Many people use the terms vocal coach and voice teacher interchangeably. In fact, they are separate jobs that can help singers become better in different ways. Knowing what your goals are as a singer can help you choose whether to hire a voice teacher, vocal coach, or work with both at the same time.
A vocal coach works with singers on interpretation and preparation of music. The vocal coach is generally a skilled pianist, and they are great at helping singers learn to perform a piece authentically.
There are vocal coaches who specialize in different styles of music. Vocal coaches are much more prominent in classical singing training, but there are also coaches who make their careers working with contemporary singers.
Classical music often has more difficult melodic and rhythmic patterns than contemporary commercial music (CCM) or musical theatre. A good vocal coach can help you sing the music as it was written, and isolate any problem spots you have musically.
Classical vocal coaches often prioritize diction. So much classical repertoire is sung in non-English languages. The most common languages of classical singing are Italian, French, German, and English. Vocal coaches know how to correctly pronounce these languages, and know how to help singers sing in whatever language their music is written in.
The main goals of classical music are authentic representation and emotional expression. Vocal coaches main concerns are helping a singer achieve these goals.
A voice teacher’s primary purpose is to help singers sing better. They achieve this by focusing their effort on vocal technique. Vocal technique is how one uses their body to create sound.
The voice is a unique instrument in that it is someone’s body, not an external object. With most instruments the expectation is that you must be taught how to play them. Where to put your fingers, how to best hold your body, etc. Someone isn’t just born able to play violin. Singing is also a teachable skill, but it comes with interesting challenges because most of the parts used to create sound are unseen.
With singing we have control over three things. Air, some little muscles in your throat, and how you shape your mouth. A good voice teacher should help you balance those three things so that sound production is efficient, easy, and useful.
Because we can’t see our instrument as we play it, singers have to rely on feeling and sound. Voice teachers give direction and exercises that help you become aware of what good singing feels like.
Our voices sound different to ourselves than they do to people outside of our heads. This is because we hear the sound bounce around off of muscle and bone before getting to our ears. Listeners hear the sound bounce around in the room before their ears. Voice teachers are important because they can hear what your voice actually sounds like to listeners.
When you trust a voice teacher they can help you put together the puzzle of what singing feels like, sounds like in your head, and what the end result is.
Who would win in a fight?
When you get a good vocal coach and voice teacher on your team you’re the one who wins. Without good fundamentals of vocal technique, a vocal coach’s skillset may not be particularly useful. There is some overlap in jobs, voice teachers can help with language and expression, and vocal coaches can help with basic vocal technique. The best use of your time is to make specific goals, and find the best professional to help you make progress toward those goals.