How to Become a Music Teacher

If you cannot teach me to fly, teach me to sing. J.M. Barrie
Children playing instruments in music class

A certified music teacher is often the favorite teacher of many students. Music teachers usually teach choir, band, orchestra or a combination of all.

A music teacher is responsible for sharing music and musical knowledge with his or her students. In lower grades, this may simply mean singing on key, keeping tempo and learning new songs, but older grades may mean teaching range, how to play an instrument, or helping prepare for college-level musical pieces. A music teacher will also be responsible for the same duties as regular education teachers. These teachers will be expected to keep grades, meet with parents, share progress notes, and perform lunch, bus, and/or hallway monitoring.

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Qualities of a Music Teacher

A music teacher needs to be upbeat, musically inclined, and willing to sing all day and every day. Normally, music teachers should be able to play basic instruments and read music. A music teacher must also be someone who can handle a great deal of noise from children, instruments, and singing each and every day. A music teacher is strong in organizing a large number of children in order to teach harmonies, songs and often programs for an entire school. A music teacher must be willing to explore a wide range of music with students of all ages.

Music Teaching Job Growth

Music teacher job outlooks are positive in that they are on target with teaching jobs in general, which is about 4% growth from 2019 to 2029 for elementary, middle and high school teachers, according to 2019 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A music teacher may advance to teaching music education at the college level or return to school to take leadership classes to become a school principal if advancement is desired.

What are the Requirements for Teaching Music?

Education Requirements for Music Teachers

Those who wish to become a music teacher must go through an educator preparation program and receive a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, as well as participate in a student teaching practicum. The college must be accredited by the Council of Accreditation for Educators Preparation.

A music teacher will be required to take basic educational classes on classroom management and childhood development, but will also be required to take music classes, such as choral conducting, musical theory and music in early childhood.

These future teachers will also need to take the state exams necessary to teach at the level in which they desire. Most accredited colleges and universities offer dual programs in which you earn a degree and a teaching certificate simultaneously.

Tests to Pass for Teaching Music

A certified music teacher will need to pass several exams. A basic skills test will be required, which is a proficiency test in reading, writing and mathematics. The test must be taken and passed based on state standards. In addition, a certified music teacher must pass proficiency exams in their specific subject areas before being granted a teaching certificate.

Alternative Certifications for Music Teachers

Without certification, a teacher will most likely not be able to teach in a public school. However, some states or specific schools may offer music teachers a job with the condition that certification is gained within a set time period or through alternate certification means. Some states may offer alternative certification for individuals with industry-specific experience or skills. However, this route may not necessarily lead to full licensure. This can vary between and within states, so the best way to find out is through a phone call to your local department of education. Each state has different requirements for becoming a teacher, so check them out.

Find Information About Becoming a Teacher In Your State

Each state has different requirements for becoming a certified teacher. To find out specific requirements, click on your state.

Who Will My Students Be?

The experience and age of students in a music class can vary greatly. A band teacher will have students who wish to play particular instruments as a group, a choir teacher will have students who wish to sing in various programs and a general music teacher could have all students within a school and at every grade level.

Teaching Music in Elementary School

Those teaching elementary school will usually have every student in the school ranging from preschool to fifth grade. Music teachers at the elementary level will be responsible to delivering developmentally appropriate lessons to a wide range of students. For example, a music teacher may teach simple rhythm and tempo counting to a kindergarten class while teaching older students how to read music. Depending on the school's music program, the teacher may be required to teach chorus (vocal class) and instrumentation classes.

Teaching Music in Middle School

Music teachers at the middle school level are likely to teach at least one general music class, but also teach a choir or band class at the same school, depending on the school's needs. During the middle school years, music teachers will likely be required to introduce music theory. Orchestra and band teachers will often be required to teach a large group of students how play their individual instruments and read the applicable notations. Depending on budgeting, many middle school's have separate orchestra, band and choir teachers. Many students receive their first music lessons during the middle school years.

Teaching Music in High School

High school music teachers are much more likely to be specialized to choir, marching band or orchestra. Generally, students who participate in music at the high school level have already had some sort of musical experience prior to entering. With that said, many high school students already come in knowing how to read music and play an instrument. High school music teachers may be able to take their song selections to a more challenging level in regard to notation and time signatures. Some high schools may also offer general music classes for students.

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What Does a Music Teacher Do?

In the Music Classroom

Music classes are usually filled with instruments, music stands and chairs, and the classrooms typically are bright with the goal of inspiring those who enter. Music classes are taught in regular classrooms in smaller schools, but may be taught in larger rooms or auditoriums in larger schools. Music classrooms are most often stocked with a piano or keyboard and CD or tape players.

Music Curriculum

The music curriculum is chosen by the state, but standards are not as in-depth as core classes. Depending on the grade level, a developmentally appropriate level of music theory will be taught. Music theory details the methods and concepts that are used by composers and musicians in creating music.

Music Teacher Jobs & Job Description

Like most of the arts in schools, music teachers work to quantify what makes music education and appreciation important to students of all ages. In addition to adding joy to the human and academic experience, music education is essential to students' growth and development as learners and citizens of the world. The role of a music teacher does change between elementary and secondary classrooms; read on to learn more about what music teachers do in each.

Elementary Music Teacher

Much more than singing, elementary music teachers provide an integral skill to students from kindergarten to grade 8. Students develop an understanding of music and teachers build on their capabilities to create and perform it. For many students, elementary music class is their first experience with the arts. Music teachers will:

  • Engage students to think critically about music and music appreciation
  • Provide opportunities to explore the various elements of music
  • Model how to explore various instruments and modalities of playing
  • Teach students foundations of rhythm and meter and how they can affect playing
  • Model how to brainstorm solutions to musical problems and ideas about music creation and music experience
  • Give students a framework to discuss music and its impact as well as the freedom to experiment musically
  • Help students understand the fundamentals of pitch, duration, timbre, texture and form
  • Identify a variety of musical styles and pieces, attach meaning and analysis to each
  • Apply the creative process to music creation and performance
  • Identify genres of musical expression like blues, opera, country, etc.
  • Explain musical significance at various times throughout history

High School Music Teacher

Many high school music teachers are students' experience with deepening the scope of musical appreciation and practice through the improvement of skills and creative exercises. High school music teachers:

  • Help students perform individually and in small groups
  • Help students refine and broaden instrument knowledge and practice
  • Help students use the process of critical analysis to deepen music understanding
  • Teach students the symbols, concepts and musical conventions
  • Engage in creative process when composing music via notation or instrumentation
  • Help students understand how performing and creating music affects their musical skills and abilities
  • Identify various opportunities for how to remain an active musician
  • Empower students to research musicians and musical styles and then analyze what effect this had on their personal style or ability
  • Identify and explain the relationship between music and society
  • Describe how music has influenced American culture and how culture has influenced music
  • Empower students to explore all different type of musical groupings and to participate in as many as possible
  • Teach students the origins and development of some types of music

Certified music teachers have many career options - read on to discover more information about this field.

Where Can a Certified Music Teacher Teach?

A certified music teacher can teach at any public, private, or charter school in which they are hired.

Public Schools

Those that choose to be employed at a public school are more likely to have a highly diverse student population. The state will decide on a curriculum, but standards are often general and can be interpreted by the teacher to a large degree.

Private Schools

Private schools are likely to have less diversity and higher standards for all teachers. Private schools may offer specific music lessons for students as the school is funded through parent paid tuition. Private schools choose their own curriculum and could require you to be affiliated with a specific religion or group to gain a teaching position.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are free to attend, but are usually not run by the state. A charter school can choose a specific curriculum and may be based on a music-centric curriculum in some cases. The music teacher will have to make the personal decision of what school works best to meet their teaching hopes and desires.

Music Teacher Organizations & Associations

MTNA - Music Teachers National Association: MTNA advances the value of music study and music making to society and to support the professionalism of music teachers.

NAfME - National Association for Music Education: NAfME ensures student access to a comprehensive and high-quality program of music instruction taught by qualified teachers.

NATS - National Association of Teachers of Singing: NATS is the largest professional association of teachers of singing in the world with members in the United States, Canada and 35 other countries.

AOSA - American Orff-Schulwerk Association: AOSA is a professional organization of educators dedicated to the creative music and movement approach developed by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman.

ISME - International Society for Music Education: ISME promotes musical education for people of all ages throughout the world.

NAMM - National Association of Music Merchants: The foundation advances participation in the creation of music by supporting scientific research, philanthropic giving and public service programs.

OAKE - Organization of American Kodály Society: The organization works to support music education of the highest quality, promote universal music literacy and lifelong music making, and preserve the musical heritage of the people of the U.S.

APME - Association of Popular Music Education: The APME promotes and advances popular music at all levels of education in the classroom and beyond.

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What is the Salary of a Music Teacher?

Certified music teachers can find employment in schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. Most commonly, certified music teachers are found in middle schools and high schools. Salaries for private school teachers may be as much as $10,000 lower than their public school counterparts. Teachers with a Bachelor of Arts in Instrumental Music may have an easier time finding employment as a secondary music teacher and thus earn more money. On average, the more experience a teacher has, the greater their salary.

Elementary Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $43,950
Annual median salary: $61,400
Experienced (90th percentile): $99,420

Middle School Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $45,510
Annual median salary: $61,320
Experienced (90th percentile): $99,470

High School Teachers:

Entry-level (10th percentile): $46,090
Annual median salary: $61,820
Experienced (90th percentile): $100,310

Read more on teacher salaries and all the other benefits associated with it.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Elementary, Middle School, and High School teachers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed March 2023.