The Web-U-lous World of Dr. Y

Skills and Scales

Information about Voice Training by
Dr. Yvonne R. Dechance

Doctor of Musical Arts in Voice Performance

Proud member of theNATS: National Association of Teachers of Singing


frequently-asked questions about voice training


Singing is a rewarding, healthy activity...well worth the time and effort to study properly. Below are some of the questions (and answers) I get asked the most frequently. If you are considering studying voice either privately or through a school program, I encourage you to read the following Frequently-asked Questions.

frequently-asked questions about voice training:

What is the difference between voice lessons and voice coaching?
What should I expect in voice lessons?
Can I study voice if I don't read music or play the keyboard?
What if I know I have trouble matching pitch--am I hopeless?
How long does it take to learn to sing well?
What's your studio like?
How can I find a voice teacher?
Do you teach privately?

Lessons and Coachings : Is there a difference?

Few people agree on the exact definitions of these two terms, but there is a difference. Technical training (lessons) and Voice coaching are specialty fields which often overlap.

A technical teacher should be able to teach singing and physical techniques to help any singer learn to sing in a healthy manner. For this reason, some technical teachers are comfortable working with singers who sing styles the teacher personally does not perform.

Coaching assumes the technical skills have already been mastered for particular songs, and the emphasis is on repertoire, style and presentation.

Accompanist-coaches are pianists who have accompanied many singers and are familiar with an incredibly wide repertoire. They rehearse with advanced singers, suggest performance and competition repertoire for individuals, and comment on interpretation, ornaments, and historical or genre-appropriate style. I have no problem with my students working with accompanist-coaches, as long as I know this arrangement exists and there is no conflicting or confusing advice being given that would undermine my primary work: to help you build and develop the healthiest, finest instrument possible.

Which are you?

"I consider myself to be a technical teacher foremost; I give lessons to help singers learn to sing in a healthy manner, regardless of musical style. But this would be a soulless task if I did not also address many aspects of artistry and repertoire. All of the above comes under the headings of voice lessons. So it is possible for me to work technically with singers from a broad variety of backgrounds, interests, and singing goals--in various teaching positions, these have included anything from opera and musical theater to some styles of rock and popular music.

I am quite comfortable coaching (and enjoy doing so) working within the fields of opera, art song, and musical theatre, but would not presume to suggest repertoire or style for pop or rock musicians. I always tell a singer if I feel something they bring into lessons is inappropriate for their voice or body-type (image), or if I believe their favorite song is wonderful but too challenging for them at this point in their musical development.

Although I do play the piano during warmups and some song literature, I do not work as an accompanist coach. I have no problem with my students working with accompanist-coaches, as long as I know this arrangement exists and there is no conflicting or confusing advice being given that would undermine my primary work: to help my singers build and develop the healthiest, finest instrument possible."

What should I expect in voice lessons?

Private lessons should one-on-one, individualized to your goals and progress at your own pace. A Class Voice or Group Voice typically teaches solo voice skills within the context of a group; singers may be expected to perform both independently and with others.

In most individualized lessons (with a technical teacher), you can expect to spend about half of each lesson warming up and practicing technical exercises, what I often refer to as "skills and scales." :-) That includes vocal warmups, vocalises/exercises, coordination drills, and specific work on posture, breathing and other singing fundamentals. The other half of each lesson will usually be spent working on songs, showing how the technical skills fit into "real" music, and also working on presentation and interpretation. If you're a beginner and have limited keyboard or music reading skills, you may spend part of your lessons learning notes and accurate rhythms. Singing is about using the whole body as an instrument, so don't be surprised if you are asked to move around and coordinate movement with singing. The more you practice and learn between lessons, the more of your lesson time will be devoted to performing and polishing song repertoire.

What if I don't read music or play the keyboard--can I still study voice?

It depends on the teacher and the music program--some may have reading or playing pre-requirements for voice study. Other teachers and programs may be willing to include basic reading and rudimentary keyboard skills as part of your vocal training, while others may not require you to learn to read or play at all. Most singers begin by "learning by ear" and some spend their lives learning solely by this method. However, reading music and learning to play at least your melody line on a keyboard can help you learn vocal music more independently, more quickly, and more accurately than you generally can from having everything sung or played for you. Neither skill is particularly difficult to learn, and will add new dimension to your learning process. Try a site like datadragon for a good introduction to reading music, and a site like gopiano for an introduction to playing the keyboard. There's even an online virtual piano you can play.

What if I know I have trouble matching pitch--am I hopeless?

No! Matching pitch is a skill that is learned, you're not born with it. Pitch-matching is the ability to hear a pitch (sung or played on another instrument) and sing the same pitch. It is not the ability to have someone say to you "Sing an F" or some other pitch, and be expected to pull that pitch out of thin air--only a few people can do that, and it is not an expected skill for voice lessons.:-)

Some people grow up in musical households, or musical environments, and learned to match pitches without conscious thought; other people have to listen carefully to pitches and learn to pitch-match. "Tone-deafness," a term unfortunately used frequently to describe people who have not yet learned to accurately match pitch, only occurs as a medical condition where there is actual damage to or misfunction of hearing--most people can learn to match pitch at any point in their lives. It takes patience and willingness on both the part of the singer and the teacher, but it can be taught and learned.

How long does it take to learn to sing well?

I get asked that a lot, and there's no easy answer. With fine training and proper practice most students can learn to sing better in a reasonably short amount of time, but to truly master the craft of singing is a lifelong adventure. Our voices tend to change a bit throughout life, just as our bodies do, and we need to be aware of those changes and deal with them effectively. Many singers train throughout their careers, and if a voice has been misused, corrective training will take significantly longer than that of a healthy voice.

What's your studio like?

I've taught both privately and on faculty, so I've worked in a number of environments. Whenever possible, my voice studio is filled with color, and art and items from around the globe--I believe a creative environment stimulates creative endeavor.

Scene from a Studio Recital
Yvonne (at keyboard) in her studio when
she taught in Virginia.
See more photos from related studio recitals.

How can I find a voice teacher?

One of the easiest ways to locate independent voice teachers in your area is to use the online teacher search options on the NATS Online "Finding a Teacher" page. You can also contact schools or departments of music in your area, local music schools and sheet music shops, or try the phone directory under music instruction--vocal. Finding a voice teacher is easy; finding the right teacher for you involves choosing absolutely the best teacher you feel you can trust and can afford.

Please read any contracts carefully before signing and committing to voice lessons. Some teachers charge by the lesson, others charge for a group or block of lessons; know what you're getting, and make sure you're comfortable and familiar with all studio policies and fees.

If you're planning on attending a college or university program in voice, try to visit the school beforehand and meet the teachers if possible. Do some research on each teacher's credentials and specialties, and if you can, ask several singers at the school about how they enjoy working with their voice teacher. Each teacher has a limit to how many students they can work with one-on-one, so please have a second choice in mind if there isn't room in your first choice of studio when you enter the program. Bouncing around from teacher to teacher is never a good idea; however, it is wise to know the school's policy on assigning and reassigning voice teachers ahead of time, in case there's a particular teacher you really want to study with, or you decide that you need to switch voice teachers during your studies.

What are your specialties?

"My performing specialties are opera and operetta, musical theatre, comedy and art songs. You can see my performance resume online, as well as some sample recital programs.

My teaching specialties include language diction, stage presentation, Alexander technique for singers, and technical voice training. You can see an overview of my teaching experience on my professional resume online. "

Do you teach privately?

I have in the past, but am currently concentrating on teaching voice and other classes at The University of Tampa. If you are interested in an undergraduate degree with an emphasis in classical or theater voice, please check out our program and campus at!

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this page last updated August 27, 2002

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