Music Teacher Career

Music teachers instruct people on how to sing, play musi­cal instruments, and appreciate and enjoy the world of music. They teach private lessons and classes. They may work at home or in a studio, school, college, or conser­vatory. Many music teachers are also performing musi­cians. Music teachers make up a very small percentage of the more than 2.6 million elementary and secondary school teachers employed in the United States. There are approximately 78,000 college and university music, art, and drama professors in the United States.

Music Teacher Career History

Music has been part of social and religious culture since the dawn of civilization. In music—as well as in poli­tics, philosophy, and science—Western civilization has been influenced by the Greeks. The very word music has Greek roots, although it should be noted that what the Greeks called music included all of what are now called the liberal arts. In the West, music was also strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, in the medieval period (c. a.d. 476-1492), the only places where formal musical education could be found were the Church’s song schools, which trained boys to sing in religious services. The music that those boys sang was called plainsong, plainchant, or Gregorian chant. Dur­ing this era and through the time of the Reformation (c. 1517), music was taught at monasteries and religious schools. Out of these schools grew the first universities that taught students both musica speculative (music theory) and musica practica (applied music). During this time, music education was also introduced in Ger­man and Italian schools.

Music Teacher CareerIn the United States, music education made gradual advances when cultural anchors such as churches and schools were established. In 1833, Lowell Mason, a church music director and bank teller, founded the Boston Acad­emy of Music. He is largely considered to be the first music teacher in an American public school. In 1838, music was accepted as a school subject by the Boston School Com­mittee. In the decades that followed, music became an accepted curricular subject in schools at all grade levels. The Music Teachers National Association, a professional, nonprofit organization of music teachers, was founded in 1876. It was the first professional association of its kind for music teachers in the United States. More than 30 years later, the Music Educators National Conference was founded. Today, its membership includes music teachers, univer­sity faculty and researchers, high school honor society members, and college students preparing to be music teachers. (The associa­tion changed its name in 1998 to MENC: The National Association for Music Education to better reflect its mission.)

In the early 1900s, Dr. Frank Damrosch, the head of music edu­cation for New York City’s public schools, had the idea of establish­ing an American musical acad­emy that would rival the music schools in Europe. In 1905, he formed the Julliard School (then known as the Institute of Musi­cal Art) as the first step toward bringing quality music education to the United States. Music edu­cation at all levels flourished for most of the 20th century. Unfor­tunately, by the 1970s and 1980s, public school districts began to cut music education programs in an effort to save money and create funding for the introduction of computer science and other new classes.

In response to these budget cuts, music educators began to push for the reinstatement of arts-based programs in schools, citing studies that showed that the ben­efits of art and music education for students carried over to other subjects and in everyday life. In 1983, Nation at Risk, a report about the educational deficiencies of U.S. students, was published by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, sparking a renewed interest in and emphasis on educational subjects that included the arts.

In the early 1990s, The Consortium of National Arts Education Associations developed the National Stan­dards for Arts Education, which detailed what a strong education in the arts (music, dance, theater, and the visual arts) should provide. The passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act by Congress acknowledged, according to MENC, that the “arts are a core subject, as important to education as English, mathematics, history, civics and government, geography, science, and foreign language.” Today, music education programs are again growing in popularity at all academic levels.

Music Teacher Job Description

Music teachers help students learn to read music, develop their voices, breathe correctly, and hold and play their instruments properly. As their students master the tech­niques of their art, teachers guide them through more and more difficult pieces of music. Music teachers often organize recitals or concerts that feature their students. These recitals allow family and friends to hear how well the students are progressing and help students get per­forming experience.

Elementary school music teachers teach basic music concepts and simple instruments to students, gradually adding more advanced topics or instrument instruction. They teach introductory lessons in music reading, music appreciation, and vocal and instrumental music. They may organize musical programs for pageants, plays, and other school events.

Secondary school music teachers teach music history, music appreciation, music theory, and other music-related courses to students in group and/or one-on-one lessons. They also teach students how to play percussion, wind, and string instruments. They direct in-school glee clubs, concert choirs, choral groups, marching bands, or orchestras. Since music is usually an elective at the high school level, music teachers often work with students who have some musical knowledge or ability.

College and university music teachers are also fre­quently performers or composers. They divide their time between group and individual instruction and may teach several music subjects, such as music appreciation and music history, arrangement, composition, conducting, theory, and pedagogy (the teaching of music). They use lectures, quizzes and tests, listening exercises in a musical laboratory, and performance before a jury (a group of faculty music teachers) to educate and assess the abilities of their students.

Private music teachers, also known as studio music teachers, may teach children who are just beginning to play or sing, teens who hope to make music their career, or adults who are interested in music lessons for their own enjoyment. They teach these students in a studio, in their homes, or at their students’ homes. Private music teachers who teach music to very young children are sometimes known as early childhood music educators.

In addition to teaching students, music teachers also perform administrative tasks, such as assessing and grad­ing the performance of their students, keeping atten­dance records, ordering supplies, storing and maintaining musical instruments and other classroom materials, and meeting with parents to discuss the performance of their children. They also plan classroom lessons based on local or state requirements and the National Standards for Music Education.

To earn extra income, music teachers may also direct school musicals or community choirs or other musi­cal groups, work in community theater, or perform as musicians or singers. Some music teachers also work as freelance music writers, composers and arrangers, and in other music-related professions.

Music Teacher Career Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a music teacher, you probably are already taking voice lessons or are learning to play an instrument in high school. Participation in music classes, choral groups, bands, and orchestras is also good preparation for a music teaching career.

Postsecondary Training

Like all musicians, music teachers spend years master­ing their instruments or developing their voices. Private teachers need no formal training or licenses, but most have spent years studying with an experienced musician, either in a school or conservatory or through private lessons. Teachers in elementary schools and high schools must have at least a bachelor’s degree in music education as well as a state-issued teaching license. Approximately 600 conservatories, universities, and colleges offer bach­elor’s degrees in music education to qualify students for state certificates. The National Association of Schools of Music offers a directory of accredited music schools at its Web site,

To teach music in colleges and schools of music or in conservatories, you must usually have a graduate degree in music. Many teachers at this level also have doctorate degrees. However, very talented and well-known per­formers or composers are sometimes hired without any formal graduate training, but only a few people reach that level of fame.

Certification or Licensing

The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) offers voluntary certification to music teachers who meet aca­demic, performance, and teaching competencies and pass proficiency examinations in music theory, music history/literature, and/or pedagogy/teaching education. Upon fulfillment of these requirements, the applicant may use the designation nationally certified teacher of music.

Elementary and secondary music teachers who work in public schools must be licensed under regulations established by the state in which they are teaching. If moving, teachers have to comply with any other regula­tions in their new state to be able to teach, though many states have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers to change locations.

Licensure examinations test prospective teachers for competency in basic subjects such as reading, writing, teaching, and other subject matter. In addition, many states are moving toward a performance-based evalua­tion for licensing. In this case, after passing the teaching examination, prospective teachers are given provisional licenses. Only after proving themselves capable in the classroom are they eligible for a full license.

Another growing trend spurred by recent teacher shortages in elementary and high schools is alternative licensure arrangements. Some states are issuing provi­sional licenses to aspiring teachers who have bachelor’s degrees but lack formal education courses and training in the classroom. These workers immediately begin teach­ing under the supervision of a licensed educator for one to two years and take education classes outside of their working hours. Once they have completed the required course work and gained experience in the classroom, they are granted a full license.

Other Requirements

Above all, music teachers must have a broad cultural background and a love for music. They should be pro­ficient with at least one musical instrument or demon­strate strong vocal ability. Many feel that the desire to teach is a calling. This calling is based on a love of learn­ing. Teachers of young children and young adults must respect their students as individuals, with personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of their own. They must also be patient and self-disciplined to manage a large group independently. Because they work with students who are at very impressionable ages, music teachers should serve as good role models. Elementary and secondary teachers should also be well organized, as they have to keep track of the work and progress of many students.

Music Teacher CareerIf you aim to teach at the college level, you should enjoy reading, writing, researching, and performing. Not only will you spend many years studying in school, but your whole career will be based on communicating your thoughts and ideas. People skills are important because you’ll be dealing directly with students, administrators, and other faculty members on a daily basis. You should feel comfortable in a role of authority and possess self-confidence in your teaching and musical abilities.

Exploring Music Teacher Career

To learn more about music and the career of music teacher, sing in your school or church choir or join a band or orchestra. Get as much experience as you can playing, singing, and performing. Read all you can about music theory, music history, famous musicians, and perfor­mance. Talk to your music teachers about what they like and don’t like about teaching music. If you are a college student, you can become a student member of MTNA or MENC: The National Association for Music Educa­tion. As an MTNA collegiate member, you will receive American Music Teacher, a publication that provides useful information for music teachers, and opportuni­ties to participate in performance competitions. Student members of the National Association for Music Education receive Music Educators Journal and Teaching Music, publications that offer articles on trends in music education, teaching approaches and philosophies, lesson plans, and technology as it relates to music education. National Association for Music Education also offers many free and useful resources at its

Web site, Visitors can read free publications, such as Careers in Music, and participate in online open forums, which feature discussions of trends in music education, college training, and almost any other topic associated with music.

To gain general teaching experience, look for leader­ship opportunities that involve working with children. You might find summer work as a counselor in a summer music camp, as a leader of a scout troop, or as an assistant in a public park or community center. To get firsthand teaching experience, volunteer for a peer tutoring pro­gram. Many other teaching opportunities may exist in your community.

If you are interested in becoming a college professor, spend some time on a college campus to get a sense of the environment. Write to colleges for their admissions bro­chures and course catalogs (or check them out online). Read about the music faculty and the courses they teach. Before visiting college campuses, make arrangements to speak to professors who teach music courses that inter­est you. These professors may allow you to sit in on their classes and observe.


There are more than 2.6 million elementary and second­ary school teachers employed in the United States. Music teachers make up a very small percentage of this group. The largest number of teaching positions are available in urban or suburban areas, but career opportunities also exist in small towns. Music teachers are also find­ing opportunities in charter schools, which are smaller, deregulated schools that receive public funding.

There are approximately 78,000 college and university music, art, and drama professors in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the following states have the highest concentrations of college music teachers: District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington, and Minnesota. With a doctorate, a number of publications or notable performances, and a record of good teaching, music professors should find opportunities in universities all across the country.

Starting Out

Elementary and secondary school music teachers can use their college placement offices and state departments of education to find job openings. Many local schools advertise teaching positions in newspapers. Another option is to directly contact the administration of the schools at which you’d like to work. While looking for a full-time position, you can work as a substitute teacher. In more urban areas with many schools, you may be able to find full-time substitute work.

Prospective college professors should start the process of finding a teaching position while in graduate school. You will need to develop a curriculum vitae (a detailed, academic resume), work on your academic writing, assist with research, attend conferences, demonstrate your musical ability, and gain teaching experience and recommendations. Because of the competition for ten­ure-track positions, you may have to work for a few years in temporary positions. Some professional associations maintain lists of teaching opportunities in their areas. They may also make lists of applicants available to col­lege administrators looking to fill an available position. The National Association for Music Education offers job listings at its Web site. Association members can also register as job seekers at the site.


As elementary and secondary music teachers acquire experience or additional education, they earn higher wages and are assigned more responsibilities. Teachers with leadership skills and an interest in administrative work may advance to serve as principals or supervisors, though the number of these positions is limited, and competition for them is fierce. Another move may be into higher education, teaching music classes at a com­munity college or university. For most of these positions, additional education is required. Other common career transitions are into related fields.

At the college level, the normal pattern of advance­ment is from instructor to assistant professor, to associate professor, to full professor. All four academic ranks are concerned primarily with teaching and research. College faculty members who have an interest in and a talent for administration may be advanced to chair of a depart­ment or to dean of their college. A few become college or university presidents or other types of administrators.

Private music teachers advance by establishing repu­tations as excellent teachers, which increases the number of students interested in studying with them.


Music teachers earn a wide range of salaries based on their level of expertise, geographic location, whether they work full- or part-time, and other factors. According to the National Association for Music Education, early childhood music educators earn $6 to $60/hour, while studio music teachers earn $10 to $100/hour. The U.S. Department of Labor reports full-time music teachers at the elementary and secondary levels earned salaries that range from $29,370 to $69,960 annually in 2004.

College professors’ earnings vary depending on their academic department, the size of the school, the type of school (public, private, women’s only, etc.), and the level of position the professor holds. The U.S. Depart­ment of Labor reports that college music, art, and drama teachers earned median annual salaries of $49,740 in 2004. The lowest paid teachers in this group earned less than $28,010, and the highest paid earned $85,230 or more annually. Postsecondary music teachers in New York, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, and Rhode Island earned the highest salaries.

Work Environment

Most elementary and secondary school music teachers are contracted to work 10 months out of the year, with a two-month vacation during the summer. During their summer break, many continue their education to renew or upgrade their teaching licenses and earn higher sala­ries. Teachers in schools that operate year-round work eight-week sessions with one-week breaks in between and a five-week vacation in the winter.

Music teachers work in generally pleasant conditions, although some older schools may have poor heating or electrical systems. The work can seem confining, requiring them to remain in the classroom throughout most of the day. Elementary school teachers have to deal with energetic children all day, which can be tiring and trying.

Elementary and high school hours are generally 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., but music teachers employed in this setting may work more than 40 hours a week teaching, preparing for classes, grading papers or performances, and directing extracurricular activities. They may also be required to teach non-music related classes and supervise study halls and lunches. Similarly, most college music teachers work more than 40 hours each week. Although they may teach only two or three classes a semester, they spend many hours preparing for class, examining student work, and conducting research.

Studio teachers and early childhood music educators usually teach part time, with the remainder of their work hours filled with a second job as a musician or another career. This type of work arrangement allows them con­siderable flexibility in regard to their schedule. Studio teachers who own their own businesses must spend a considerable amount of time handling business matters such as invoicing, billing, and soliciting new customers.

Music Teacher Career Outlook

After decades of program declines, music education is regaining popularity in U.S. schools. A 2003 nationwide Gallup Poll found that 93 percent of Americans believed that musical instrument instruction should be part of school curricula, and 85 percent believed that participat­ing in a school music program corresponds with students earning better grades. In addition, 79 percent of survey respondents believe states should mandate music edu­cation in schools. As a result, career opportunities in teaching music are expected to be good at the elementary and secondary levels. The National Education Associa­tion believes that it will be a challenge to hire enough new elementary and secondary school teachers to meet rising enrollments and replace the large number of retir­ing teachers, primarily because of low teacher salaries. Although music programs are on the rebound in many schools, some public schools facing severe budget prob­lems are still eliminating music programs, making com­petition for jobs at these schools even keener. In addition, private music teachers are facing greater competition from instrumental musicians who increasingly must turn to teaching because of the oversupply of musicians seeking playing jobs.

Though the Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts faster-than-average employment growth for college and university professors through 2014, music teachers will experience strong competition for full-time, tenure-track positions at four-year schools. Music educators who aspire to teach at the college level will enjoy the strongest employment prospects at community colleges.

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