Music Teachers instruct elementary, junior high, or high school students in performance and music theory. They also lead various performance ensembles at the school, such as the marching band, choir, or orchestra.
How To Become a Music Teacher
Keith Hancock is a GRAMMY Music Educator award-winning Choral Music Teacher at Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. He tells us, “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.”
Music Instructors 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 his or her degree.
They can be found in both primary and secondary schools, where they also lead musical ensembles like the choir, orchestra, concert band, marching band, or jazz band, in addition to conducting music lessons during class time. Usually, there will be a greater diversity of ensemble options at the high school level than at the elementary or junior high level.
Therefore, High School Music Teachers are more likely to work full-time than their counterparts in the lower grades, who may only come in on designated days to teach music.
Many high 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. Generally speaking, Instructors in these roles teach performance skills, improvising, reading music, and sometimes, composing.
On average, Music Teachers earn approximately $51,000 annually. The salary range runs from $31,000 to $88,000.
Music education salaries can vary widely. This difference is based on experience and/or the school district in which he or she works. 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, generally speaking, schools in wealthier communities are able to pay higher salaries.
Everybody knows teaching professionals get the summer off. But what’s a normal day like during the school year? Hancock says, “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.” Trips like these are the exception to the “summer off” rule, with many school music ensembles making regular performance trips during breaks (especially during summer break) to destinations in the US and around the world.
As part of their college coursework, aspiring music education professionals begin their careers via teaching internships. They may also teach within their communities concurrent with their academic pursuits, perhaps as a community Choir Director or Private Instrument Teacher.
Once they have received their state teacher certification, they can apply to positions as a Teaching Assistant, Long-term Substitute, 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.
Obviously, in this situation, advancement would mean landing a full-time teaching gig. For those who are already working full-time, advancement can mean moving to a school with a wealthier population, which would mean a salary bump. Others choose to move into administrative roles such as a District Supervisor of Music or a Music Curriculum Specialist.
As has been mentioned, aspiring Music Instructors need to obtain their Music Education degree in the same state in which they wish to work. This is not only because of varying certification requirements by state but because teaching internships and community teaching gigs can help build a network of colleagues who know of openings in their schools or in neighboring districts.
Fortunately, the path to landing a teaching gig in a school is more straightforward than many music careers. Hancock says, “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.”
Experience & Skills
“Having the ability to teach singing and play the piano is invaluable,” Hancock says. Piano skills are necessary for Instrumental Music Instructors, too, who are required to demonstrate keyboard proficiency in college. Band or Orchestra faculty must also be able to demonstrate mastery of their principal instruments.
“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.” 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.
For more on what it’s like to teach music, check out our blog.
“A Music Teacher needs to be a strong leader and a strong musician,” Hancock says. “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.” As such, it’s also important to be patient and communicative.
Education & Training
“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,” Hancock explains. Therefore, 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 their Music Education Bachelor’s.
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 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
What skills do you need to be a Music Teacher?
The skills you need to be a School Music Teacher include:
- Piano skills
- Band or orchestral instrument performance skills
- Experience teaching singers
- Conducting skills
- Repertoire knowledge
- Communication skills
- People skills
- Curriculum planning
- Goal setting and achievement skills
How long do you have to go to school to teach music?
Most states require Teachers have a bachelor’s degree (at minimum) to teach music in the schools. The usual length of time for this degree is four years.
Is it hard to become a Music Teacher?
Assuming you’re already well-versed in piano and any other chosen instruments, it’s not hard to become a Music Teacher. You’ll need to learn skills like conducting and pedagogical practices, but this will be part of your training at college.
Classroom Music Teachers must have a bachelor’s in Music Education, although many Teachers do have a master’s level degree. Once you’ve obtained your degree, you need to get your Teaching Certification. Your college coursework should prepare you for the certification exam. The certification process varies from state to state, so it makes sense to attend college in the state where you’d like to work as a Teacher.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“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.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“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?
“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 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, CBS.com, 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.