One of the most asked questions I get when people are first inquiring about vocal lessons is how many do they need, or how long do they need to take lessons. Naturally it’s one I can’t answer, because everyone is different. Every voice is different. People learn at different rates. People have different goals. I could go on here, but you get the idea. So in this article I’ll try to give you some things to consider when you’re trying to figure out how much of an investment of your time and money you need to make to achieve your goals.
To really understand what it takes to make significant and permanent changes to one’s voice- the kind we all want, like improved range, breathing, control and power- one has to look at vocal training like any other kind of physical training. If, for example, you wanted to change your body-type, you would expect to work out and eat right until you get where you want. You wouldn’t expect your trainer to be able to tell you the date you would achieve your goals. That’s because in almost every area of life, when we want change we expect it to take a while. Permanent changes come only by un-learning old habits and beliefs. Re-training muscles, thought process, beliefs, habits.
Even something as simple and as natural as which hand you write with would become a challenge if you were suddenly asked to switch hands and start writing with the other one. You could manage it at first, but it would be awkward and uncoordinated for a while. Eventually though, if you kept at it and worked on it every day, you would eventually get as good at writing with the other hand as you are with your current writing hand.
What causes this change to take place is something called “muscle memory”. It’s something musicians who play physical instruments like guitar and keyboard or organ know very well. It’s that constant repitition of the same thing over and over until your mind, body, fingers or whatever else is involved in performing the task at hand starts to do it automatically. It’s what makes a typist blaze along at 80 wpm without ever looking at the keyboard.
It’s no different with the human voice. But because as a singer your whole body-not just your voice- is your instrument, there are many physical and mental things that must be re-learned before permanent change takes place. Think about it. Almost everyone that can sing was born with that ability. We’ve done it the same way all of our lives. So when you get to the point where you realize you need some training to achieve your goals, you can’t expect to re-learn things you’ve been doing all your life in one lesson.
A serious vocalist who has a strong desire to make some real changes that will stay with him for a lifetime goes into vocal training with a “long as it takes” mentality. Someone who is simply trying to get past a certain song, or prepare for an upcoming audition, may approach lessons with a “how soon can I get this done” mentality. It’s not because one is better than the other though. Both have different goals, that’s all. I’ve trained both types. I’ve trained people who had an audition or special occasion coming up and only had a week or so to prepare, so they wanted a lesson or two and that’s it.
I’ve also had clients who were trying to take their music ministry to another level and knew that they needed serious, on-going training to get there. I’ve had students work with me 2 years and I’ve had people take 1 lesson. So a great deal depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Ask yourself the following question:
1. What is my reason for taking lessons? What is my goal?
If you’re just trying to get ready for an audition or trying to perfect a certain song, you may need just a couple of sessions. Not everyone is looking for everything I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Some people just need some style coaching for a certain song they’re having trouble figuring out what to do with at certain points. You may only need one session for cases like that.
If you’re trying to improve your vocal range, stamina, power, breath control, etc, you should plan on taking lessons over a period of time to achieve any permanent results. Again, every voice and every person is different. But it’s been my experience that people don’t start to achieve that “muscle memory” type of change before about 3-6 months taking lessons weekly. I was just contacted yesterday by someone who has been studying for 7 years. He only stopped because he relocated, and now he’s looking to reconnect with a new vocal coach so he can start again.
Even after they stop though, most people revert back to old habits because they stop doing the vocal exercises and working on their voice regularly. So even after you’ve taken weekly lessons for a while (as long as it takes) I recommend setting up at minimum a monthly session to keep your voice in shape.
Even though it seems overwhelming in the beginning, try not to think about taking vocal lessons as “drudgery”. It’s only natural to think about the time investment and the money investment at first. But most people who are serious about their singing absolutely love their vocal lesson time. Many of my students hate to miss their session, and when the time comes where they have to stop for whatever reason, it’s often a sad time for both of us. Taking vocal lessons can be one of the hardest things to start, but once you make the commitment to do so it will likely be the hardest thing to stop as well.
One of the easiest, most convenient and inexpensive ways to get on-going vocal training-the kind that promotes permanent change- is to take an online course. I designed my own home study course to give you that 3-6 month stretch of training while giving you the tools you need to continue training your voice regularly even after you’re done with the course. Get started here.