The difference between a voice teacher and a vocal coach can sometimes be a bit vague in definition. Though the two terms are sometimes seen as semantics and are often exchangeable, there is a difference. The titles are also sometimes blurred a bit even within the profession. For example, some voice teachers call themselves vocal coaches and some vocal coaches have the capabilities to be a voice teacher. Many of us are considered to be BOTH, while others are one of the two or prefer to focus on one to the other. [SN: I am both, but principally and predominantly a voice teacher]. Still, it is important to know the distinction when seeking help in technique and style as a vocalist, because voice teachers can also be coaches if they choose to, but not all vocal coaches can be voice teachers. Also note that some singers work on technique with a voice teacher at the same time while working on interpretive ideas with a vocal coach; especially in the classical and musical theater world.
My explanation does not necessarily have to be taken as a “text-book” description, but it will help you understand the association of each title. Since the titles can be confused, it is very important that students are diligent when looking to find help in improving as singers.
A voice teacher is a professional (mainly on a scholarly level) that provides students with technique on how to use their voice healthily and tension-free. These are professionals with an extensive knowledge on how the voice is properly used for greater ease, range, and balance, which is vital to a singer for longevity and better vocal production. Voice teachers are trained singers and usually hold degrees within the realm of voice. Some teachers specialize in a particular genre or style depending on their background, but the foundational methods and techniques for proper voice usage are generally the same. In other words, voice teachers are experts in the practical application of the science of voice and are very skilled in the technique of singing.
Please (please) be advised that for someone to call him or herself a voice teacher requires no legal licensing. This is a major warning for students looking to find a good teacher without the risk of damaging their voice. It is in your best interest to look for qualifications that include education, certifications from singing and voice organizations (including, but not limited to NATS), continued professional development, attendance and participation at lectures and conferences, and of course feedback and success stories of their students.
A vocal coach is a title usually given to professionals that are more of practitioners in the field of voice. These professionals may not hold degrees in voice, but have been actively engaged in the art of singing. A vocal coach is more apt to help singers with musical style, expression, and how to “sell” a song. Their main work is on improvement with performance—how to get the maximum on stage presence and showmanship. Though they may touch upon the surface of breath support and phrasing, many vocal coaches may not be proficient in the technical aspects of singing. If an issue arises with a singer within the matters of technique, the coach may advise to see a voice teacher. Vocal coaches are likely to (and should only) work with more advanced, trained singers while a voice teacher can work with all levels (including singers that have developed any sort of voice problems).
I truly hope this blog helps you make the right decision in your journey to healthy singing and awesome performing!