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What Does a Music Teacher Do (And How Do You Become One)?

Last updated: Dec 15, 2021
Reads: 183,000

Career Overview

Music Teachers instruct elementary, junior high, or high school students in vocal and instrumental performance and music theory. They also lead various performance ensembles at the school, such as the marching band, choir, jazz band, and orchestra.

Alternate Titles

Music Instructor

Avg. Salary

$50,9341

Salary Range

$31K-$88K1

Career Description

Music Teachers, or Music Instructors, teach music to students in public and private schools at the K-12 level. In most states, certification is required to teach in public schools, while private schools may not require state certification for their Music Teachers. Music Teachers may also teach in public schools as Substitute Teachers without being certified.

Whether in public or private schools, Music Teachers are an important part of the education and music ecosystems, as they have the opportunity to mold future musicians and music educators on a daily basis. Many successful musicians speak fondly of their school Music Teachers and Bandleaders, giving them credit for inspiring them to pursue music as a career, establish strong practice habits, and helping them get a start in their career.

Research has shown that students who study music in school get better grades in all their subjects, not just in music. Studies of brain development have also shown that music training helps children grow their abilities to think analytically, helps them to improve emotional intelligence, and increases both left and right brain capabilities and the connections between them. These positive outcomes from music study help kids do better in school and in life.

Dedicated Music Teachers play an important role in the education of children, teaching them crucial academic and life skills, teamwork and collaboration, study habits, persistence, and accountability for their own progress. Music Teachers are also prominent people in society and in their local communities. Music Teachers are influential and important people!

Music Teachers work full-time or part-time in primary and secondary schools, where they also lead musical ensembles like the choir, orchestra, concert band, marching band, or jazz band. There is typically a wider variety of ensembles at the high school level than at the elementary or junior high level.

Many schools have choral, band, and orchestral music faculty on staff. While many of their job duties overlap, the demands will be slightly different based on which type of music they teach. Instructors in these roles teach performance skills, improvising, reading music, music technology, songwriting, and sometimes, composing. They can also teach instrumental or vocal music lessons and music theory during class time.

Music Teachers report to their school Principal and their school district’s Supervisor of Music. Depending on the size and hiring budget of their school, they may also work in the classroom with a Teaching Assistant or Teaching Intern who is on the way to earning their degree. Music Teachers in public schools are often required to continually improve their teaching skills through continuing education and by taking professional development courses.

To learn what it’s like to be Music Teacher, we spoke to these award-winning music educators:

  • Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary, NC)
  • Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High, CA)
  • Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy, GA)

Both Kevin Brawley and Ashley Spatz are Country Music Association Music Teachers of Excellence. Keith Hancock is a GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year. These are just a sampling of the awards they’ve received; scroll down to the Sources section to read each Teacher’s list of honors.

What are the job duties of a Music Teacher?

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

For reference, I am a General Music K-5 Teacher, so I teach music to every K-5 student in my elementary school.

My day to day duties look something like this:

  • I arrive an hour early to school to prep and set out materials/instruments.
  • I have morning duty which, for me, involves greeting the kids while playing my guitar as they come off the bus.
  • I teach my morning classes (K-2).
  • Lunch.
  • I teach my afternoon classes (3-5).
  • I have after-school duty which, for me, involves making sure the kids walk home with the correct parent.
  • I stay about 30 minutes after dismissal cleaning house, going over the lessons I taught, tightening them up, adjusting anything for the next day, and readying the room for the next day.
  • I also lead an after-school 4th and 5th grade elective choir one day a week. This involves planning for concerts, planning rehearsals, connecting with parent volunteers, etc.
Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy (GA))

As a General Music Elementary Teacher, my job duties include teaching six 45 minute classes a day. I teach every student in the school which at my current school is about 500 students a week, but I have taught in other places where I had close to 900 students a week.

I create lessons and assessments for kindergarten through 5th-grade students and communicate with their parents throughout the year. We have two schoolwide performances each year and several smaller performances for special assemblies or PTA meetings. I have breakfast duty in the cafeteria every morning and carpool duty every afternoon. I voluntarily run a steel drum band and chorus that rehearse once a week and have several performances throughout the year.

There are also leadership opportunities. I am the head of the “specials” team which encompasses art, music, P.E., Spanish, and gifted, and I am a Lead Teacher for all of the Elementary Music Teachers in my district. My duties with those roles include planning professional development, writing curriculum, mentoring new Teachers, and participating in advocacy efforts.

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

A typical day involves arriving at 7:45 am and teaching three choir classes, which are 100 minutes each. Between the first two periods, there is a tutorial period where students can come in to get extra help.

In each choir period, I am teaching the students vocal technique, music history, music theory, sight-singing, and the learning of repertoire. I lead each rehearsal from the piano. Between classes and after school, I am answering emails, working individually with students, filling out paperwork, and planning events for the choir.


How many hours a week do Music Teachers work?

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

It varies, but generally, I will be in class an hour early and ½ hour after dismissal. Right off the bat, that equates to 47.5 hours per week. When choir is in session and concert season is approaching, that number can easily be much higher.

I try and leave my work at work so I can focus on my family. My first few years, I brought home a ton of work and was ALWAYS working on lesson plans. I realized very quickly that was unsustainable, so I have made a very concerted effort to leave work at work.

Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy (GA))

Teachers are salaried employees, which means you work until the job is adequately done. This can become a tricky issue with work/life balance as most Music Teachers are extremely passionate about their career and will pour everything into their job. During the day expect to work 40 hours a week, and then it is up to you how much more of your outside time you want to devote to your job. How many concerts do you want to plan? How many extra rehearsals? How much time and effort do you want to put into lesson prep and planning?

It can be a very delicate balance to excel at your job, but still leave time and energy for your home life. Typically, High School Band Teachers require the most after-hours commitments because of marching band, but music teachers at all levels can spend many hours working outside of the classroom and actual school day.

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

Most of my days I am teaching from 7:45 am to 2:45 pm, and I work after school until about 4 pm. I try not to bring work home with me but sometimes I answer emails and do some work at home.

There are some outside rehearsals and performances that require me to spend extra time on a few nights throughout the year. I also take my groups on trips overnight, and these can last up to ten days.

Salary

Pay for Music Teachers depends on many factors and varies widely by region, state, city, and school district. The pay level for Teachers also varies by experience, time in the role, and whether they are working full- or part-time.

On average, Music Teachers earn approximately $51,000 annually. The salary range runs from $31,000 to $88,000. Certified Teachers who are newer to the field will earn on the lower end of the spectrum; their salary increases as their time on the job does. In public schools, the districts are funded by property taxes, so schools in wealthier communities can pay higher salaries.

Many Music Teachers supplement their income by teaching privately outside of their school responsibilities. They may work in a private studio, a music store, or teach out of their home. Some Teachers also pursue part-time careers as performers, playing at weddings, bar mitzvahs, parties, nightclubs, and industry events.

Career Outlook

For the Music Teacher who is well-prepared, there are always opportunities available. Although we hear stories about budgets being slashed for music at schools around the country, this isn’t the case everywhere. Most school boards, School Administrators, Teachers, and parents understand the importance of having music in the schools. This means there’s a steady demand, and so it’s still possible to find rewarding work as a school Music Teacher.

The pathway to landing a teaching job in a school is in fact more straightforward than for many music careers. With the right educational background, work experience (including internships or student teaching), and connections to the community, Teachers looking for work should be able to readily find available teaching opportunities.

Distance learning via the internet has become more common, too. Teaching private lessons and ensembles over the web isn’t always easy, but there are other subjects that lend themselves well to remote learning, such as music theory. Online music teaching and learning was already becoming more prevalent before the Covid-19 Pandemic and is here to stay. This means Music Teachers can expand their reach and impact by teaching online.

One way to stay on top of developments surrounding teaching music is to join music education associations and attend music educator conferences, such as the National Association of Music Educators (NAME), the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), or others. (See additional resources below.)

Some of the national associations also have very active state chapters. Joining, attending conferences, and getting active in these organizations offers opportunities for networking and professional development, and will give a very good idea of the prospects for teaching music, and what a career as a Music Teacher offers.

Is it hard to get work as a Music Teacher?

Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy (GA))

Yes and no. Jobs are out there, but you may not be able to find your dream job right off the bat. Maybe you are extremely motivated to work as a Middle School Choral Director in a particular city, but you may have to settle for teaching high school general music the next town over. This is why Music Teachers are certified to teach so many subjects.

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

Unfortunately, it seems the answer would be no. I have seen way too many unqualified or unmotivated Music Teachers to believe otherwise. In NC, our programs are deemed essential, and therefore funded fully. Obviously, some programs have more administrative or community support than others, but I believe you make your own luck. I have a well-funded and very well-supported program because of the effort I have put in, which leads to the results I have gotten.

Outside of school, there will always be a market for private lessons if one were to go that route.

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

After developing their musical education through schooling, they would need to find out what jobs are available through online postings and word-of-mouth. Applications need to be filled out and interviews need to be obtained.

  • Develop your content knowledge as much as possible.
  • Develop voice, piano, and conducting skills.
  • Develop confidence in your ability to concisely convey verbal information.
  • Talk to experienced Teachers to find out the best teaching strategies for a variety of situations and creative repertoire planning.

Career Path

To become state certified as a Music Teacher, it’s a requirement to study and graduate from a music education degree program. Fulfilling the requirements for the degree, including practice teaching under observation by a Music Teacher, is a requirement for taking the state certification exam. Passing the exam is a requirement to earn the degree.

As part of their college coursework, aspiring music education professionals begin their after-college working careers via teaching internships, sometimes called a practicum, or practice teaching. Interns completing this requirement will be observed, critiqued, and coached by an established Music Teacher.

Once they have received their state Teacher certification, they can apply to positions as a Teaching Assistant, Substitute Teacher, or a part-time or full-time Music Teacher. Assistant, substitute, and part-time teaching roles are good preparation for a full-time career role, especially if these openings are difficult to find in the immediate area.

Aspiring Music Teachers may also teach within their communities concurrent with their academic pursuits, perhaps as a community Choir Director or Private Instrument Teacher. For music education majors who are still in school, teaching internships and community teaching gigs can help build a network of colleagues who know of openings in their schools or in neighboring districts.

Music teaching is a competitive field, so Music Teachers need excellent job search skills. They should learn how to communicate well; this includes tasks such as writing cover letters and speaking in front of groups, which often happens as part of the job interview process. These skills are important in helping the Teacher advance in their career.

Most experienced Music Teachers end up teaching full-time in the district of their choice, but that doesn’t mean they started there. They might have taught in neighboring districts or been a part-time teacher, or a substitute, for many years prior to landing their dream role.

Experience & Skills

First and foremost, Music Teachers must have superior musical skills. This includes being accomplished on at least one instrument, sometimes more. Knowledge and understanding of how all the instruments work and being able to teach basic performance skills on those instruments are also important and useful skills.

Piano accompaniment ability is also required for teaching instrumental studies, voice lessons, band, or choir. Piano skills are also helpful for teaching music theory, and aspiring Instructors are required to demonstrate keyboard proficiency in college. Band Directors or Orchestra Directors must be able to demonstrate mastery of their principal instruments. Knowing how to conduct a band or orchestra is also an important skill.

Music Teachers must be skilled performers and patient, inspiring Instructors. People skills and the ability to work with kids, teens, and young adults are, of course, paramount. Many of these skills can be learned during the teaching internship that’s required of music education majors.

What skills does a Music Teacher need?

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

Having the ability to teach singing and play the piano is invaluable. Other skills that aid in the process are repertoire selection, conducting skills, and interpersonal skills. The ability to lead a team, articulate goals, and do curriculum planning is a big benefit.

A Music Teacher needs to be a strong leader and a strong musician. They need to be able to relate to students and clearly articulate goals and know how to meet them. They should be organized and hard-working, and they need to be able to work with adults and children alike.

Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy (GA))

You need to have top-notch problem-solving skills and people skills in addition to your musical and pedagogical knowledge. Teachers collaborate with all different sorts of people on a daily basis who come from varied backgrounds and may have a different set of values than your own. To really thrive at this job, you have to be willing and prepared to problem solve and work with students, their parents, other Teachers, and Administrators.

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

I feel like a Music Teacher needs the same skills every other classroom Teacher does, and then they need a strong musical understanding on top of that! A good Teacher (regardless of subject) will be patient, flexible, pragmatic, unpredictable, genuinely excited about their subject material, and able to meet the kids on their own level.

I am convinced that my non-traditional musical background (never classically trained until college, never performed with a choir until college, toured the country in a van after high school with my band, releasing numerous independent records, touring, recording, composing, etc.) has set me up for success in a very unique way, and that translates into the unique teaching style I have developed.

Education & Training

College, conservatory, and university music education degree programs are designed to prepare their graduates to get certified and teach. Since the certification process is at the state level, it makes sense to attend school in the state where you intend to teach.

For example, colleges in California will be geared towards meeting California’s state teaching requirements, while a college in Kentucky may have differing requirements. Additionally, not all schools require the same level of academic credentials. Some may prefer candidates with master’s degrees in addition to their bachelor’s in music education.

In college, students will study all the core subjects required for a music degree, such as music theory, arranging, solfege (or ear training), music technology, music history, labs and ensembles, and private study on their principal instrument. They will take music education courses for their major concentrate, where they learn classroom management skills, teaching skills (pedagogy), lesson planning, conducting, and basic skills on a variety of instruments ranging from piano and strings to percussion, brass, and woodwind instruments. They will analyze teaching materials and methods and develop a teaching portfolio.

Music education degree candidates also take courses in liberal arts, to become broadly educated. They might take electives in songwriting, guitar, composition, or other areas of interest. In college, music education majors will have plenty of opportunities to play in bands or ensembles, write music for live performers, and practice their music directing and conducting skills.

Practice teaching as an intern is a super-important part of a Music Teacher’s training. Learning by doing while being observed by a master Teacher, and receiving feedback and coaching gives the Student-Teacher the opportunity to apply all the methods and teaching techniques they’ve been learning in the real-world classroom.

Music educators are some of the most passionate people around. They love what they do and receive immense satisfaction from seeing their students grow musically and academically. They are valued and respected members of the community who’ve been entrusted with the future of music for young people and for everyone.

What does it take to be a Music Teacher?

Ashleigh Spatz (Music Specialist, Burgess-Peterson Academy (GA))

Most states require a K-12 music certification which certifies that you can teach band, orchestra, chorus, and/or general music from kindergarten to 12th grade. This requires taking a certification test for your state and then participating in professional learning throughout your career to keep your certification valid and renewed.

Employers prefer that you have a four-year degree in music as well. Some schools will hire you on a provisional basis as you work towards earning these educational qualifications.

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

A classroom Music Teacher needs to get, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Teaching Certification/Credential in Music. This process varies with each state’s requirements.

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

In NC, a Teacher needs to be licensed for their content area and have an associated college degree. I have a BM in Music Education with a concentration in Voice from UNC-Charlotte. My licensure applies to any K-12 music position I would apply for, but I have only ever been interested in teaching elementary
students.

Additional Resources

There are a huge variety of professional organizations and associations dedicated to teaching music, many of which have collegiate chapters so students can get immersed in the world of music education early. “I just know the vocal side,” Hancock says, “but definitely the American Choral Directors Association and the NAFME (fka MENC). That is crucial to getting professional development.”

Other groups which may provide valuable educational, networking and community resources include the Music Teachers National Association, the College Music Society, National Association of Teachers of Singing, American String Teachers Association, International Association for Jazz Education, and International Society for Music Education.

FAQ

What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

“You are responsible for everything that happens in your classroom. Don’t play the blame game. It’s no one‘s fault but yours when there are music or behavior problems. Figure out the solutions.”

Is there anything else you think aspiring Music Teachers should know?

Kevin Brawley (General Music Teacher, Torrence Creek Elementary (NC))

When I began my teaching career, I was hyper-focused on lesson planning, teaching techniques, and long-range curriculum choices. This was a necessary and important first phase of building my program, as it set the expectation for excellence immediately.

Once that foundation had been built, I began to see much better results when I focused on the personal relationships with my students. My kids would lay in traffic for me because they know I would do the same for them. This kind of relationship is not earned without an honest and loving effort on both of our parts. I would hope that any aspiring Music Teacher can find a way to set high expectations for their students, teach them applicable musical skills, and show them that music is not some secret beast living off high in the hills… it is something their students can understand, enjoy, and participate in fully!

All of this can be done under the umbrella of love and caring relationships. The best thing a student could ever say about me would have nothing to do with the musical skills I taught them, it would be that they felt loved by me and that they understood how much I believed in them back then, and that I still believe in them now.

What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

“Most beginning Teachers do not develop themselves professionally to get themselves ready as a Conductor and as a Voice Teacher.”

What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

“How do you foster a social environment in your class?

We do monthly social activities, a summer retreat, and have a mentorship program to build the team/family feel of the program.”

If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?

Keith Hancock (Choral Music Teacher, Tesoro High School (CA))

“Passion.”

Music Teacher Kevin Brawley
Kevin Brawley

Kevin Brawley is an Educator, Children’s Choir Director, Public Speaker, and Professional Development Specialist from Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been a Public School Teacher for nine years in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at Torrence Creek Elementary, and a private Guitar Teacher for nine years prior to that.

As a Teacher, Kevin believes in every child’s ability to learn regardless of circumstance or background. He prides himself on having an inclusive and positive learning environment for all of his students–especially those with disabilities. His energetic and unorthodox teaching style is focused on student engagement, a willingness to search for unexpected teaching moments, and honest personal relationships with each of his students, which make the rigorous concepts he teaches easy for them to get excited about.

As a speaker, Kevin has an energetic and uplifting presence and burns to see a revival in education. He is passionate about removing the limitations of what people believe is possible in a classroom. Where others may see obstacles, Kevin sees opportunity for innovation and an infusion of new ideas. He has spoken around the country about teaching students with autism and has been chosen to address the entire staff of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at their back-to-school learning symposium. He has also spoken at business events and to undergraduate music education students at UNC-Charlotte.

In 2015, Kevin began planning to outfit his school with a professional-level recording studio. After being named one of only 30 National Music Teachers of Excellence by Nashville’s CMA Foundation in 2019, and with grants awarded locally by the CMS Foundation and other private donors–his dream became a reality in the spring of 2020. Kevin has received numerous awards and recognition for his work, including being named the UNC-Charlotte Young Alumni of the Year in 2019, and the UNC-Charlotte COAA Outstanding Alumni of the Year in 2020.

Currently, Kevin is writing his first book, The Sober Teacher, and is working to create an online home school music program to help parents give their students the same level of musical instruction and possibility available in his classroom.

keith-hancock
Keith Hancock

Keith Hancock is the Choral Music Teacher at Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, where he has taught for about a decade and a half. In 2017, Hancock won the GRAMMY Music Educator of the Year award.

He has been profiled in the The Orange County Register, Grammy.com, GrammyInTheSchools.com, CBS This Morning, Smart Music, Broadway World, UPI, FX Tribune, Orange County Department of Education Newsroom, Billboard, National Federation of State High School Associations, Irvine City News, PBS, GospelMusic.org, Bangor Daily News, LA Times, Daily News, U Discover Music, Downbeat, and Variety.

You can also watch Keith Hancock interviewed live backstage at the 59th GRAMMYs and check out a congratulatory video from the National Education Association.

Hancock’s choirs have been invited to perform at the American Choral Directors Association’s Western Division conference twice. They have also performed in Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, Ireland and Carnegie Hall in New York. His Madrigals group has journeyed to France, Germany, and Luxembourg.

He has taken three barbershop quartets to the championships in the Barbershop Harmony Society’s Youth Barbershop Quartet contest. Hancock is a Chapman University alum and a member of NAfME.

Music Teacher Ashleigh Spatz
Ashleigh Spatz

Ashleigh Spatz has teaching in her bloodline. She was born into a family of Teachers who instilled in her a love of lifelong learning and a passion for using her talents to create positive change in society. Ms. Spatz started her career in Fulton County Schools where she honed her skills as a General Music Teacher and learned from the best. She now works for Atlanta Public Schools and has found her home at Burgess-Peterson Academy. She excels at creating a positive and challenging environment for her students who feel encouraged to take risks and let their talents shine.

Ms. Spatz has received several statewide and national awards including the Give-A-Note Music Innovator Award in 2020, the CMA Music Teacher of Excellence Award in 2019, and the Teach On Project Award in 2019. She has worked for the Georgia Department of Education to write curriculum and music education standards for the state. She has a passion for mentoring new Teachers and is not only a proud Teacher but also a proud mom to her four children, a fur baby, and 18 chickens.

  1. 1Multiple. "Music Teacher Salaries in United States". Glassdoor. published: Dec 11, 2019. retrieved on: Dec 17, 2019
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