I can’t. And one of my, one of my most… the thing I do the most I think when I’m when I’m referring to you is working with women, particularly, who are exploring taking a modal or chest voice higher. That seems to be the thing. I mean, I know you’re extremely good at that. That seems to be the thing sometimes I can do it sometimes I just go you’re wasting your money with me for this particular thing. Go to Gillyanne and she will nail it. And then come back and we’ll work.
I am the comfortable easy chest voice queen.
Yeah. So it is interesting that, you know, even though I know a lot of technique, there are things that I just go, Gillyanne has this nailed, and why not go. So we’re very comfortable swapping clients. And in fact, what’s also interesting is that we often have clients who prefer one of our energy. So I am a slightly more upbeat, slightly
higher energy. Just pull things out of left field type person and Gillyanne is a more methodical, slightly calmer, slightly cooler. I think that’s fair.
I think that’s absolutely fair. I’m very happy with those monikers. Is that the right word?
Moniker will do.
They can be my monikers.
Yeah. So um, the other thing I did want to touch on is actually I mentioned it earlier about what the job in the industry is. And I think industry is we wrote an article on the difference between the vocal coach and the singing teacher, which I think is still on on the Vocal Process website, we’ll put it in the show notes at the end, that there are certain industries that prefer one to the other. If you are a classical singer, and you’re singing opera or a concert, you will have a singing teacher very definitely who does technique and you will normally have an accompanist or a vocal coach or a Repetiteur, who will work the music and the performance with you. And it’s very clearly delineated. And I think it’s actually because we come from that, that background. I mean, I worked as an opera repetiteur with three opera companies when I was in my 20s. So I know that background very well. Whereas you go into the contemporary world, and in the pop world in particular, pop in the recording studio, normally what people are having is a vocal coach who will do some vocal technique, but we’ll also discuss presentation, possibly even clothing, and the look of what you’re doing and the whole vibe of what you’re doing and you’re much less likely to have a singing teacher there.
And don’t you think that a lot of that develop… you know, performance development stuff probably happens in the studio so that the, you know, the artist development is actually happening at that end, rather than in the one to one singing lesson because, you know, there are lots of CCM singers, contemporary commercial music singers who do have singing lessons, they’re more likely to go for singing lessons when they hit a vocal difficulty.
I was gonna say when they start to hit difficulties, and they go, I need to… that’s normally when the singing lessons start.
Because in a way, I think in the CCM genres, they’re still very much the feeling that you don’t want to sound too trained, too schooled. It needs to feel that it’s very much an individual voice.
Yeah. Oh, okay.
Ooh. I would like to go somewhere else and talk about one of the things that a singing teacher is responsible for, which is vocal development.
Which we talked about a bit
I know. And this is the other… For me, this is the other big difference between a vocal coach and singing teacher. Go!
Well, it’s that sense of developing the instrument. And this is where the idea of technique comes in, technical development. And in a way, one size doesn’t fit all. And as you get to know us, you will hear that phrase said over and over again. So the kind of technique that you need to develop depends very much on the level of the singer, the age of the singer, the genre that they’re singing in, so it’s all about context. Maybe they have an exam focus and there will be certain technical skills they have to demonstrate that they can do. Maybe they’re working in an educational context and there are certain boxes that have to be ticked there. So all of those factors need to be taken into account. Broadly speaking, if we’re talking about vocal development, we’re talking about developing appropriate tone, timbre, use of dynamic, how the singer uses words, I think is an important part of vocal development, whether the singer can negotiate the the melodic patterns, the vocal range that they need to be singing. So kind of very broad sweepa are what we need to be looking at I mean, I’m just thinking about… We talk about the four elements of music, the four basic elements, you’re looking at me, what am I going to come out
Go on, shoot
Which are Melody, Duration (which is rhythm), Volume, or dynamic, and Timbre. Those are the four things we need to look at with music plus singers have words. Plus singers have bodies by the way and sing with those bodies. And there’s a whole voice body mind connection that a singing teacher may have to address, even if it’s done intuitively and subliminally.
And where those four things come in really, where you start to get really interesting is when you start swapping genres, because the whole way that you deal with all of those four changes if you’re swapping genres. So just off the top of my head, if you are a classical singer, the goal is even sound, that the sound matches as much as you can. dynamics are graded, so you don’t get massively huge changes in Dynamics you get gradings. Word use. In classical singing word use is less important than sound quality and I will arm wrestle anybody who disagrees with that. And what’s the fourth one duration? Oh, yeah, well, okay, if you’re singing 19th century opera, you take a large breath and you hold everything for as long as you can. Because phrases are huge. 18th century, 19th century, even 20th century. phrases are very long on the whole.
It’s also about rhythmic patterns.
Yep. Oh, yes. Yes, I throw I’m throwing out a challenge to you. Name me an opera singer who sings in rhythm. Because I’ve never worked with one. There’s a lot of give and take. There’s a lot of rubato in, in singing. Particularly if you think in order to sing in rhythm, the vowel needs to land on the beat. It often doesn’t.
Oh, whoa, I can see a whole a whole podcast there. That’s very interesting. We could maybe one time talk about the written score, and how the written school is lifted off the page as singing,
Love that. That’s my thing
because it is something to be fair that instrumentalists often do not understand. Because singers need to breathe and singers need to articulate words. And yes, I know if you’re a wind player, you need to breathe. But you haven’t got to articulate consonant clusters
You don’t have to articulate S.T.R before you even get onto the vowel.
Quite. And so that was the classical thing if you go to musical theatre the the emphasis becomes much more on the words and the story the moment by moment story. In classical singing, you don’t tend to do so much instant by instant story you tend to do.
Thank you. I was going to get into very dodgy territory there. Broad sweeps is good. But when you work with an RSC actor singing something, you know that they are second by second everything, they know exactly what they’re doing. And then when you get into contemporary commercial and then 700 commercial and contemporary commercial genres?
Don’t ask me you’re the one who did that fact-looking-up
I did the article fact looking on one of the websites and there are so many sub genres there is something like 60 sub genres of rock. So lots of genres when you get into that. It’s more about feel. Feel, vibe, colour, emotion. And funnily enough, although it may not be moment by moment emotion, its day to day real life emotion.
Also, its rhythm rhythmically driven,
rhythmically driven, I think you’ll find! Yeah, it is rhythmically driven. Virtually whatever. CCM genre you’re in has a rhythm, a very strong rhythm behind it. So yes. And so all of those musical things change depending on genre, and that’s without really even talking about sound. That’s just the way that you deliver. Very interesting. We did have a comment come in a couple of days ago about somebody saying, Why can’t I… I’m a classical singer, why do I sound like a classical singer when I belt and it’s like it might not be the sound, it actually might be the way you’re moving your voice and there’s a whole other podcast on that one as well.
Mm hmm. I just want to say something about being a singing teacher and teaching song because even if you are lucky enough to have a Jeremy in your life that you can refer people on to it is pretty well mandatory. I would say that you will be teaching song. And if you are teaching song, you are going to be dealing with those musical elements I talked about and dependent on the level of your client or student. You’re going to be possibly teaching melody, rhythm and pitch and you’re going to be developing their musical abilities. Yeah, a little pause there because our screen went blank. And I was hoping we didn’t have a power cut. Because we did have a power cut earlier today.
No, we’re good
Okay, that’s good. So you’re going to be developing their musical abilities to an extent and also awakening their musicality. And for me musicality is very different from musicianship.
Yes. And I’m just going back to your point about vocal development. It’s one of the things that I feel I don’t do in the same way as a singing teacher. Because for me, one of the things that a singing teacher does is ongoing. So it’s building. I think of myself more… Obviously, I do work with the one offs or the short term people, but I’m doing troubleshooting a lot. And what I don’t tend to do that much is the Ongoing building of technique, I tend to say this is how it works do that.
Right. So what you’re saying is the timeline is different. And I absolutely agree with that. So that as a singing teacher, and I’m mostly working with professionals now, when a new client comes to me, we will set goals. And those goals are reviewed every so often. And that you’re working on a timeline to meet those goals, so that you can give the client what they need.
I think we were just about done.
We are just about done. I just like to say something about how my life as a singing teacher has changed. Is that alright?
I think it’s really important that as a singing teacher, you do professional development, and that you review what you’re doing every few years so that you can refresh because we’re giving out all the time, aren’t we? One of the things that’s changed in my teaching life is that I’m now doing a lot more work with people who have had voice problems. Very early on, actually, in my teaching life, I encountered some students at one of the drama schools where I was working, who had voice pathologies, and they had to be referred to ENT. And it was very interesting, learning about what that journey was for them, and also collaborating with the ENT, and the speech and language therapists on getting those singers back on track. And it’s something I do a lot of now I get quite a lot of referrals and I love it. I absolutely love helping a singer to move forward from having had one of those vocal challenges. And the other thing I’ve started doing and this is really quite recent, is something that an American colleague of mine, Kate Frasier Nealy calls collegial consult. And I love that So forgive me, Kate, for pinching that term. This is where a teacher who’s got a little bit stuck with their own student brings their student to you, and you teach the student in front of that teacher, and you have that dialogue between the three of you. And that can be really, really powerful. Now, I love doing that you’ve done it as well recently Yeah. And that’s a wonderful way actually, for you as a singing teacher to move yourself on to get some technical development, because you’re working directly with your practice.
I think that also because of the work that we do, which is so supportive of the people in the room, we never, I think, make the teachers who are with us feel like they are less than or they know less.
Oh it’s not about that
It’s not about that. It’s actually about having a new set of eyes, a new set of skilled eyes and ears actually, on the person that you’re working with because sometimes is very easy, I mean, we do it ourselves… The person that you are working with you go, I love that you know what you’re doing that’s really quirky and then somebody else comes along and goes, Hmm, that’s not really quirky, that’s just not working. And it’s sometimes very good to have somebody else look and hear, look at and hear your students and then discuss.
I just want to say a quick shout out for our sponsor, which is Canu publishing Canu spelled CANU. Canu is a Welsh word that means to speak, to utter, to create poetry to sing to proselytise it has all sorts of meanings. And Canu publishing is the publishing arm of Vocal Process. And so far we have three books, including this one, and it’s the reason that I mention it. This is “Why do we need a vocal coach, stories, tips and hacks from the studio have a voice expert”. And this is my latest book. It’s only about three months old, I think and is now out in paperback, eBook and the audiobook has just come out. So very, very proud of that. So thank you to Canu publishing for sponsoring us for this. So we have a whole load of podcasts lined up for you. We’ll get on with the next one and we’ll see you soon.
This Is A Voice, a podcast with Dr Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher