BWW Blog: Bob Marks - Differences Between Singing 'Coaches' and Singing 'Teachers'

By: Feb. 09, 2016

You may remember our previous guest blogger, Bob Marks, who blogged about vocal health, audition tips, stage parents and more. Check out his first blog here on how he became a vocal coach.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs. You may contact Bob Marks via his website:

1. Differences between singing coaches and singing teachers.

In the past few years, the labels "vocal coach" and "voice teacher" seem to be used interchangeably, although they used to mean very different things. A vocal coach is someone who helps you with the overall musical and artistic shape of your performances. As in the world of sports, they pace in the dugout, cheer from the sidelines, and are there to encourage, strategize, motivate, and understand the intricacies of their players. Additionally, a good coach knows his player's vulnerabilities, both physical and mental, and makes it his or her job to minimize them.

A singing teacher, on the other hand, has traditionally been more concerned with the technical aspects of singing, and is often a trained performer. They have a strong understanding of vocal anatomy, and what's going on with the muscles, tissues, and ligaments underneath the surface of the skin, and how these connect with body parts we can see, such as the tongue and jaw. A teacher will help the singer make adjustments to things within their control (mouth shape, breathing, volume, etc.) so they can optimize how the vocal cords actually produce sound. In addition, good teachers are aware of the mind-body connection in a performer, and will also help a student become more aware of how their thoughts and feelings affect voice production.

Traditionally, you went to a singing teacher to learn to sing in a healthy, beautiful way throughout your range, and hopefully expand that range. You went to a coach to achieve a stirring communicative performance, and maximize all of your vocal and dramatic assets in the course of learning new material.

In the past, a coach meant someone who was concerned with presentation over technique, so they may have had little or no technical understanding of how the voice works. Similarly, a singing teacher often only studied classical music, and would not be open to the sounds required for an authentic musical theater performance. Only in recent years have colleges started offering degrees in all aspects of musical theatre, and started graduating instructors who have both hands-on knowledge of musical theater repertoire, and training in how to help singers develop the right techniques to produce those sounds.

Nowadays nearly all voice coaches have to teach at least basic vocal technique, and effective voice teachers will integrate expressive performance factors into their technical work. The ultimate goal is to help the performer cultivate a combination of skills and repertoire for effective and successful singing performances.


Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, Assistant Professor of Music Theater at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.

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