Is a Singing Teacher a Counselor?

Is a Singing Teacher a Counselor?
Strong emotions can emerge in voice lessons. Deal with them so you can move ahead with your life… and your singing –says Hannah Northedge.

Have you ever felt really embarrassed in a singing lesson for bursting into tears mid song and not being able to rationalize why?

Have you ever felt like offering to pay your vocal coach more money to act as your counselor too?!

The most common factors behind an emotional response are lyrics, vocal quality, event-association, and the workings of our nervous system

Our voice is a pathway to the essence of who we are, it’s no surprise when we feel vulnerable in singing lessons.

Your Triggers

The most common factors behind an emotional response are lyrics, vocal quality, event-association, and the workings of our nervous system. Find out more about these here.

What to Do when It Happens

A few singers have confided in me that they find the lessons better than counseling.

This is flattering but although I consider myself highly empathetic, I have to maintain a professional boundary because I am not a qualified therapist.

When a student is overcome with emotion, I sit them down with a cup of tea and we have a chat so they can try to process what invoked such an strong emotional response.

Some of them tell me the reasons in intimate detail; some just look mortified.

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Allow yourself to feel that emotion and keep performing the songs that make you well up and try to sing through them

I then try to get them singing again.

I want them to work through this through their singing, encouraging the endorphins to kick so that their mood improves.

So, if you feel overwhelmed in every singing lesson, here are my suggestions for how to deal with strong emotions so you can enjoy singing without them taking over:

  • Accept the emotion
    Understand that this is a very common reaction and you’re not the first nor the last person this will happen to as connecting emotionally with a song is the ultimate objective as a singer to communicate with an audience. Appreciate the fact that you can “connect” so well. You can’t afford to “switch off” your emotions so they may overwhelm you at first. Allow yourself to feel that emotion and keep performing the songs that make you well up and try to sing through them until you feel that you have a better control of the performance.
  • Get some support beyond your vocal coach
    Respect that as comfortable as you feel with your singing teacher, they are not always going to be qualified psychotherapists or counsellors. The act of singing may make you feel like revealing personal problems because you feel safe and that is fine, but don’t be offended when your teacher doesn’t go into this in detail and may try to continue with the lesson. It would be overstepping a professional boundary for them and in essence they are paid to coach your voice. You might ask your coach for a suggestion for additional support.
  • Choose songs by artists you don’t like
    (“What?” I hear you cry!) If you intend to focus solely on technical workouts. One student told me who his favourite artists were and I chose songs for him to work on based on that information, but he couldn’t sing them due to the emotional attachment being so overwhelming! When I needed him to focus on specific vocal techniques I chose songs for him by artists that he wasn’t that interested in to stop the emotion getting in the way! This worked very well as he was then able to think analytically about what he was doing without getting swept up by the mood. Who knows, you might even start to like the song!

Balance of connection and control is the key

It’s not about keeping your emotions out of your singing, but about channeling them into the song without letting them cripple you.

After all, I would much rather hear a raw emotional singer over a technical singer lacking emotional connection any day. Balance of connection and control is the key.


HannahNorthedge

Hannah Northedge is a pop and jazz singer, vocal coach and director of VoiceCity. One of her clients is currently supporting the band JLS and performing at the 02 Arena. Hannah has sung at Ronnie Scott’s, Wireless Festival and Abbey Road Studios. She has just conducted a choir in a film called “POSH”, has coached X Factor finalists and judged Live and Unsigned.

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  • Really interesting article, thanks Hannah.

  • Linda

    Was looking for this ~ glad I found it…thanks :)

  • Julie Camblin

    Really great perspective and advice with regards to making people aware that Singing teachers are not guaranteed to be qualified therapists. I have seen a trend within Singing for some tutors to directly seek out to be pseudo-therapists or allow their students to engage into very vulnerable therapy processes and it is not always the best for many reasons.. Thankyou!

  • Music Row Voice

    Couldn’t agree more Hannah!! This is my experience for sure, and I’m proud that as Vocal Coaches, we can provide a safe environment whereby the clients feel comfortable enough opening up to us. In fact, I believe its imperative, or otherwise there will be a blockage :) Nice article! Janine

  • Pat Whiteman Voice Studio

    Beautifully stated, Hannah. Thanks for this article.