Seven Lessons for Voice Teachers…

….from Thirty-eight years of teaching singing.

  1.  Allow Yourself the Uncomfortable Luxury of Changing Your Mind—Ours is a culture where one of the most embarrassing things a professional  can do is not to have answers and strong opinions.  If a voice teacher is smart and emotionally mature,  they are continually learning and changing, even if it means abandoning cherished beliefs to make room for deeper understanding of their craft.  There is no shame in this.  Always be open to learning knew things or new ways of saying what you know.


     2.  Do Nothing Out of Guilt, Prestige, Status, Money or Approval Alone—This is definitely counter-culture in America.  These kinds of extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but ultimately they don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night–and, in fact, they sometimes distract and detract from your work.

As a teaching artist you are “selling” who you are as well as your knowledge and experience.  This is the secret to building and maintaining a thriving voice studio.   Continually, seek, find and maintain a balance of inner and outer motivators.


     3.  Be Generous—With your time and resources, and with giving credit where credit is due. It does not diminish your worth to give credit to another colleague or singer. It is much easier to be a critic than a celebrator.  (Believe me, I know…) To understand and be understood are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

This is different than letting people walk all over you or to work for nothing.  Very few people know or care what goes into being a teacher of singing and guess what–they don’t need to know.   You know, and so you value yourself.  Turn kindness on yourself at every opportunity and you will be able to shine joy onto others while sharing knowledge, modeling, or building an instrument or group of singers.


      4.  When people try to tell you who You are, don’t believe them—Maya Angelou once advised that when people tell you who they are, believe them.  I can add, when they SHOW you who they are, believe them. However, when people try to tell you who YOU are, don’t believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that don’t get you and what you stand for say more about them and their littleness and absolutely nothing about you.

This took me a long time to really live.  But it is truth.


      5.  Build pockets of stillness and gratitude into your life—Meditate, go for walks, exercise, ride your bike going nowhere in particular.  Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work–the ability to get by on little sleep is NOT a badge of honor that validates a work ethic but a profound failure of self-respect.

Seek endocrine health and nutrition–which will make or break your sleep.  As a woman of a certain age, my endocrine health determines my ability to do all the above and more.


6.  Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity—Another counter-culture move.  As Annie Dillard, the American writer says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”


       7.  Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time—The myth of the overnight success is just that, a myth–the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one burst, yet as a culture we’re disinterested in the tedium of blossoming.  But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of our character and destiny.

So go make some magic.

To transform breath into sound is the stuff of miracles!



Thank you to Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings, for much of the wording of this article. I have adapted it for voice teachers.










  1. Fabulous Cate! I try to live these things, and I totally agree that self-care is number one when you are in the profession of helping others (and in general, of course). It is very difficult to be counter-culture! I am glad that you represent that as I would consider myself that as well! My time on the island (we recently built a small home on one here in the NW) is one way I recharge–being in nature is SO healing! Then I feel like I can go back to teaching and singing in a full and present way. I don’t teach as many students like many of my colleagues. I have discovered my limits in what I can do and still offer quality. I still struggle to find a balance though. Thanks for your thoughts!


  2. Excellent advice, here, Cate, and beautifully expressed. I’m not sure which I like best, the seven lessons or the six paintings. Are they your own?


  3. Thank you for a thought-provoking and beautifully-written article. I encourage you to develop this and submit to the journal of singing. It would be tremendous professional reading.


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