Giving vocal advice as an accompanist or coach

A colleague of mine asked me recently if I ever give vocal advice to singers during rehearsals, since I’m also a singer.

Generally speaking, I do not. Vocal technique is the realm of the voice teacher, who has more training, experience, and a greater understanding of each student’s vocal progress than I. I will occasionally comment on basic principles, for example, “You’re slouching,” or “Your shoulders are rising when you take a breath.” Beyond that, although I definitely have ideas and opinions, I run a risk of saying something contrary to what the student has learned or introducing a concept that the student isn’t vocally ready to approach.

I do accompany students of two voice teachers whom I’ve personally studied with, and whose lesson I attend weekly. When I’m rehearsing with these students, I’m more comfortable speaking up if the student reaches a technical impasse. Instead of tackling how to fix something, I remind them of what they already worked on at their lesson. “Remember you worked on that vowel last week?” “What are you supposed to do when you sing that interval?” “No sausages!” Consider me a glorified Post-it note.

Thus far I haven’t had any conflicts with students or their teachers, so I think I’m adequately treading the line between pianist/coach and teacher. Although I need to be wary of when to bite my tongue, being a singer helps me truly enjoy collaborating with singers.

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