coaching singers when you’re not a singer

Cartoon by Charles Hawtrey, 1920.

When I first heard that many vocalists actually received coaching from their accompanists, I thought, “Wha…? So…they have two different voice teachers?” What I’ve learned since then is that a vocal coach is not the same as a voice teacher. A vocal coach doesn’t even have to be a good singer. Ideally, an experienced vocal coach has a good grasp of vocal repertoire and styles, understands concepts of breathing and sound production, and has a working knowledge of proper diction in at least two of the major vocal languages (Italian, German, French, and oftentimes English). The vocal coach also helps the singer with phrasing and dramatic character.

If you’re a pianist looking to make money through accompanying, it’s very possible that one of these days a voice teacher will ask you, “Would you be able to take my student into a practice room and coach them for a little bit on this song?”

And of course, your answer will be: “Yes.” (You can panic inwardly as long as you smile and nod on the outside.)

If the student is young, the coaching will most likely be basic: singing the correct notes, with the correct rhythm, and then observing the dynamics properly. But here are a couple of helpful posts I’ve found by collaborative pianist Gretchen Saathoff, discussing the finer details of what a vocal coaching looks like:

Have you ever coached a vocalist before? Any tips to share for those who are starting out?