Voice lessons are truly a great help for aspiring individuals to hone and master their craft as professional singers. If you have a talent for singing or have some experience as a singer, perhaps lending a hand to those who want to do the same is a great idea. Vocal coach Tiffany VanBoxtel joins Bree Noble to talk about the combination of vocal knowledge and the desire to serve others that are required in offering effective and engaging voice lessons. She emphasizes how confidence is something that must be instilled in every learner more than any vocal technique. Tiffany also explains why charging weekly for voice lessons has a positive impact on the learner’s disposition and why accolades mean so little in your reputation as a vocal coach.
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Tiffany VanBoxtel: Who Are The Best People To Offer Voice Lessons?
I’m excited to be here with my friend, Tiffany VanBoxtel. She has been on the show in the past, but in this episode, we’re going to be talking about something pretty specific, which I’m excited about. It’s about how you, as a singer, if you’re a singer reading here, can take what you have learned as a singer and start helping other people learn to sing. We’ll get into who should and shouldn’t do this. What training do you need in order to do this? You don’t want to start teaching people without any knowledge or technique because you could mess people’s voices up. Tiffany, I know that you’ve told your story a bit on the show before but I would love to hear it from the perspective of a singer, the training that you got. What made you think, “I can start training other people in voice?”
Thanks for having me. I’m excited. I went to school. I went to college to be a high school choir director. That was my goal. I decided to major in vocal performance and music education so that I could be the best teacher I could be. I’m of the opinion that teachers need to be strong in their craft if they want to teach other people. The old saying goes, “If you can’t do teach,” but I believe the complete opposite and it’s, “You need to be great at what you do,” especially in your field. I bet everyone reading is cringing.
We had to take a vocal pedagogy class. It’s not for the education but for vocal performance. The head of the voice department was teaching it. We had to teach a couple of lessons with the academy that was affiliated with the college. He saw a couple of things. He’s like, “These ideas that you’re doing are awesome. Would you like to take an independent study with me with a small group and we’ll go further into this?” I said, “That sounds great.” By the time, I was ready to apply for a teaching job. I had so many referrals that I was getting through the academy and people in the local community that I decided to keep going. They had about 55 students.
They are half-hour lessons but we were full. I said, “I’m already making more money than a teacher.” I am working less than a public school teacher. I don’t have to deal with bureaucracy. I can set my own schedule. I was like, “Let’s roll with this.” I can always apply for a public school choral teaching job in the future if I want or change my mind. I kept rolling with it and the studio has been full ever since. I started my program, The Star Singer Green Room for singer so I could serve more singers and here we are.
You fell into it in a way. I had to take vocal pedagogy too and I was like, “This is not for me.” You figured out from those few lessons that it was your superpower.
One of the things about that’s interesting that might be great to talk about is, you go into a vocal pedagogy class, even if you have a music degree. They start throwing anatomy and these dense, heavy textbooks at you. I don’t think a lot of teachers are getting practical applications or a simple way to teach singers or express them. A lot of those classes don’t seem made for the real world. You have to take what you learn and filter it all through. A lot of it is experience. “You took a vocal pedagogy class, so now, we expect you to be able to be an awesome voice teacher.” If you get out there and you’re like, “I don’t really know what I’m doing,” I don’t think you’re alone.
They throw you into the deep end and have you start teaching students. I was so afraid I was going to tell them the wrong thing or do something that was going to hurt their voice.
I had a lot of experience teaching karate before. I tried to do what I know. We worked a lot of physical stuff. I tried to imagine my experiences in the body and get feedback from the singer. With that guidance, I started to learn more about how to teach singers and feel more comfortable but there was this beginning time period where I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
With singing too, there’s this power of description that you have to develop. There are some things you can see. You can see if they’re holding their breathing apparatus correctly, if their chest is rising when they’re breathing and all those things but you cannot see what’s going on inside. I remember my voice teacher being good at describing the feeling and giving me a visualization of what my larynx needed to do. That is an art as well.
There are lots of different styles. I had a teacher who was very scientific. I had a teacher who was very much like, “Pretend like you’re shooting spider webs from your hands.” That worked for me because I learned very kinesthetically. That was helpful. There are lots of different ways to teach the voice. You’re right. It is so abstract. Doing what you do best and filling in any information or getting help with things that you don’t feel comfortable with is super helpful but knowing how you teach best. If you’re not into that super science-y jargon stuff, I don’t think you have to go there. You do have to have some background knowledge but you don’t have to be able to recite Richard Miller’s The Structure of Singing for verbatim.Teachers need to be strong in their craft if they want to teach other people. Click To Tweet
We had that book in our vocal pedagogy class too. It’s a very technical book.
It’s dense. It’s great but it’s good to be able to take some of those big, heady ideas and filter them down into the practical. That is what has been a superpower for me but I do it more so in my body and that’s been helpful.
How can a singer decide? Maybe they have never thought of being a teacher before. They don’t know if they have what it takes to be a teacher like natural skills as a teacher. They’ve been singing. They love singing and help other people become better singers, but how can they decide if going this direction is a good idea for them? What would make them a good fit?
I would like to talk about what would make them not a good fit. I understand as artists, we are doing all the things. We’re wearing many hats and some things do not make as much money as others. I do have to tell you, teaching can be a low-hanging fruit. It can be super easy to make a ton of money teaching, especially right out of college. I was like, “I’m getting $25 a half hour. That’s $50 an hour and I’m right out of college. That’s amazing.” If you are thinking about doing this because you think it would be easier money that you want to supplement your income with versus if you actually care because I know there are people out there who are like, “Nope. I do not have the patience for that. I do not want to help other people. I’m not interested but I could make a lot of money,” if that’s you, please don’t.
You should be like, “I do like to help other people.” Think about your qualities, if you’re helpful, empathetic and have the heart to serve. If you love music and nurturing music but maybe your questions are more like, “I’ve never taught of voice lesson before. I don’t even play piano. I don’t know what repertoire I would use. I don’t know any technical exercises. All I know is the stuff I did in the choir.” If that’s you and you’re thinking more of the how pieces rather than the big picture, if the big picture is yes and you’re into, “How would I do that?” Then you’re a good fit to begin to start learning.
It’s like, “If why is in line, then we can figure out the how.” We’ve talked in the previous episode about the responsibility of a voice teacher and how you are taking on a big responsibility training someone’s voice. Can you talk a little bit about that because people might be a little bit nervous about that?
Remember that teaching and singing are two different skills. We can develop as teachers and as singers. That is totally fine. I would like you to think about this. When I’m helping teachers teach, we are talking about symptoms, causes, problems and solutions. The symptoms are the things that pretty much anyone would know, like you’re singing out of tune. Even a non-musician would probably be able to identify that. What happens a lot of times, especially when I work with adult singers and you as a singer might identify with this as well, is there’s something that somebody told you a long time ago that has stuck with you like, “I’m a nasal singer. My singing is a bit too bright. I need to add some more depths to. I’m an alto. I can only sing low?” Things like that are symptoms.
When I’m working with teachers, I ask them not to identify the symptoms because the challenge is if you are unable to solve the problem and give them a solution that works for them, as singers with our voice being connected into our body, we’re going to start to identify. If the symptom is, “You sound nasally,” the problem is, “Maybe they don’t know how to control the soft palate.” The cause might be, “They have never even thought about it. They’ve never had to do it. Maybe they’re scared to sing high or they’re scared to sing in that range where they need to do that.”
A solution might be a specific type of vocal exercise or movement. If we can go through that process in our mind as teachers and offer solutions, then when the singer gets success, they’re feeling more confident, instead of, “I’m a nasal singer. My teacher didn’t solve the problem.” It’s like, “I’m telling you to know how to solve the problem. Don’t say anything problem solved because we can take that feedback so personally.” A lot of teachers are concerned about hurting the voice. It’s a big deal but if you’re aware of it and you’re considering it, you’re probably not going to lead someone astray. When it comes to the mindset behind singing, that’s a little bit more vulnerable.
It can be very easy, especially if you’re a teacher who doesn’t have a lot of experience. I see this a lot too, teachers with egos. You don’t want to admit you’re wrong. You don’t have the right solution, maybe you don’t have the solution yet or have the training you need. That’s okay. You’re not alone if that’s you but I would encourage you to be aware of what you’re saying and how the singer might identify with that. If you’re aware of the things that you say and think about the golden rule like how you want to be treated, you’re going to be fine.
It’s important to keep yourself in check, even in offhanded comments. Sometimes we can remember offhanded comments so much longer than anything specific where somebody said, “You’re a nasal singer.” Someone might have said that in an offhanded comment and they’ve labeled themselves as that. It’s a whole host of problems because of it. They’ve got this in their head. It’s derailing their confidence and stuff like that. How much exactly a voice teacher has to do with building up the confidence of the singer?Teaching would be a good profession to take if you're helpful, empathetic, and have the heart to serve. Click To Tweet
That’s pretty much my whole job.
We get to that eventually but we talked about confidence. All it’s true though, because if you’re not confident, you will do wrong things. I know I will. If I’m sight reading, I sing terribly because I’m not confident in the note I’m going to sing. I’m in pain afterwards because I haven’t been singing correctly because I’m not confident of where I’m going and all those things.
It’s interesting. It’s like the relationships with your husbands. It’s the old advice of like, “Make them think it’s their idea.” It’s very similar in a voice teacher and student relationship. If you can solve the problem in your head, offer them a solution, maybe a more technical solution, they’re doing an exercise and they’re like, “I’m sounding better,” that’s going to be helpful. Positivity is important and encouragement is super necessary but a lot of that confidence is going to come from what the singer thinks of themselves.
If they can discover improvement for themselves along with you encouraging them because they might be thinking, “She’s blowing smoke. She’s being nice. She doesn’t sound that great,” but if they’re actually singing and they’re like, “That sounds and feels better,” they’re going to be a lot more confident. There are different ways to build confidence. You can build their confidence in themselves and you can also help by your encouragement.
Let’s talk about the business side. At the beginning, you were like, “I fell into a great paying job right out of college.” At one point, you realized, “I’m trading time for money and all of that.” Your studio was full and so you decided to expand into The Green Room. People that are starting out can’t do that yet. What do you have to tell them about learning the business and money side as a teacher upfront?
That’s one of the things that we’re going through in the program and we’re going to talk about. I’m working with a Founding Member group. I didn’t realize that it was such a huge part of it because I’ve been doing this for a long time. It becomes very natural like, “This is my job.” A big challenge is when you’re starting out, you have three singers that you’re working with and you might not consider it to be your full-time job yet. This is going to be a double whammy for you because if you were teaching 55 singers, you’d be like, “I have to hold my boundaries. I have to have strong policies and procedures. There’s not enough time to go around.”
When you have three singers that you’re working with, you’re like, “I could do a makeup lesson. No problem, I could move you. I could schedule one person on Monday at 11:00 and one person on Monday at 2:00, break up my day and be all awkward. I’ll do that for you.” I highly recommend having strong policies and procedures straight away because it is going to be much simpler. Remember, this is your time and you deserve to get paid for your time. I don’t know if you want to go with the time route, the money route, the boundary route or what you want.
Probably the biggest thing that I hear from teachers of singers is they don’t have a good system in place. They have a regular recurring income versus taking off lesson payments.
Pro tip, never charge weekly ever. Monthly, it’s cool. Bimonthly, it’s awesome. You probably know this. Bimonthly means two different things. That’s confusing. I call it a session. My session is two months. Some people do quarterly but my two-month session works great. If you’re not comfortable with that, at least go for monthly. Here’s why that is helpful for your student. You give where you don’t need to give.
For example, when you’re giving feedback, you need to be very empathetic and aware of what you say. When we’re dealing with the business side of things, you can be a little bit more selfish. That is not a disadvantage to your student because if you’re charging monthly, you can collect that payment upfront, which means you can be more focused in your lessons. You don’t have to think, “Is the student going to pay me at the end of the lesson? I don’t know. Am I going to get paid?” You always think because they always forget.It is easy to figure out your how if it is aligned with your why. Click To Tweet
“I’m probably not going to get paid for this.” Your brain is somewhere else instead of focusing on the student. When they pay monthly, they lock in their lesson time. They know they’re going to be there. You’re going to be there. Consistency is very important. If someone was booking a lesson each week, they’re not going to be as consistent and get the best results. Remember, a lot of your boundaries, choices around policies and procedures are not being hard.
You’re trying to help them at the same time and give a level of accountability, while also making yourself feel this consistency going on where you don’t have to be thinking about that all the time. You can focus on the student. I totally agree with that.
You’re not being a hard-ass. You are being firm and setting clear expectations. That’s another thing too. People want to know when they ask you questions like, “How much do you charge? How does it work?” They’re not asking you to justify your price. They’re saying, “How much is this? I would like to pay you.” That can be hard if you’re not feeling confident on the teaching end of things yet.
That’s why they need your program. I would love to have you talk a little bit about it since you have been running a founder’s version of your program. What have you learned in this experience? Where were people at when they came to the program? What progress have you seen?
We started at the end of July 2021. That was exciting. It’s interesting because in this group of people, most people are educators of some sort but maybe haven’t gone the route of teaching voice. Some of them have taught a different instrument and they want to add voice lessons. That’s another thing too. Finding a good voice teacher can be very challenging. I’m in Neenah, Wisconsin. It is not small. I would say there are 35,000 people here.
In the surrounding cities, there are probably about 250,000 people. It’s not super rural but there aren’t as many voice teachers as piano teachers. That’s what I’m trying to say. If you can offer voice lessons, it’s easy for you to be able to get referrals if you are a good teacher and caring about your students. The people who are a good fit for this program are singers. It’s more about the personality and having a heart to serve. As Bree said, “We can figure out the how if your why is aligned.”
It’s cool to know that a lot of them are like you. You went to school to become a choir director but you decided not to go that route. Are any of the singers that don’t have any teaching experience that want to be able to help others because they got a great breakthrough with their own voice? If not, do you think those people are a good fit?
A lot of them are singers. In fact, they all identify with being a singer. They’re feeling comfortable and confident with their singing. I want you to at least feel pretty comfortable and confident with your own singing. This doesn’t mean like, “I’m always feeling 100% confident when I step into a recording studio. I don’t get nervous. I’ve got this.” This means, “I feel pretty comfortable and confident. I’ve trained my own singing for a long time. I feel like I’m in control of my voice.”
If you’re not in a place where you feel comfortable and confident with your singing, at least the majority of the time, it’s going to be difficult to serve other people. You will have to do things like vocal modeling, being comfortable demonstrating and showing your voice. The more comfortable that you can be, the better you’re going to serve your student anyway.
Do you think those voice teachers need to be able to show that they’ve done certain things in their own singing career? Do they need to be like, “I was in this musical. I performed at these locations. I got this award?” Do you think that doesn’t matter?
That might be a weird opinion but I don’t think that you have to. I’ve never had one person ask what my degree was ever.
That’s good to know. They’ll talk themselves out of it because they don’t have those things.Having the heart to serve others means continuing to work on yourself and better your craft. Click To Tweet
It is more important that you have a heart to serve and you are continuing to work on yourself as a teacher, as a singer, to learn more, to better your craft. Degrees and accolades are not that important. “This is my certification program.” You will get a certificate when you’re done. The important part is that you feel comfortable and confident when you’re done. It’s not something tangible that you walk away with per se.
It’s a feeling. It’s being able to create yourself, to run your own business, voice teacher, make a bigger impact with the singers that you’re working with and walk away feeling like that. A lot of accolades and degrees are important but when you think about what they represent, it’s usually more of who you are as a person and what you’ve walked away with from the knowledge that you’ve learned.
It’s the signifier of the journey that you’re on. I would love to have you tell them how they can get more information about your program but before we do that, I would love to ask about online teaching. I know you came on the show and you talked specifically about how to transition people to online back in the beginning of the pandemic. How are you finding working, where we’re up and down with the pandemic? Are you teaching your students to weave that into their options as far as what they offer students? Maybe they do a hybrid program or offer that if a student has paid for a lesson but they can’t get there for whatever reason they can do online. How do you work that in?
That’s part of the program. We’re talking about teaching them online or teaching in person. It is nice to gain some experience from teaching in person. You can see the whole body. You can experience that but honestly, teaching online is not that much different. Sometimes you have to say, “Turn up the volume or turn on the volume. Step back or step forward,” but other than that, it is still teaching at the heart of it. We are going through also the systems and the processes to make that easy on the business end. We have a couple of people who are deciding to teach online exclusively.
There are a lot of benefits to that. The world is your oyster and you can find the people who are a great fit because it doesn’t matter where they’re located if you could find a time zone that fits for you. That also might be a way to charge significantly higher prices or at least a little bit what you feel is fair. The range of prices for voice lessons is crazy-pants. I’ve seen it go from $15 for 30 minutes to $150. I don’t believe in an hour lesson until you’re more pretty advanced. You’ll see $300 an hour in some of the bigger cities. Are they worth that? Probably not.
You can compete with them. You could charge much lower than that and still make more than you probably could in your local market if you live in some smaller market and have access to those people. For them, they have access to you. If they’re in New York City, they probably have a lot of high price people there and could access someone that was as good, honestly but is in a different market.
It can still be a price that feels good to you but that’s great. I’m here in Wisconsin. Sometimes it snows and has bad travel conditions. Even some of the local students can send me a text and be like, “I’d like to be online tonight.” I’m like, “Cool.” They already are set up with their online link and all of that. A lot of people in the certification program are doing different. We’ve got one woman who wants to start local and then choose from there. Some people are choosing to be exclusive online. Others will accommodate whatever the student wants. There are a lot of options.
With the pandemic, out of necessity, we’ve had to build that in but it’s even more convenient for you as well. They can text you and be like, “Our car broke down. Can I do it online?”
Even teenagers and older teenagers too. Sometimes, they’re old enough where they can’t drive and mom and dad have a conflict. They’re like, “I can’t get there. I want to be online tonight.” It does give a lot of options and adds some variety to your life too. Having a little bit of both varieties is always good. It has a slightly different feel with the online versus the live lesson. They’re both good.
This all is so awesome. By reading to what we’ve said so far, people should know if they are a good fit for this program or not. I highly recommend it to you. I have known Tiffany for years. Many of those students have been in her Star Singer Green Room. I totally trust her as far as her technique. Let them know. How can they fill out an application? I know that you have different rounds. If they miss the round, you can fill out the application anyway and she can let you know when the next round is.
This program is called the VanBoxtel Voice Method Certification Program. It’s going to be focused a lot on symptoms, causes, problems and solutions. It’s going to be very community-centered, very feedback-centered. You’re going to get practical feedback from real-time teaching. That is going to be awesome. If you feel like you’re a good fit, you can go to StarSinger.co/apply. You can fill out an application. If you’re a good fit, I’ll contact you. You can hop on a 30-minute call with me. Filling out the application and hopping on the call does not obligate you to join the program. I would love to chat with you, see where you’re at, offer some business advice, offer some teaching advice and then you can ask any questions to see if you are a good fit for the program on this call. Applications are due by September 15th, 2021.
If you see this later, go ahead and apply. I’m sure she’ll open new rounds because this is going to be your second round already. I know one of my students in my academy is going through her Founding Member’s group. I can’t wait to hear from her about how it’s going. Thank you so much, Tiffany. This has been awesome. You’ve given clarity to people that may have been tossing around the idea of teaching voice.
I know I went through a period when my kids got to the age where they were school age and I was like, “What am I going to do?” It was right before I started all the stuff I do with The Profitable Musician but I did consider being a voice teacher and I tossed around the idea. Had you been around back then, maybe I would have joined your program. I’d be a voice teacher and not be running this program but you never know. People come to those kinds of crossroads in their lives. If that’s you who are reading, have a conversation with Tiffany and see if it’s a good fit for you.
About Tiffany VanBoxtel
Tiffany helps singers to sing like paid pros in just 1 year without boring or pointless vocal warm-ups. She also helps voice teachers run a 1:1 voice studio that creates sustainable income and gets singers amazing results without wondering which vocal exercises to do next or how to solve or communicate vocal problems.