Written by VocalCoachSA founder and teacher, Cathrine Hopkins
I have always been a big advocate about going to therapy. I am also that person watching all the Ted Talks, reading Eckhart Tolle, and, in more desperate times, biting into that damn fortune cookie, in the hopes that one line printed on a tiny piece of paper will magically solve ALL my problems! With the world just being nuts at the moment and adulting really not being all that it’s cracked up to be, the fact of the matter is, Ted Talks and books just aren’t enough for me. I need an actual, real-life therapist to help me wade through the chaos. It’s my weekly “lunatic-messy-Dr Phil-ugly-word-spewing-mostly-swearing-it-out” ranting hour of bliss. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard work, but by the end of a session, I do genuinely believe that the world might not collapse all around me and that I actually, despite much evidence to the contrary, can adult pretty well.
I also should tell you that I have been a serial-therapist-patient. Having started therapy at the tender age of twelve, I have seen over 11 therapists in 25 years. Besides giving my age away in this statement (and potentially making me sound proper crazy), I can confidently say that I have had good, bad and downright bizarre therapeutic experiences. It was only when I became an adult (annoyingly around the age of 30) that I started formulating my own identity and realized just how important it was for me to find the right therapist.
To figure this out and actually not waste any more money, I created a mental rubric that each therapist had to match or come close to matching in order for us to successfully work together.
The first thing was that the therapist needed to be someone older than me.
The second thing I needed was to have someone who could really call me out on my crazy.
Thirdly, I needed someone to get me: I am dry. I don’t always want to look on the bright side of life and sometimes, I don’t want a solution, but rather someone who can just hold all my scary-crazy, so that I can do my job properly.
Finally, the biggest thing I needed was to have someone I could trust not to judge whatever came out of my mouth. Strangely, it wasn’t enough that some of them said, “it’s okay, you can tell me” or that they were all highly qualified and very professional. I needed a more tangible way of knowing: preferably a polygraph, several alibis and a DNA sample, but unfortunately, I realized this specific need could only be confirmed by the most unscientific and intangible method: My GUT…
Armed with nothing more than a feeling and a few generalized pointers, each new therapist was measured. Even if all three top boxes were ticked, my damn gut would get in the way of making the following appointment. When asked why I didn’t want another session I always lied. The excuse of limited finances was way less awkward than, “because I don’t think we’ll get on…” Looking back, they probably knew the real reason, but why confront the truth if you can be less awkward and run away from it?
It was only when I found therapist number 10 that I got it. Besides the fact that he was absolutely gorgeous, he just got me. Sessions were terrible and brilliant, and ugly crying in front of hot therapist was at times cringe-worthy, but progress was made. Then he immigrated and I went to his referral: therapist number 11. Because of a referral and hot therapist knowing me pretty well, he was able to find my 11. Five years later, this one still kicks my butt every week. Whilst I do believe in fate and destiny, I also know that perhaps I would have found my number 11 a good ten years ago had I just told the truth!
Singing and therapy are like two peas in a pod. Whilst the podcasts and karaoke tracks work, there is nothing better than being able to sing in person with a coach. Whether it’s belting out a number at the top of your lungs or having someone listen to your voice and calling you out (e.g.: “You actually sound great. You are being too bloody judgemental. Stop it!”) Whatever it’s for, it can be a cathartic “spitting-on-the-piano-breaking-into-a-sweat-hitting-that-note-goose-bumping” hour of bliss!
Every day I have my students come into my studio the same way that I go into my therapist’s office. Sometimes it’s with determination to just solve an issue or a deep need just to vent it out, and sometimes it’s a weary, exhausted trudge inside, when I just know that the kettle needs to be put on and that there might not be any singing done that day. But, whatever the walk, there is an immeasurable amount of trust between me and the singer. They know, in their gut, that I will not judge them and that I will always tell them the truth; even when it’s not easy to hear. I will also tell them when they’re off-key and compliment them when it’s needed. They know I don’t care about how “bad” it sounds because it’s always more complicated than that. More importantly, this gut-feeling allows my students to play and experiment whilst being exceptionally vulnerable: Making weird noises in class, is part of the gig. They also are able to tell me the scary stuff; things like, “I really don’t get it” or even scarier still, “I like how I sounded”.
Singing in front of one person in a room is very, very scary. I think it’s because when you’re singing, you’re opening up and showing me your soul. To be able to do this, the singer needs to know that they are 100% safe. Feeling safe is one thing but knowing is the real deal. Singing relies primarily on breath, and the first thing to be affected by stress is your breathing. Therefore, singing when you feel relaxed and at home is paramount to improving your voice.
Needless to say, the most important step you can take once you’ve made the decision to go to singing lessons, is to find the right person to be in the room with you. Art is complicated and messy. Chemistry matters here. So, choosing the right someone to help improve your singing needs some thought.
Just like I did with therapists, my advice is that you first find a way to articulate and come up with a type of rubric as to what is it that you need from a coach in order to work successfully together. Here are a few things to consider first:
LOGISTICS: The practical things
Location, traffic, pets, age and gender of your coach.
WHAT KIND OF SINGING DO YOU WANT TO LEARN?
Are you looking for a specific technique and style of singing? Are you only looking for a rep teacher or for someone who does both rep and technique?
Less obvious things can be finding someone who identifies similarly to you. Someone who has experience in the same industry and art form as you, or someone who has no affiliation with what you do whatsoever.
Also, take the time to rate how important these things are for you. Whilst I thought it was important that my therapist be older than me, turns out my number 11 is younger than me, and I couldn’t care less. Is there some wriggle room somewhere? This is quite important because the odds of finding one person to tick all your boxes is one in a million.
Remember that finding your coach might not be the first person you try and also know that it may take you a couple of classes before you know if it’s going to work. The scary part is not when you realise this, but rather when you have to make the next appointment. All I can say here is tell the truth. If I add up the amount of money I could have saved between therapist number 3 and 9, I’d be living in NYC, and, had I asked for a referral, I could have been adulting far better from the age of 21 rather than 31. The few seconds of ‘awkward’ pales in comparison to the hours of ‘what I should have said is…’ shower time!
I can also attest that as a teacher and having spoken to many teachers from around the world, we know that the chemistry will not always be right and that that’s completely okay. I know that most of us would far rather help refer you to another teacher than see you struggling and cancelling sessions. Referrals are invaluable in helping you find your person, but that can ONLY happen if you have the courage to tell the coach that it’s not working for you.
The unsugar-coated reality is that private lessons are expensive, and singing lessons are extremely beneficial when given on a one-on-one basis. As with every single profession out there, experienced teachers cost more, and specialists are always going to be expensive.
But there are also fantastic resources out there, and access to them has literally never been easier. Just as I need Ted Talks in my life, there are hundreds of teachers offering online lessons and masterclasses. The rub is being able to discern which of these resources are the best for you, before you enter your credit card details. Here is where research and word of mouth are brilliant – so don’t be afraid to ask around.
You also don’t have to subscribe to the once-a-week format either. If you can afford only one class a month and Ted Talk your way for the next few weeks, then so be it!
Ask the studio or teacher if they can give you a discounted rate. As a teacher, I don’t mind considering a discount if I am able to, and I certainly don’t take issue with someone asking me either. Life’s tough. We help where we can!
Lastly, when it comes to investing in your singing, similarly, to investing in a therapist, you are making a concerted effort in bettering yourself. For that reason alone, finding yourself the best possible connection is a really big deal. So please, take the time, find your number 11 and get cracking!
If you would like to book a session with me, you can click HERE
I would love to help you begin your journey to finding the right vocal coach, whether that is me or someone I can refer you to. My mission is to create technical and artistic vocal superiority through sound and safe vocal coaching.
All sessions are in alignment with vocal techniques currently used on Broadway and the West End.