How to Become a Music Instructor

8 minutes • 18 June 2021

Music instructors teach students the life-affirming thrill of playing and listening to music. This instruction ranges from playing a musical instrument to understanding music theory and learning about music history.

Close up of sheet music of a classical song

Music instructors in schools plan lessons and teach classes. They are also often responsible for organizing school concerts and directing the student musicians.

Private music instructors work one-on-one with students. These professionals may offer lessons out of their home, a rented studio space or they can travel to their students’ homes. Private instructors typically teach a specific instrument, such as guitar or piano. The work involves crafting lesson plans customized to the skill level of each student.

Successful music instructors are highly proficient in one or more instruments, have a comprehensive knowledge of music theory and above all, possess a passion for teaching students about the joys of music.

Few moments in a music instructor’s professional life are more rewarding than hearing a student perform flawlessly and with soul-stirring passion. Add to that the opportunity to earn a good living and you may find that a career as a music instructor is the right choice for you. Read on to discover what’s involved in becoming a music instructor.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as a music instructor
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for music instructors
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

A music instructor with 1-4 years of experience earns an average total compensation of $40,111 annually, based on a recent Payscale survey. A mid-career music instructor with 5-9 years of experience earns an average of $43,476 per year. These salaries reflect full-time employed instructors. Private music instructors can set their own rates and within realistic expectations can make as much money as they wish, depending on how much they want to work and their ability to connect with a steady stream of students.

Close up of a music instructor's hands playing a guitar

Training and Certification

There are two main career paths to choose from if you wish to be a music instructor. The first involves teaching in schools. The second involves private tutoring and instruction.

Becoming a music instructor in a school system involves completing a bachelor’s degree in music and/or music education that includes a teacher preparation program. The next step is to complete a teaching internship under supervision, followed by state testing. After that you can apply for your teaching certificate. Earning a master’s degree can expand your employment prospects and potential earnings.

Sometimes musicians who want to teach in a school discover that, although they have a degree in music, they do not have the necessary educational background to work as an instructor. In this instance, you can look into alternative teacher certification, which is a way to earn teaching credentials without going back to college to complete specific courses in education. Here’s a state-by-state guide to alternative teacher certification requirements.

If you prefer to offer private instruction, a good way to enhance your marketing efforts and credibility as a teacher is to pursue tutor certification. The National Tutoring Association, Association for the Coaching and Tutoring Profession, the American Tutoring Association and the College Reading and Learning Association all endorse formal certifications that establish a tutor’s credibility. Along with experience, certification can also lead to a greater salary.

Close up of a music instructor's hands playing a keyboard

Professional Groups to Join

Getting involved with a professional group shows your students and potential employers that you are serious about work as a music instructor. Professional memberships also look great on a resume when you’re job hunting. Benefits range from networking with other pros in your field to ongoing education and training, news about the profession and the sense of comradery that comes with belonging to a group whose members share your passion. Here are two of the most popular professional groups for music instructors:

The Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) is dedicated to advancing the study of music and supporting teachers who educate in the field.

The National Association for Music Education (NAFME) offers lesson plans, programs, and news to music teachers and prospective music teachers.


Besides public and private schools, There are many companies that offer music instruction throughout the United States. Some have a national presence while others may be independent and locally owned.

You’ll want to prepare your resume, both printed copies and a digital version for online distribution. Sending job application materials via email or through the recruitment page of a company’s website is a fast and efficient way to reach many potential employers, compared to hitting the Post Office with a huge stack of thick, manila envelopes stuffed with your printed information. When sending resumes by email, the best way to attach this document and supporting materials is by creating .pdf files of the documents with Adobe Acrobat. These types of files are considered safe to send and are less likely to trigger a spam alert in the recipient’s mailbox. Follow this tip and you’ll have a much better chance that your online correspondence lands in front of a real person, not a spam folder.

Music instructor playing the violin

Also make photocopies of your professional certifications and memberships in music teacher organizations. These extra materials can pull your application to the top of the pile and set you apart from competitors for the same job.

Finding Clients

This section is for music instructors who plan to run their own business, teaching either in small groups or offering private music lessons. Business cards and a basic website should be the core of your marketing toolkit as a professional music instructor. The website can be as fancy as you like, so long as it is attractively designed, with photos of your office and a few images of you teaching students as they practice with their instruments. You’ll need the student’s (or parent’s) permission to use a photo if the student is visibly recognizable. Your business location and contact information should be at the top of every page on your website. Search engines scan this information to match your website geographically with people searching for a music instructor, either for themselves or their children.

Over-the-shoulder image of a music instructor playing the piano

In addition to your business website, the next thing to do is create an Instagram account to showcase your business. Instagram is the top online venue for professionals to promote their work. It’s a free marketing tool that’s always working on your behalf.

Now set up a Facebook page for your services. This is a great way to build a following, offer a few free tips and keep people up-to-date on your offerings.

Be sure to create a Google My Business page, where you can add hours of operation, photos and an interactive map of your location. This helps people in your geographic area find you.

These are free services. Setting up a page on each site should take you less than an hour.

Other strategies for attracting new business:

  • Create a referral program with discounts for people who send new students to you.
  • Ask students to review your services online. According to a recent survey, 90% of people say their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews.

Good to know

As the song goes, “I wish that I knew what I know now – when I was younger.” That fundamental desire can be satisfied today, not tomorrow, by learning from the experiences of others. Here, music instructors share their insights on the profession:

Young musician playing the violin

What is the single best suggestion for someone wanting to pursue a career in music instruction?

Time is precious. Both for you and the student. Never give less than your best effort during a session and don’t waste a minute.

What’s the biggest mistake new music instructors make?

Taking a cookie-cutter approach to teaching. Everyone learns in different ways, at a different rate. If teaching groups of students, build in time for one-on-one attention. If offering private lessons, tailor each session to the evolving skill level of each student.

What should be a part of every lesson?

An upbeat but firm reminder for the student to practice. And practice some more.

What should I tell new students about myself?

Anything you like, within reasonable boundaries, but more specifically, share why you are passionate about music, your performance history and any nuggets of wisdom you’ve acquired on the path to becoming an accomplished musician.

What’s the best thing I can do to ensure my students succeed?

Be enthusiastic. Always. Offer positive evaluations of each lesson, followed by sincere words of encouragement.

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