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What Does a Career as a Music Teacher Entail?

A music teacher instructs students in general music concepts and usually teaches band, orchestra, choir, or a combination of these at schools or may teach vocal or instrumental when giving private lessons.

In addition, music teachers may work full time, part-time, or anytime they choose (if giving private lessons). They may work in a variety of settings that include:

  • From their home
  • At their students home
  • Private music schools
  • Elementary, Middle, or Secondary Schools
  • Colleges or Universities
  • Music Conservatories

In order to provide instruction at a public school, all prospective teachers will need a bachelor’s degree and more. For music teachers, the degree should either be a bachelor’s in music or in music education where courses may include early childhood music, choral conduction, and musical theory.

To meet certification requirements, you will also need to complete a state-approved teacher preparation program that can take from one to two years but can be studied at the same time while earning your bachelor’s. It is also important to gain some real-world experience as a teacher of music, therefore, student teaching sessions may also be included.

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Steps to Becoming a Music Teacher

  • Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in music education from an accredited college or university and complete a teacher preparation program

  • Step 2: Complete a music teaching internship for your desired grade level

  • Step 3: Pass state exams required for prospective music teachers

  • Step 4: Obtain a teaching certificate


Step 1: Obtain a Degree

Those who wish to pursue a career teaching music, must complete an educator preparation program and obtain a degree in music education from an accredited college or university. The college or university can have programmatic accreditation through the “Council of Accreditation for Educators Preparation”, but as long as it’s approved by the state board of education it will work for your education.

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In addition, approved colleges and universities should have a “dual program”, allowing those interested in becoming a music teacher the chance to study simultaneously for a bachelor’s degree while preparing to earn a teaching certificate.

Music teachers must also complete basic education courses in child development and classroom management. Music specific classes will also be included in preparing for a career as a music teacher.

Step 2: Student Teaching

An internship program allows students studying to become a music teacher the chance to experience what it’s like to teach music firsthand under a professional music teacher. This can be a great help to students pursuing a career in teaching in many ways:

  • Students can see what it’s really like to perform the job they are pursuing and then can decide if it’s really what they want to do.
  • It also allows students to gain some experience in the field, as many employers today, require at least some work experience before they will hire you.
  • While working with an industry professional, students will have a chance to ask important questions that they have about the career and get straightforward answers.
  • The industry leaders that students work with may provide some important tips and tricks relating to the profession.

Step 3: Pass Your Exams

The reason exams are given and must be passed before earning a music teacher certification is to ensure that prospective candidates have the proper knowledge and understanding of music education and the principles of music. Future music teachers are tested for professional readiness in providing musical instruction to K-12 students and classrooms, as well as basic teaching techniques.

It is mandatory that all future music teachers take the state exams. Those required by the states will vary across the country, but your teaching preparation program will prepare you for the state you’re in. You’ll likely have to take a basic core competency exam, a focused test for the grade level you plan to teach (middle school, secondary school, etc.), and last you’ll take a test meant specifically for music teachers.

Step 4: Obtain a Teaching Certificate

Although there are no specific educational or licensing requirements for private music teachers, it is necessary for public school music teachers to have a combination of education, experience, knowledge of music principles, basic teaching skills, and state certification.

To obtain a Certificate/License to teach music, you must have a thorough understanding of the four basic principle components of music education:

  • Theory and Composition
  • Music History
  • Pedagogy
  • Performance

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), is a non-profit organization that offers higher leveled licensure for more accomplished music educator professionals. Certification through the NBPTS is widely respected and in some instances may be used as a stepping stone to acquire state licensing.

While certification obtained through NBPTS may not meet state requirements in most states, it can be obtained in addition to state certification for more advanced, higher-level licensure that can result in an increase in salary.

What Does a Music Teacher Do?

At schools, music teachers are regarded as any other music teacher responsible for keeping attendance, recording grades, sharing progress notes, and meeting with parents. However, their main intentions are to share their musical knowledge with students interested in music.

Music teachers may expose their students to different pieces by current musical artists and famous historic composers as well. They may also introduce students to different musical equipment, technology, and techniques while preparing concerts and solo performances.

Beginners may learn how to keep a tempo, or how to sing on key, where advanced music trainees may be instructed on musical techniques, range, performance, and playing specific musical instruments of their interest.

The following are just some examples of what a music teacher may do:

  • Encourage musical appreciation and success while instructing students in all aspects of music and performance
  • Develop content for courses based on all training standards local, state, and national
  • Respect all students abilities, interests, and diverse cultural backgrounds
  • Prepare students for performance while setting up concerts and solo performances as well as arranging field trips to musical events.
  • Motivate students with practice and rehearsal sessions
  • Design tests to ensure progress

Music Teacher Skills to Acquire

Those interested in becoming a music teacher will need important skills, especially when it comes to teaching young children. Some of the skills required to be a music teacher are:

  • Patience
    In order to work with children, anyone would need to have patience and the ability to remain calm in any situation. It may take some children longer than others to learn a piece, so you will need to be patient with them.
  • An Upbeat Attitude
    Because you will be expected to encourage and motivate kids to be the best they can be, you will have to acquire an upbeat personality.
  • Musically Inclined
    Before you will be able to teach others about music, you will have to know a lot about it yourself, including how to read music, how to play a variety of instruments, how to sing, and more. It is also helpful to have strong knowledge about music genres in general and the history of music along with famous composers.

Alternative Paths

Every state has their own requirements when it comes to careers, however, almost all of them offer an alternative route to obtain certification to teach for those who lack the required educational background but have industry-specific skills or experience, although this still may not lead to full licensure without going through a program and taking the required tests.

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Generally, you can’t teach in a public school without certification. Yet, some schools may allow you to work for them and work at gaining certification at the same time with the condition that you will receive your certificate within the time frame they set.

The music teacher preparation program is an alternative route that qualifies undergraduates for a post-graduate certificate, along with a license to teach.

Alternative programs may also lead to obtaining a master’s degree in as little as one year where they usually take two years to complete. This option is mainly for those who earned a bachelor’s degree but did not complete a traditional music teacher preparation program.

Due to alternative routes growing in popularity, students can now access alternative music teacher certification programs online.

According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) in 2012, 14.6% of public-school music teachers used an alternate pathway to be able to teach in public schools.

Career and Salary

Where Might You Work?


Music teachers can work in a variety of settings. Some instructors are able to choose their own hours by giving private music lessons from home, at their own studio, in their student’s home, or even online, where others may work a regular 9 to 5 job teaching music in public schools, private charter schools, music schools, and more.

However, the most common workplace for a music teacher is at a school where they may be teaching an orchestra class, a marching band, a choir, or general music classes to children of all ages. In addition, Music teachers usually put in a lot of overtime for after school concerts, events, and other programs.

The salary of a music teacher can vary widely depending on experience and/or the location of the school they work at. Public schools are funded by the district's taxpayers. Needless to say, wealthier communities pay more; therefore, music teachers can expect to earn more at these locations.

Private vocal coaches can earn significantly more as they may work for recording studios or professionals in the music industry, giving singing lessons to aspiring or established artists.

Once they are able to advance, music teachers can become music professors, principles, or deans of schools. Some may also move on to become a music artist or a studio musician.

Potential Career Paths

The variety of Jobs for a certified music teacher will usually consist of teaching kids music in different classes from grades K-12 or, because they are certified music teachers, they may be able to teach basic classes just like an average music teacher. Some music teachers add to their income by giving private lessons from home or from their own private music studio where others may even offer online classes for students to learn how to sing, play an instrument, or other.

However, the most common jobs for a music teacher are to construct and lead a school’s marching band, orchestra, or a choir, as well as teaching kids general music principles and specific instruments or vocals. According to the National Association for Music Education, early childhood music educators earn anywhere from $6 to $60 per hour and studio music teachers earn anywhere from $10 to $100 per hour.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2004, music teachers working full-time at elementary and secondary levels earned salaries that ranged from approximately $29,000 to $70,000 annually and college art, drama, and music teachers earned a median annual salary of $50,000.

The following is a list of some of the jobs available for music educators:

General Music Teacher
The job of a general music teacher consists of instructing students in music composition, principles, and performance by helping them develop music skills, knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for music from historical studies to modern music.

Vocal Coach
A vocal coach is usually a skilled piano accompanist, who instructs singers who may be preparing for a performance or a recording session. Instructions may include singing and breathing techniques, vocal range, and staying on key.

Vocal Music Teacher
These music teachers give singing instructions to either one individual or a whole class full of students. They help aspiring singers to develop vocal and performance skills, by instructing on vocal techniques and encouraging practice.

Instrumental Music Teacher
The job of an instrumental music teacher is to provide instruction in theory and technique involved with playing a certain instrument. Before you can be an instrumental music instructor and teach others how to play a specific instrument, you must first know how to play the instrument yourself, with skill.

College-Conservatory Music Teacher
Also known as a music instructor, lecturer, or adjunct professor, a college conservatory music teacher, educates students at an institute of higher education in music business studies or in music composition, performance, history, and music theory.

Band Director
Other job titles may include the Associate Band Director or Director of Athletic Bands. Band Directors instruct students in a school’s athletic band, pep band, or marching band by overseeing performances, rehearsals, budget planning, and recruiting.

Musicologists are also known as a Professor of Musicology. They study music in critical, historical, or scientific context and may publish papers, conduct research, and/or teach college-level classes at an institute of higher learning.

Private Instrument Teacher
Also known as a Piano Teacher, Guitar Teacher, Vocal Teacher, or Studio Teacher, music teachers instruct students in theory and performance in a group setting or one-on-one. Some may specialize in just one instrument where others may provide instruction for a range of musical instruments.

District Supervisor of Music
Other titles for a District Supervisor of Music are Music Administrator or Music Supervisor. These professionals coordinate activities, curriculum, and music education while working with other music teachers in a school district to ensure learning goals are met.

Music Librarian
The duties of Music Librarians are similar to that of a traditional Librarian; interact with the public, answer reference questions, organize activities, help catalog, maintain, and digitize collections, provide library use instruction, select books, music, journals, microforms, recordings, and process donations.

Music Teacher Careers Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Music teacher $38,000 $43,000 $52,000
Music therapist $30,000 $42,000 $62,000
High School Teacher $41,000 $49,000 $63,000
Professor $77,000 $102,000 $194,000
Teacher’s Assistant $15,000 $23,000 $36,000
Middle School Teachers $40,000 $48,000 $59,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

After decades of seeing declines, music education in public schools is finally starting to regain popularity in the U.S. A nationwide study conducted in 2003 found that 93% of Americans agreed that school curricula should include music instruction; in fact, 79% believed states should mandate music instruction in public schools as 85% felt that students earn better grades by participating in music education programs.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earnings of the average elementary, middle, and high school teachers and music teachers are on par, which in 2017 ranged from $56,900 to $59,170. The median annual salary of postsecondary music teachers was $78,700 in 2017.

Through 2024, the BLS estimates a 6% teacher employment increase for both elementary and high school teachers and 13% of postsecondary teachers.

Currently, in the U.S., there are roughly 122,500 music teachers and over the next decade, an additional 18,500 more are expected since between 2016 and 2026, the job market for music teachers is expected to grow by 12%. Although job opportunities will vary depending on the location, many areas are expected to see reduced budgets and cutbacks, resulting in fewer jobs for music teachers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Advancing From Here

Aspiring music teachers usually begin their careers with a music internship, perhaps directing a choir, assisting in an orchestra class, or helping out in a music studio. Upon receiving state certification, they can apply for a job as a teacher’s assistant, a substitute teacher, or a full-fledged music teacher.

As with most jobs, after gaining some experience and/or education, music teachers can advance their career to a higher level and receive higher earnings. An advance could mean moving up to a school in a district with a wealthier population, meaning more pay, or taking on an administrative role as a music curriculum specialist, school principal, or a district supervisor of music. However, these roles may be limited and have stiff competition.

With additional education, music teachers can apply to a community college to teach music classes. Another way to move up is by switching from an instructor to assistant professor, then to associate professor, and finally full professor. College faculty members can advance to the dean of their college, chair of a department, or even a university president.

What do elementary music teachers do?

Elementary music teachers teach a more general overview of music. Elementary music teachers focus on singing, reading music, or playing instruments. An elementary school music teacher will focus on making sure the kids are having fun.

What do middle school music teachers do?

Middle school music teachers teach general music as well as as more specific concepts. Middle school music teachers focus on the basics of harmony, rhythm, melody, and tempo.

What do music teachers teach in high school?

Teaching music in high school involves music theory and more complex music topics. High school teachers develop curricula and conduct musical performances and rehearsals.

Where do music teachers work?

Music teachers can work in private schools, public schools, music conservatories, and universities.

What's the difference between a teaching certification and license ?

A teaching license is a verification by a government agency that allows you to perform the job aspects of teaching. A teaching certification is measured by a third-party assessment.

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