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Do you need a degree to teach music?

High school music teacher giving drum playing lesson

At a glance

  • Becoming a music teacher can be a great option for people with a joint passion for teaching and for the music arts.
  • Some music education careers include high school teachers, private piano instructors or college fine arts professors.
  • If you aspire to work at a school, most public school teachers typically need a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued teaching certification or license. College-level teachers may need a graduate degree.

What might you need to become a music teacher?

If you are passionate about music, one career option that may interest you is to become a music teacher. In addition to sharing your enthusiasm for playing, composing or performing, you experience the rewards of helping others discover a love of music and hone their skills.  

Teaching allows you to help others, but it also makes it possible to spend your entire day working with a subject and “specials” that interest you, whether it’s music, math, history or science. Education is a good way to merge your job with your passion.  

You may be excited about embarking on this rewarding career, but also wondering if a degree or licensing requirements will put this dream out of reach.

The qualifications for a music teacher can vary depending on the location, school level and employer. While you will always need the ability to communicate the nuances of your subject, in some cases skill and knowledge are enough to find employment. However, advanced degrees may be necessary for more formal settings, such as high schools or universities.

Here is a closer look at what it takes to become a teacher who has a passion to go further. 


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What do music teachers do?

Music education is a broad field that includes everything from private piano teachers to high school music instructors to directors of a music program at a major performing arts college. In all these cases, music teachers are expected to have an expert understanding of the subject or instrument they teach. If they teach a specific instrument, the teacher is typically expected to play it themselves at a very high level.  

Even though every music teacher needs to provide basic lesson plans and instruction just like every other teacher, there are significant differences between those who offer private lessons and those who work in schools. 

 

Private music teaching vs. school music teaching

Regardless of whether they give private lessons or work for a school, music teachers need to complete the same basic duties. All teachers need to be able to assess their students’ ability and plan lessons that improve and understanding. They also need a high level of knowledge of their instrument or musical subject to convey information to students.  

Since most music students make incremental improvements, these positions also require an abundance of compassion, patience and the ability to provide encouragement.  

This is where the similarities between different music teaching jobs end, however. Those who work for private music schools or companies providing music lessons, or as music tutors, usually work one-on-one with students or in small groups. The focus is on developing skills in a specific instrument and the lessons focus on playing that instrument.  

Many private teachers choose to work part time or are self-employed, so they typically do not receive employment benefits or work under a contract.

Teaching in a school is different from private teaching. Firstly, school jobs are typically full time and offer employee benefits, and some could have contracts that measure job stability. Though school teachers can sometimes provide one-on-one instruction, they usually teach in a classroom, working with groups of students.

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Elementary vs. secondary education

 

How to become a music teacher

Do you need a degree to teach music?

Though the teaching profession is broad, a specials teacher, such as in music, can be broken down into three distinct categories: elementary and high school (K-12) music teachers, university and college instructors and private music teachers. Becoming a music teacher depends on the requirements of your chosen career path and your skill and experience. However, there are specific steps every teacher needs to follow for this career path.  

  • The first step for many specials teachers is typically to master the chosen specialty, either through formal instruction or informal practice. For example, a music teacher chooses an instrument, genre or style of music. Many music educators have performance experience. This can occur through school bands, orchestras, choirs or recitals or as a professional musician arranging performances independently. Many private instructors could have experience as performers in their chosen genre or as studio musicians (or both). 
  • Teachers need to learn the methods necessary to plan lessons, assess student abilities and teach skills in a way that students understand. As a specials teacher in music, these abilities can be gained by volunteering to provide music lessons or working part time as a tutor. You may even be able to offer lessons for free to friends or neighbors to get started. 
  • The final step for those who want to work at a school or college is to obtain a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification or license.
  • Postsecondary teachers can build on their bachelor’s with a Master of Fine Arts, a Master of Education or a doctorate in their chosen field. 

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How to become a K-12 teacher

What degree do you need to become a music teacher?

The education requirements vary between the three types of music education. And not all music teachers may even need a degree. However, most music teachers who work in a school will need at least a bachelor’s degree, and college-level instructors may need a graduate degree. Once you have earned the required degree, it is typical to apply to your state for a teaching certificate.

Here is a look at the educational requirements for a music teaching job:  

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), K-12 teachers, which includes elementary, middle and high school, typically need a bachelor’s degree in education or their chosen subject of instruction, like math or science. For example, a music teacher might need a bachelor’s in music, music theory or a related subject. A bachelor’s degree is required for public school teachers and a state-issued teaching certification or license, which usually includes additional courses and exams.  
  • Music teachers at colleges and universities typically need an advanced degree in education or their respective field, per BLS. Some community and technical school instructors can find jobs with a master’s degree. However, many professors who work at four-year universities typically need a PhD for employment. 
  • BLS does not provide education requirements for private teachers, but they may not necessarily need a degree, especially if self-employed or if they don’t work for an education provider. They do need to have mastery of the instrument or subject they teach.

University of Phoenix (UOPX) does not teach music or provide a specific aligning degree that leads to a career as a music teacher. However, UOPX’s online education degrees lead to teaching careers in certain states, and starting there can potentially help musicians develop skills to lead a classroom, develop lesson plans and maintain general educational standards in the classroom.

 

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