There is a belief held strongly by some teachers and singers that a singer should study for at some point with his/her own voice type, e.g. a tenor studying with a tenor, a mezzo studying with a mezzo, a lyric voice with a lyric, a dramatic voice with a dramatic, etc. The rationale behind this is that the teacher will have special insight into the workings of the particular vocal mechanism that a teacher of a different voice type would not. There are teachers who base their teaching careers on this premise. However, the principles of a healthy vocal technique do not vary appreciably from voice type to voice type, as will be explained below.
It is easy for the uninitiated to believe from the wide range of sounds that the human throat can produce that the techniques to create these sounds must consequently be quite different. In fact, I was taught this concept in college. But it is actually the size and shape of the vocal cords themselves that are responsible for creating the particular voice type and the size and shape of the resonators that add warmth, color and size to an instrument. These set, inherited factors cannot be altered, except by false manipulation that leads to poor-quality singing. What remains the same for all voice types is the basic technique of how to sing healthily.
All voice types, from the highest coloratura sopranos to the lowest basso profundos, need to learn the same healthy approach to singing for their voices to work at an optimal level. While the results are vastly different, the technique is basically the same – use of the thin edge function, a released, lowered larynx, an expanded oro-pharynx, employment of the ng ring, a free tongue and jaw and balanced, energetic breath management. The importance of learning how to implement these concepts correctly with the help of a talented, knowledgeable teacher of any voice type far outweighs any specific insight of a mediocre teacher of the same voice type.
Are there special concepts that pertain to certain voice types and not to others? Yes, there are. However, a truly excellent technical teacher will be able to discern what is needed and address any imbalances just as well, if not better, than the average teacher of the same voice type. The best teachers continue to learn as they teach, constantly increasing their knowledge and understanding of singing and voices. They notice patterns in students with the same voice type and become very adept at recognizing the aural symptoms of malcoordination in the vocal mechanism. There can easily be as wide a range of different issues within one voice type as between the different voice types themselves. Many teachers are only able to address issues that they themselves overcame. That is why it is of paramount importance to put yourself in the hands of a teacher with a clear understanding of a complete and vocal healthy technique, regardless of voice type.
I witnessed an excellent example of a teacher able to help a singer despite very different voice types. In college, a highly-accomplished lyric baritone teacher had a particular high soprano as a student. This soprano enjoyed singing musical theater and had come back to school in the fall with some vocal issues, despite having studied previously with this teacher. I first heard her sing in chorus and did not think highly of her voice, even though other students who knew her assured me she had a beautiful voice. At that point, she sounded husky and her vocal production was effortful. However, after two weeks of lessons, her voice began sounding more polished and her high notes were freer. Two weeks later, the excess weight ( from singing musical theater in the summer) dropped away and her voice gained in ease. Two weeks after that, she was singing extremely well and had fabulous, shimmering high notes. This excellent teacher was able to turn her technique around quickly and effectively, despite being a completely different voice type. That is the type of instruction that the very best teachers can offer.
Therefore, find the finest voice teacher you possibly can, one who is consistently learning and evolving as a teacher, and concentrate on building your healthy technique. An intelligent, talented teacher can identify your current issues and address any specific challenges pertaining to your voice type and to specific repertoire. The teacher’s voice type in relation to yours is much less important than the teacher’s ability to understand all of the requisite vocal coordinations and convey the concepts successfully to students.
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