Finding the Right Voice Studio Fit: Considerations for Students and Teacher

Finding the Right Voice Studio Fit: Considerations for Students and Teacher


André Chiang and Victoria Vargas discuss studio inclusivity and ways to create and maintain a safe space in the voice studio.


Has someone ever asked you why you chose your voice teacher? It is a simple question with many different parts to unpack. Initial reasons could include a recommendation from a friend or a choral director, seeing their students sing in shows and recitals, their availability and ease of lesson access, or finding them online. 

While these tangible reasons explain why we start with a voice teacher, why do we stay with a certain voice teacher? This question has many answers, but one important aspect of the studio setting that is often overlooked is safety and comfort. These words depict a space that exists to help you become the best singer possible in a thoughtful and measured way. Is that your current studio situation? 

Why did you choose your voice teacher?

For students and teachers, the voice studio experience is uniquely personal. Both bring their own experiences and personalities into the room and uniquely define the lesson dynamic. Before discussions and movements around empowering students and making studio learning student-centric, the “right,” “best,” or most “prestigious” studio was the goal. Students were expected to assimilate their learning style to fit into these “master teacher” scenarios because it would lead them to the grandest stages in the world—so they were told. Colleagues, mentors, and other teachers would espouse the merits of studying in a studio with “access” even if the teacher was not conscious of the changed dynamic.  

The “master” teacher’s behavior and sensibility often led to manipulative and abusive practices that kept many singers from continuing to enjoy singing. There are many accounts of publicly shared abuse that bring to life this sometimes toxic student-teacher dynamic. “You can’t wear that because of your shape,” “You can’t sing that aria because your voice is too ugly for it,” and other similar statements have become core memories for students that have experienced this verbal, emotional abuse. 

Not every experience in this model is toxic, but it does not give agency to students in their own development. While many of these practices are still happening today, there is a growing dialogue on how to create and determine environments where students feel seen and embraced for all they bring to the studio space. As the voice studio progresses, we have to ask ourselves these questions:


  1. What are the expectations regarding lessons and the studio as a physical space, as a student and as a teacher?
  2. Does the studio feel inclusive and welcoming? As a student, do I feel seen?
  3. Are the teacher’s and student’s goals aligned? If not, where is the common ground?
  4. Do I feel safe in my teacher’s studio? Do I, as a teacher, create a safe space for students?
  5. Does this space give everyone the opportunity to grow and create?


In 2021, we sent a survey to voice teachers and students across the country asking them specific questions about studio environments. The questions collected information on what repertoire students sang and how it was assigned, what information students were willing to share on intake forms, and other information from a large demographic. Our hope was to see where teachers felt they excelled in making their studios feel safe and inclusive and where students felt improvements could be made to heighten their learning experience. 

A question to teachers that brought up interesting answers was “Do you consider your studio inclusive?” Most teachers felt that they had created an inclusive voice studio environment—but when prompted for examples of how they create these environments, some noted the demographics of their studio and the variety of students that they teach. These responses made us ask whether diversity in the student demographic is a sign that a teacher is actively working toward an inclusive studio? Or, simply put, does diversity equal inclusivity in the voice studio? 

Conversations are happening across the country around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and a common conclusion is that simply having a diverse student body is not indicative of inclusivity practices. Does one part of DEI hold more sway than the others? Society has been reckoning with these terms but, in many cases, diversity has been held up as a leader of the three because of the tangibility of its observance (demographic data is easily taken). 

Diversity is obviously wonderful for voice studios, but saying that the student population is diverse is not the same as finding ways to allow the students to be open and honest with their feelings in the studio and giving them tools that they need to succeed, which leads to inclusivity. Without ways to make sure there is an inclusive energy around the relationship between teacher and student, are we actually creating student-centric services? Are we helping our more diverse populations be successful?

Another aspect of the survey discussed consent and the use of physical touch in the studio. For example, we both had experiences where a teacher would adjust our posture or touch our epigastrium (the section of the body that is right under the sternum and the front of the diaphragm), etc., to prove a technical point. We both have been touched for technical reasons in lessons, but often not asked for consent. In one audition season, a major conductor and artistic director would come up after you sang and have you sing again while holding your head and putting pressure on your stomach to “support” the sound, with no regard for consent. 

In the current voice studio, many teachers still subscribe to touch as a necessary tool for vocal assessment and correction. Inversely, many teachers have gone to completely touch-free lessons. Regardless of where you or your teacher fall on this spectrum, consent is always required. A teacher should always ask for consent to touch and avoid sensitive areas. 

While many students have a trusting relationship with their teacher, any time physical touch is used on a student or teacher there must be a request for consent. It may seem like common sense to many students and teachers, but consent is a constant conversation that needs to happen regardless of how long you have worked together.

What does an inclusive studio look like?

With all the discussion of current ideas, what does a student need to get from the studio space? Obviously, the student should inherently trust the teacher not only with the guidance of their vocal improvement and career, but with the trust you share with people who have a stake in your progress. This extends past the voice and to the human who is wanting the tools needed to get better. Trust is an important factor for inclusivity and for your teacher to make sure you have the resources you need to succeed.

Another inclusive element is comfort in a space. The studio space should be somewhere that a student can grow and create. In this space, the baggage from the outside world should or could melt away so that the voice takes the forefront. The physical space should ideally be open, inviting, calming, and reflect the teacher and their values. Signs showing that a teacher cares to be an ally to marginalized groups, a teacher that has taken safe-space training, and provided accessibility for the needs of students are a few ways to make your studio space more inclusive. An inclusive space can take many physical forms, but it should exist to inspire students to become vulnerable with their voices under the guidance of their teacher.

As a student, you can also engage with your teacher about your needs and your aspirations for lessons. If you find that a certain piece of repertoire is not feeling quite right and you have given it a good amount of time, discuss this with your teacher. If the reception is negative or shame based, assess if this is the best fit for you despite the credentials of that teacher. If every voice lesson includes commentary on your weight or your attire, consider the intention and how it made you feel. 

If you feel comfortable enough, speak up, and let the teacher know that their comments are impacting your ability to make the best sounds you know are possible. At the end of the day, you are on your unique vocal journey, and you get to decide how you want to get there and who is on your team!

What do I do to make sure I am part of the solution?

We all know the horror stories of well-known teachers being abusive or actively demeaning students. We have seen this inside and outside the studio. For teachers and students, there are resources available that can shine a light on why a teacher is a good fit or not. We have concluded that intake forms can be part of the solution for teachers. An intake form would gather identifying information (pronouns, voice part, etc.), subjective information (what repertoire, vocal goals, etc.), and optional personal information (voluntarily shared medical information that affects singing, inhibitions about voice lessons, etc.). 

Many students may need some time to feel comfortable, and the difference between a student telling you an issue in a later lesson and presenting it in written form at a first meeting can expedite that comfort level and lesson planning. We have included a QR code with a document of resources collected primarily for teachers (though students should see what their teachers could be doing).

Voice teachers do not want to cause harm to students, but we have personally experienced and still see how the power dynamic in the studio can lead to confusion, discomfort, or feelings of inadequacy. As a student, you have the choice of who you want to study with and how you need to be cultivated to grow. Do not let politics or the idea that there is only one way or teaching style that can get you to your goals get in the way. 

Find the teacher you trust, are comfortable with, and who you can sing freely and creatively with. All anyone wants is for more great singers to continue singing and creating great art.

Andre Chiang and Victoria Vargas

  • André Chiang, DMA, is a multigenre baritone performer whom Opera News described as “handsome of voice.” Some company credits include Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Portland Opera, Virginia Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, Dayton Opera, Opera Delaware, and regional symphonies. He was a part of the first cohort of the Pan American Vocology Association’s Recognized Vocologists distinction and a 2018 National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern, and he currently holds office at the national and regional levels with NATS and CMS. Chiang is currently an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas and an Instructor of Voice at the Interlochen Summer Music Camp. For more information, visit and follow @drechiang on Instagram.
  • Mezzo-soprano Victoria Vargas has sung over 25 roles for Minnesota Opera, including multiple world premieres, and has performed with Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Chautauqua Opera, Sarasota Opera, Ash Lawn–Highland Festival, and others. Her concert credits include performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chautauqua Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Billings Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. She has placed seven times at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, at both the district and regional levels. Vargas is currently an assistant professor of voice at the University of Minnesota.