On the Pros of Teaching

To teach or not to teach is a very tough question. For many pursuing a professional singing career it can be a difficult decision. Is it possible to balance teaching with my singing obligations? Will I be able to teach and still have vocal stamina? Can I teach if I’ve never done it before? The answer is a resounding yes! It takes patience and tenacity, but it is infinitely doable.

Not only is teaching incredibly fulfilling, it enhances what one does as a singer. To learn how to analyze what one hears and to articulate clearly the technical solutions are great skills. Although these skills take time to develop, it is truly worth it. Teaching requires knowledge of vocal anatomy, elements of posture and breath support, repertoire, style techniques and awareness of the different vocal abilities of different age groups. It sounds like a lot. However, teaching is a learning experience and one never stops learning no matter how long one has been teaching!  

Where to begin? It may frighten some singers to think of teaching for the first time. Beginning to teach takes courage and a certain amount of confidence. It is a big responsibility to have someone’s voice in your care. If you are an undergraduate or graduate student, be sure to take vocal pedagogy as part of your curriculum. If you haven’t taken the class, and are out there in the professional world, there are many classes, online and in person, where you can learn a great deal. There are also fine vocal pedagogy books that can inspire and fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Most important is to listen! Listen to a variety of singers to train your ear. Watch vocal master classes on YouTube. They are invaluable tools. Ask established teachers to allow you to observe their lessons. There are lots of ways to start. I also highly recommend working on your piano skills. You will need them!  

Where are the voice teaching jobs? If you have a church job, see if any of the choir members need lessons. Find a local music school or ask about teaching at a junior high or high school. Teaching young people to develop their musicianship and their singing builds singers and audiences for the future. Start your own private studio! That will give you the flexibility you may be looking for. Teaching at the university level often requires a doctorate these days. However, there are many jobs as an adjunct professor. A master’s degree with a significant amount of performing experience is also very attractive to a university. There are lots of possibilities.

I have a master’s degree in vocal performance from Northwestern University.  I began my teaching career after returning from two years of solo singing in German opera houses. My first teaching job was at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. I taught folk, pop/rock, music theatre and classical singers. I even taught a Frank Sinatra impersonator! What a wonderful experience before going on to teach at the university level. After over 25 years of university teaching experience, I still look back at the beginning and am grateful for the opportunity I had to help a variety of singers! I taught throughout my singing career and it only made me a better singer and communicator. I was able to balance teaching with a very fulfilling career in opera and concert work. I am currently a tenured Associate Professor of voice at the School of Music at Central Michigan University.

Beginning a teaching career can be daunting and exciting at the same time. Be methodical. Take stock of what you have to offer. You may be surprised at what you already know! You won’t regret pursuing voice teaching. It’s a perfect opportunity to grow as a person and a musician. Take a chance and make a difference in someone’s musical life. You won’t be sorry!

Tracy Watson

Mezzo-soprano Tracy Watson has been a prolific performer since graduating with a Masters in Vocal Performance from Northwestern University in 1985.  She has performed opera in Germany and the United States and concertized throughout the U.S., Germany, France and Spain. She has been on the faculty at Loyola University, The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and Northwestern University.  She is currently Associate Professor of Voice and head of the voice area at Central Michigan University.