Tom Jackson's Academy of Live Music

I can’t afford lessons right now, but I really want to sing better and feel that I would benefit from having a singing teacher. What are my options?

Let’s face it: Vocal lessons usually cost money. If it comes down to choosing between buying groceries and paying for lessons each week, you need to choose the food. However, there are several resourceful ways in which you can cope with a tight budget while pursuing your singing goals.

As always, I strongly recommend entrusting your vocal development to a good, “live” vocal instructor. You could get free tips from other singers off the internet or from discussion forums, but if you don’t have a lot of knowledge about the voice, you could be given bad information and ideas by strangers who may not know what they are talking about. Also, you could purchase educational CD’s, but there would then be no teacher to give you direct feedback of your technique. Your desperation to improve could end up making your singing technique worse if you don’t go about it the right way.

Many instructors offer free lessons. Some will teach a limited number of lessons for free because they want to get you in the door, and then begin asking for payment if you choose to continue studying with them beyond the free lessons. In some cases, the teacher may be new or new to the area and is looking to gain experience by attracting new students with free lessons. Take advantage of these offers for lessons at no cost to you. If the teacher is competent, then you have nothing to lose, and there is no obligation for you to continue taking lessons from him or her after the initial free lessons have been used up. (The teacher may even offer to add on a few extra free lessons if you inform him or her that you would like to keep taking lessons, but can’t afford them.) In just a few lessons, you can learn a lot about the basics of good singing.

Some instructors will teach a dedicated student at no cost simply because they enjoy teaching and want to help. Many of these instructors are highly experienced and knowledgeable, but do your research to ensure that you do find someone who is.

Some vocal teachers are willing to use an old fashioned bartering system if a student is determined to learn to sing, but is facing financial roadblocks. For example, the father of one of my students who had been studying with me for over a year at the time had recently lost his job, and he could no longer afford to pay for his daughter’s lessons. Rather than setting my student’s progress back and depriving her of the opportunity to do something that she enjoys, I offered to trade vocal lessons for her artistic services. She is a talented visual artist as well as a beautiful singer and enthusiastic student, and she helped me redecorate my home studio by doing some original paintings with a musical theme. In addition to receiving free lessons, she received the added benefit of having more works of art to add to her portfolio for college. During her lessons, her mother agreed to watch my then newborn baby, if he was awake, while my toddler napped so that I didn’t have to pay for childcare and therefore lose money by teaching the student for free. I also saved on some of the cost of redecorating by not having to pay professionals to do the work or by buying expensive artwork to accent the walls. This same student, whose financial situation has now remained the same for the past year-and-a-half, has also offered free babysitting, and has at points paid a partial fee for her weekly lessons. Bartering creates a “win-win” situation.

Some singing instructors participate in workshops or courses in order to gain certification as teachers for a specific approach to singing. If these certification programs take place in your area, there may be opportunities for you to offer yourself as a “guinea pig” if these workshops need students for the new teachers to practice on or for the professors to use for demonstrations during the sessions. Although the new teachers themselves may not be highly experienced, those who are teaching the courses and supervising the practice lessons with the new teachers will be highly qualified and will be able to ensure that the skills are being taught to you correctly.

Highschool students or community choir members who show some potential and determination may find that their chorus teachers or choir directors are willing to take them on as students for free, giving them lessons after school or following rehearsals. The teachers or choir directors may be inspired by the young singer's enthusiasm and welcome the opportunity to be a part of further developing that student's singing voice. (After all, teaching is their passion.) The choir as a whole will also benefit from having another trained voice in the group. Not all chorus teachers and choir directors are properly trained in vocal technique, however, so the student needs to pay attention to what is being taught to ensure that he or she isn't being incorrectly trained.

Don’t be too embarrassed or shy about explaining your situation to a prospective teacher. It can’t hurt to be honest, because you may find a very compassionate instructor who is willing to help you out simply because he or she loves teaching. You can always agree to begin paying for lessons once your financial situation improves.

The key is to be resourceful, (but not desperate enough to make poor or detrimental choices). If you are determined enough to take voice lessons, you can find creative ways to make it happen, even with an empty wallet.

Last updated on Sun May 16 15:01:56 2010