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How to Become a Music Teacher

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The path to a career as a music teacher varies depending on your goals. Some teachers simply wish to teach neighborhood children the basics of piano or violin; others dream of choreographing a university’s marching band in a national competition. Regardless of your objective, you need as much experience playing and teaching music as possible. Participate in local bands, form a string quartet, offer free concerts and work as a professional musician. Gain the formal education needed to teach at your desired level, and make sure you’re cut out to teach others.

Assess Your Skills

Not every great musician is a great teacher. In addition to musical knowledge, you need the right personality for the job. Patience is a must when working with children or beginning musicians. The ability to work collaboratively is crucial when directing a band or orchestra. You should be enthusiastic to get kids motivated to perform at their highest ability. Good communication skills are important for music teachers, and organization skills are especially needed when working with large groups. Music teachers must be flexible and willing to try different methods with individual students.

Teach at an Elementary School

Educational requirements vary for elementary school teachers, depending on your school district’s needs and budget. Some school districts hire music teachers who lack formal education but have extensive private teaching experience. Music teachers may rotate to several schools during the week, teaching students everything from basic rhythm and singing to introduction of orchestra and band instruments. Other districts look for educators with bachelor’s degrees to teach music as a supplement to classroom instruction.

Teach at a Secondary School

To teach music at a high school, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. High schools with robust music departments may require a degree in music education with a strong background in music performance and teaching. Marching bands participate in competitions, which requires familiarity with field formation. Orchestras and chamber groups often perform at public venues during holidays or special events, and require conducting skills. Some schools hire teachers with degrees in other subjects, such as math or history, then pay an additional stipend for after-school music instruction.

Teach at a College or University

Pursue a Ph.D. to teach music at the college or university level. Degree program requirements vary. For instance, Michigan State University requires a master’s degree thesis, three years of music teaching experience and an admission essay to be considered for the music education doctor of philosophy degree program. Students spend three years studying and teach undergraduate students to gain experience. Tenured music professors may teach music theory, or direct college-level musicians in school bands, orchestras and other performing groups.

Teach in a Private Studio

Anyone with musical knowledge may teach in a private studio, but if you have a music degree and several years of experience as first chair in your city’s orchestra, you may be able to command higher tuition than a teacher without formal education and performance experience. Stay abreast of the latest research and materials for teaching music. Some music teachers simply set up a studio in their homes; others rent studio space for a more professional atmosphere. Find students by networking and marketing at music events. Join local community music groups, ask for referrals from local schools and create a website or blog.

2016 Salary Information for High School Teachers

High school teachers earned a median annual salary of $58,030 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, high school teachers earned a 25th percentile salary of $46,110, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $74,160, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,018,700 people were employed in the U.S. as high school teachers.


About the Author

Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.

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