Professional pianists accompany symphonies and orchestras, play the piano music for theater productions and church services, and provide background music for special events and locations. Finding work as a pianist is very competitive, and staff positions are rare. Many pianists hire themselves out as freelance piano players for events and parties.
Education and Training
Professional pianists must have extensive musical training and experience in a variety of musical styles. Private formal instruction is often the basis of a pianist's education. Many aspiring pianists pursue college-level coursework in music theory, composition and performance. Although a four-year degree can be beneficial, it is not a requirement to play piano professionally. The National Association of Schools of Music includes more than 600 accredited college-level music programs.
A professional pianist should be able to read, write and edit musical notation quickly and correctly. Pianists generally have extensive knowledge or interest in nearly every type of musical arrangement. This broadens a pianist's employment opportunities. Pianists who perform live or in musical ensembles should have a certain amount of physical endurance to get through rehearsals and performances, which can last for several hours.
Because employment as a professional pianist is extremely competitive, many pianists rely on contract or freelance work. They may need to travel long distances on a regular basis to reach performances. Pianists often go without consistent work for extended periods of time unless they are offered positions as musicians for TV, film, traveling orchestras or traveling theater productions.
Pay for a pianist varies greatly from job to job. Very few pianists hold salaried positions. According to the PayScale website, pianists earned average wages of $21 to $49 per hour in May 2010.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job prospects for music-related workers to grow 8 percent through the year 2018, about the same rate as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs will remain high, and most new salaried positions for musicians will be available through religious organizations, the bureau reports.