Frequently Asked Questions: Voice Lessons

What do you do in voice lessons?

My approach varies slightly with the age of the students, but the basic outline is the same.  Each voice lesson includes vocal warm ups, music reading exercises, and singing songs.  Students learn how to sing with healthy technique, good posture, proper breathing, and expressive stage presence.

How old should my child be before beginning voice lessons?

There is no minimum age for learning to sing.  Even very young students can learn basic technique, which will lay the foundation for advanced study as they get older, and prevent vocal damage that could be caused by unhealthy singing.  Singing simple, fun songs is a great way to build confidence and have fun, while also learning to read music.

What should we expect at a trial voice lesson?

First we’ll spend a few minutes talking and getting to know each other.  I’ll ask what kind of songs you like to sing and if you’ve ever sung in a choir, been in a musical or play, or played an instrument.  You can also ask me any questions you might have.  Then we’ll start with some simple warm up exercises so that I can hear your voice.  If you like, you can bring a song that you know to sing for me, but that’s not required.  A trial lesson usually lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, and allows you to get to know me and my teaching style, and lets me learn about you and your voice.  It’s not a test or audition, so there’s no need to be nervous!

How many lessons will it take before I notice improvement?

Every student is different and moves at his or her own pace.  Some students notice instant improvement as they learn how to use their voices more efficiently.  It’s also normal to go several weeks without any obvious improvement, because singing well requires muscle coordination that takes time to develop.  The best way to encourage improvement is through consistent, careful practice at home.

What if I am tone deaf, can I still learn how to sing?

Very few people are truly tone deaf, meaning they are unable to recognize changes in pitch.  Many inexperienced singers simply have trouble singing in tune.  This can be because their ears have not been trained to recognize subtle differences in pitch, which would be corrected through vocal exercises designed to help them hear when they are on the right note and when they are not.  Out of tune singing is most commonly caused by poor technique or excess tension, which improves as the student learns how to sing more efficiently.

What should voice students practice at home?

Beginning voice students should start with short practice sessions (15-20 minutes per day) and gradually increase the length as the voice gets stronger.  Singing for too long before healthy technique has been learned can be tiring and even damaging to the voice.  It’s important to begin every practice session with some warm up exercises before working on more difficult music.  It’s better to focus on specific skills that were worked on in the last lesson than to just sing through a song several times.  Some of my students like to bring a notebook with them so that they can write down what we worked on in the lesson and what to focus on while practicing.

Is it ok to sing when you are sick?

The vocal cords are delicate, and it’s important to take good care of them and prevent damage.  Singing with allergies or a stuffy nose can sometimes be fine, as long as the vocal cords are not inflamed.  However, cold medicines and decongestants should be avoided before singing because they dry out the vocal cords.  A singer who is feeling hoarse or having trouble making sound should not sing!  Hoarseness, or feeling like it’s difficult to make sound, can be a sign of swelling in the vocal cords, and continuing to speak or sing can cause serious (and even permanent) damage.  Singing should never hurt or feel uncomfortable.

Dos and Don’ts of Vocal Health

  1. DON’T overuse your voice.  Most damage to the speaking and singing voice is caused by overuse.  NEVER push your voice to the point of hoarseness.
  2. DON’T dry out your mucous membranes.  Dry membranes are more susceptible to injury as well as infections.
  3. DO drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated.
  4. DON’T smoke.
  5. DO get plenty of rest to keep your voice and body healthy.
  6. DON’T sing if you are sick.  If a cold or flu is having any negative effect on your voice, don’t sing!  Singing with inflamed or irritated vocal cords can delay recovery and even cause serious vocal injury.
  7. DON’T speak or sing in the wrong tessitura (range).  Know which pitches are comfortable for your voice, and don’t push the extremes of your range.
  8. DON’T speak too loudly.  Screaming, laughing too loudly, or talking over loud noises are hard on the voice.  Whispering is also problematic, as it can cause tightening in the throat.
  9. DON’T take certain drugs before singing.
    1. Aspirin – makes capillaries more fragile and can increase the chances of hemorrhaging in the vocal folds.  Ibuprofen (Advil) can have the same effect, but acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe for singers.
    2. Antihistamines and Decongestants – dry out the mucous membranes.  If antihistamines are absolutely necessary, counteract the drying effect by drinking lots of liquids and inhaling steam.
    3. Hormones – including some oral contraceptives, can have side effects including the thickening of the vocal folds.  This can result in a deepening of the voice, hoarseness, or difficulty singing higher pitches.
  10. DO find a good laryngologist or ENT who specializes in working with singers.  It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment while you are healthy to establish a baseline.  This makes it easier to detect and diagnose changes and problems when they occur.
  11. DO see a doctor if you experience any prolonged vocal difficulty or unexplained changes in your voice.  Continuing hoarseness, loss of range, difficulty producing sound, and persistent breathiness are some of the warning signs that should be investigated by a doctor.
  12. DO be honest with your voice teacher and doctor about how you are using your voice, and follow their recommendations carefully.
  13. DO pay attention to your voice and how it feels.  Some singers can’t have dairy or chocolate before singing because it increases phlegm production.  Some singers feel better after drinking certain herbal teas.  Pay attention to what works and doesn’t work for you.
  14. DO always remember: If it feels bad, don’t do it!