We asked renowned vocal coach Judy Rodman to reveal the issues for singing students in virtual lessons.
It used to be that you were limited to vocal lessons with vocal coaches whose offices you could physically get to. Now, quite literally, the sky’s the limit! Many vocal coaches like me use Skype these days. Many weeks, half my students are scheduled through Skype or another virtual meeting alternative. Would Skype lessons work for you? Here are some pros, cons and workarounds to consider:
1. Coaches – Virtual Or Real?
There’s no need to settle for bad or mediocre vocal lessons. It’s better to work with a higher level vocal coach through Skype than a lesser quality coach in person.
A high-end vocal coach usually charges more, sometimes quite a bit more. You also could miss out on local networking.
I advise you to work with one coach at a time if possible. You can experiment and try studying with multiple coaches, but in the end, decide whose approach works best for you and then stick with them as your main source of training. That said, some people really like being physically present with the local vocal coach, who can also provide local performance opportunities.
As long as you don’t get confused or pulled between opposing advice, you can try using both coaches. It’s a good idea to stay transparent about what you’re doing, so that if there is confusion it can be sorted out. Sometimes a student will devote their lesson with me to a conference call with their local coach, which I’m more than happy to do. Good coaches are always up for learning something new that works for their students! Just don’t settle for bad coaching!
2. Does The Technology Work?
You can take your lesson from anywhere in the world as long as you have Skype, and an internet connection with adequate signal strength. You don’t need to factor in travel time or gas mileage. Downloading Skype is free.
You need to be able to install the Skype program and know how to set it up and work it, or know someone who can help you. And you do need that internet access with strong enough signal. If not adequate, the video will freeze, get pixilated and the audio will skip badly, or the Skype call will be disconnected altogether.
Before there was Skype, I used to teach distance lessons by phone. The tone, inflection and other sound nuances in the voice of my student can tell me what they need to change. For instance I, like other intuitive vocal coaches, know by the sound of the voice whether or not the eyebrows are active or frozen!
Now when Skype gets sketchy, I ask the student to call me on the phone, (my landline for better audio quality if I’m in my office) and put their phone on speaker mode. If it’s mainly the audio that’s corrupted but Skype video screen is clear enough to be useful, my student and I can leave the screen up and turn the computer speakers off, and just listen and talk by phone. That works well.
There are now several alternatives to Skype. Most are about the same or worse audio/video quality, and some like Google Hangouts require both parties to sign up to the website. FaceTime only works between Apple gadgets. But there is another option I’m excited about: It’s a program called Zoom. The audio and video are much higher quality. It’s very simple to connect… either party can send a link to the other through email to join the conversation. There are paid versions, but it’s free to use at the basic level, which has more than enough functionality for vocal lessons. I may go that route exclusively if it keeps performing as well as it has for me and my students.
3. The Power Of Touch?
Sometime vocal coaches use ‘touch tactics’, placing their hands on the singer to emphasize specific actions that are a part of healthy singing. But I don’t necessarily have to physically touch… I can virtually suggest my touch. The power of suggestion is extremely effective!
When students are in the same room as me, I can give subtle suggestions with a gentle poke between the shoulder blades, a tap to the occipital bone, or a light fingertip to a tight jaw hinge. Can’t do that on Skype of course.
When working in virtual conditions, we coaches can suggest other bio-feedback tactics the student can apply to themselves. If I notice a tense spot in my student while they’re singing, such as the Adam’s apple (the little bump in middle of throat), jaw hinge, tongue base under chin, outer cheekbone or forehead squint, neck or shoulder area, I direct the student to use a purposed touch on that spot. I ask them to mentally intend the spot they’re touching to relax, or not to tense, when sounding their voice. I also sometimes ask a student to use a back-scratcher or other stick to touch their upper spinal curve, and ask them to straighten it. This will help with breath control by the resultant wider ribcage.
It is important to be able to record vocal exercises and any other thing the coach wants the student to practice or focus on between lessons. For Skype, there are several programs that you or your coach can use to record audio and/or video, such as Evaer, Pamela and others. Zoom has built-in functionality for recording audio and video. Both Skype and Zoom have recording, texting and attachment capabilities. You can also record your Skype or Zoom lesson directly into the voice memo app on your phone.
And a reminder… you can always work over a simple phone if you need to! And with all the free and low-cost programs like Vonage, Viber and the like, when you need your vocal coach to warm you up for your gig from a parking lot or green room in Timbuktu Arkanscavia, you can reach them! Need a vocal lesson? Where there’s a phone, with or without Skype, there’s a way!
Judy Rodman is an award winning vocal coach, singer, performer, speaker, author, songwriter, producer. Her clients include artists, touring vocalists, VO talent, speakers who’ve appeared on The Today Show, Letterman, Degeneres, The Voice, American Idol, AGT, Grammys, CMA, ACM & MTV Awards, NYT Best Seller list. Based in Nashville, she teaches in office, by phone, Skype & Zoom. See her website.