Marty Heresniak, B.M., M.M

voice teacher

79 Hudson Heights
Ithaca, NY 14850


member National Association of Teachers of Singing

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Not every teacher is right for every student. Making the wrong choice in finding a teacher to help you develop your voice can be disastrous. But how do you know how to choose? What things matter?

There might be many teachers near you, yet only a few of them may be a good match for you. Before you can identify the best teacher for you, you should define your own goals and identify relevant personal considerations.


Are you looking to learn songs?

Are you looking for technical training?

Are you after performance coaching?

Are you hoping to remedy vocal over-use or abuse?

Are you preparing for an audition?

Are you coming back to a childhood love for singing
now that your career and child-rearing are under control?

Are you destined to be a star and need someone to make that happen?

Are you looking to fit in and need to figure out
why you have never been able to sing?

Are you hoping to have a performing career?

Are you seeking to overcome performance anxieties?

Are you being referred for voice training by a medical professional?


Do you need a task master?
Or are you a self-starter?

Do you need structure?
Or freedom?

Do you feel you're Old School?
Or New Age?

Do you seek a scientific approach?
Or do you access learning through the emotions?

Do you work best listening and repeating?
Or seeing diagrams and pictures and words?
Or feeling sensations?

Do you want to read music?
Or learn by rote?

Once you are clear on what you want, and how you will best learn it, you can begin to look at how to get it. Identify information available about various teachers - recognizing the limitations and biases of the sources. Materials from teachers or schools provide evidence of what they value and what they consider to be their strengths. Recommendations from students of teachers will tell give clues to what the students learned, and not necessarily what the teachers taught.

Identify what information is critical and should be examined from each of your sources. Remember:


Some teachers are great performers:
some don't appear before the public very much.

A teacher who performs a great deal can offer you lessons based on that performing experience. That teacher can coach similar singers in the same repertory and pass on interpretation and style. A fine performer, however, may be short on the skills needed to transfer the performing knowledge to the student.

Teaching involves breaking down the final act into its component parts, analyzing how best to improve each part, developing strategies to achieve those improvements, and resynthesizing the whole with new understanding. A natural performer, someone for whom it all came easily, may never have had to examine the individual parts of the whole voice act. Determine if your prospective teacher has the right experience for your needs.

Some teachers are classically trained:
some learned in the School of Weekend Gigs.

Find out what your prospective teacher's training and background was.

Is there a music degree involved? A classical background can include superb training. A conservatory or university level music degree provides both depth and breadth in music performance, theory, and history. But music degrees also carry the biases of generations of academia passing along preconceptions and prejudices. A prospective teacher with outside-of-academia training will have a completely different set of experiences, biases, and prejudices. Neither is necessarily better. Of the two best music teachers I know, one is a full professor in a major music school. The other never finished high school.

Was your prospective teacher's music training in voice? The church organist and the active jazz musician may be superb in what they do and have a wealth of musical information to pass along, but if they were not trained in voice do they have the skills to help you in the ways you need to learn to sing?

Some teachers are trained to teach:
some never had any training in how to teach.

When you ask about that music degree, find out if it was in Applied Music or in Music Education. A degree in Applied Music means that person was trained to be a performer. A degree in Music Education means that person was trained to teach while learning advanced performance skills. A performer trained to teach knows the extra skills in pedagogical methods, educational philosophy, and psychology needed to be able to help you learn.

Ask if your prospective teacher holds a certificate or license from the state in which you live. Teacher certification in music lets you know that person has all the training required by your state to teach in the public schools. Certification is not necessary for private teachers, but it does offer some proof of training. I know wonderful uncertified teachers and some with permanent certification for whom I wouldn't give two cents.

Some teachers have positions in prestigious institutions:
some work from home.

A teacher with connections to academia can call upon the resources of the institution. As the student, you can have opportunities to take part in activities, to use equipment, to research in libraries, to perform in fine recital spaces, and to receive academic credit for lessons. Institutional settings also have certain requirements and strictures. You may be expected to be at a certain entry level before you are allowed to study, to learn a certain type or a minimum amount of repertory, and to advance on predetermined curricular paths.

A private, non-affiliated teacher does not have the restrictions on teaching that academia can impose. The private teacher can throw over all curricular and performance plans to focus on a particular immediate need. The private teacher can also co-design a curriculum with a student to adapt an order of learning to the student's needs to know. The private teacher may take on any level of student without audition, from coaching professional singers to aiding those pre-singers who need to learn to match pitch. Study with a private teacher is a self-motivated endeavor, unencumbered by concern over academic grading systems.

Some teachers have their particular way of working:
some alter teaching methods to match the student.

It is the most natural thing in the world to teach as you were taught. Your teacher did this, so you do it, too. This is often a good thing, as many teachers are good teachers and pass along fine methods to their students. Sometimes though, the teaching strategy is not the best, and the once-student-now-teacher can be a one-trick-pony. I admit that, for a while in the beginning of my career, that was I.

Some teachers become enamored of a certain means of teaching. Often, if a singer's set of personal technical problems was solved by one particular means, that singer can become rather zealous in following and expounding that means. In the voice world there are many examples of this technique or that system or so-an-so's method. Some of them are excellent. I use many techniques-systems-methods in my teaching. But every technique-system-method is not right for every student. No one technique-system-method is the be-all-and-end-all of voice pedagogy.

As I mentioned in speaking of Applied Music versus Music Education degrees, those trained to teach are familiar with a variety of pedagogical methods. Simply put, a good voice teacher, instead of being a one-trick-pony, knows many ways to skin a cat (and may mix some mean metaphors on occasion).

Some teachers sing and teach a particular style:
some have multi-cultural, multi-style singing palettes.

Intensive depth of teaching expertise can be a wonderful influence on a student. In the field of singing you may find specialists in bel canto, Appalachian folk song, lieder, Broadway show tunes, mélodies, or pop-rock styling. If you need coaching in a particular field, such expertise is invaluable. A teacher with a depth of expertise may not, however, have a wide-ranging palette. There are those who consider that any singing student must sing in Italian and must start study with the ubiquitous 24 Italian Songs and Arias. Others insist that if it's Broadway, it must be belted.

Other teachers are "general practitioners," teaching general vocal technique and open to differences in musical styles. They integrate these differences into their teaching styles to allow their students to adapt vocal technique as situations demand.

Some teachers specialize in teaching their own voice type:
some teach all voices.

Many believe it is important for a student of a particular voice type to study with a teacher of the same voice type. There is some benefit in this, in that the teacher can pass along particular knowledge of repertory and interpretation.

Just as all voices are not the same, so, too, all sopranos are not the same: a student's voice may have the same range, but a far different quality from the teacher's. The student may be tempted to copy the sound of the teacher rather than copy the teacher's technique. A young lyric soprano should not try to sound like her mature dramatic soprano teacher, nor sing the same repertory.

A corollary to the sound-like problem is a tendency for a teacher to clone a voice. Sometimes a teacher's students all sound alike. A dozen different voices should reflect a dozen different genetic backgrounds and personalities. If the students of a particular teacher all sound alike there is something being imposed on those voices that goes counter to the inherent natural qualities of the voices.

Just as some teachers are general practitioners, teaching a stylistically neutral vocal technique, some teachers are generalists in working with all voice types. These teachers use the basics of voice technique to bring out the best in every voice type.


So, where do I fall in all these spectra?

I perform some, but not overly much. At this point in my career, I would far rather teach than sing. If a fine role comes along, I go for it.

I was never a natural performer, and posed quite a challenge to my voice teacher. Such being the case, he had to pull out tricks he hadn't often used to get me to "get it". That means I was exposed to far more small facets of the whole voice act, analyzing them for my own singing. I now apply that experience for my students.

I have both a bachelor's and a master's degree in music from Ithaca College. Yes, I was classically trained, but I'm in recovery. (Really, it's OK now!) I can still do a fine aria, and I adore lieder but I'm singing lots of jazz standards.

My degrees are in Music Education. I was trained in singing, but also trained in how to teach.

I hold permanent teacher certification in music from the New York State Board of Regents.

I teach in my own home studio, and have no affiliation to any academic institutions.

I accept students at all levels, from the singing impaired to the old pros. I am open to teaching all ages, but my personality and teaching styles seem to work best with students of upper secondary school age and older.

I use many methods to help my students find the ease of healthy singing. I change the method of teaching to match the learning strengths of the particular student. During thirty years of teaching I have accumulated quite a large bag of tricks.

I teach in all musical styles. I am far more concerned with how my students sing that with what they choose to sing. I've had students go off to opera companies, to jazz combos, to musical theatre, to alternative rock bands, to bossa nova trios, to klezmer bands, and to acoustic singer-songwriter careers.

I teach all voices types. It's the singing that matters, not the sound.


Do your homework. Research locally and online for teachers near you. Ask local singers. Ask local public school music teachers. Ask local non-singing musicians (church organist, jazz pianist or guitar teacher). Ask in music stores.

Talk with prospective teachers and find out how comfortable they make you feel. Studying singing can be as personal as having a massage. You must feel comfortable and safe with the teacher.

Ask about some of the points that are important to you.

Ask about the teacher's training and how long they have been teaching.

Ask to be able to contact some of the teacher's students to see how they feel about their study.

If you hear singers you like, you might want to study with them, but (remembering that fine singers don't necessarily make fine teachers) even more important, ask with whom those singers study.