Liberal Arts

Want to Become a Music Teacher? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Want to Become a Music Teacher? Here’s What You Need to Know.
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Allie Lembo profile
Allie Lembo March 11, 2019

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So you want to be a music teacher. Perhaps Jack Black rallying private school kids to form a rock band in the 2003 film School of Rock inspired you, or maybe you’re a performer looking for a steady day job with nights free. If you’re a skilled musician looking to inspire youth with your passion , getting a master’s degree in music education will, as Jack Black sings, “test your head, and your mind, and your brain too.”

But, beyond testing your head, mind, and brain, a master’s in music education (MAT) also prepares you to teach music in elementary, middle, and high schools. While most jobs teaching music education to the K-12 set don’t require a master’s degree, landing a job as a music teacher can be tough. A master’s degree will give you an edge in this competitive field.

Depending on your undergraduate background—which might be in performance, education, or music education—there are different paths to take toward your master’s degree. And if you want to work in a public rather than a private school, your master’s program can help you meet state licensure requirements.

If your fondest childhood memories relate back to high school band or choir practice, a master’s in music education might help you reach your dream job. Here are some things to consider before enrolling in a program.

How strong of a music background do I need?
To enroll in a master’s in music education program, you need to have undergraduate credits in music and music theory, and a mastery of at least one instrument. Some programs will also require you to be proficient in piano, because in most general music classrooms, a piano is the one instrument you are guaranteed to find.

Can I still pursue my music dreams on the side?
Sure! You can still hustle nights and weekends, and many musicians take advantage of summers off and over winter and spring breaks to take on extra jobs and gigs—but no matter what you do on your own time, you must be passionate about teaching.

Working as a music teacher takes patience, enthusiasm, a sense of humor, and resourcefulness. The job can be fulfilling, but it can also be emotionally draining. Teaching in general doesn’t end when the school day is over, and there are even more requirements for music teachers—like running rehearsals and concerts, grading assignments, attending parent-teacher conferences, and dealing with the wild energy and emotions of children and teenagers.

What salary will I make as a music teacher?
Teaching salaries vary from state-to-state, so you will want to research your local district to see how K-12 teachers are compensated. According to an aggregation of contributors at Glassdoor, the national average salary for a music teacher is $46,744 per year.

Leading orchestras or marching bands that rehearse and perform outside of traditional school hours is one way to earn extra income as a music teacher. Depending on your state and district, you might also receive a yearly pay increase based on your number of years in service.

Excluding the nation’s most elite private schools, public schools tend to pay more than private. Most schools will offer full health benefits with vision and dental as well as a pension plan that will begin collecting money as soon as you start teaching.

What will I learn with a master’s in music education?
All music education master’s programs offer classes in musicianship, pedagogy, technology, theory, and music history. You’ll take classes in your main instrument, and you’ll gain experience working with strings, keys, woodwinds, brass, and more obscure instruments, too.

Teaching methods differ based on the type of program you are enrolled in. Some master’s programs will grant you a K-12 certification, while others focus exclusively on elementary or secondary education.

Many programs will also have a senior project or performance and/or a student teaching component.

Do I need a certification to become a music teacher?
If you have an undergraduate degree in music education, you can apply for a job as a music teacher and pursue your master’s while teaching. If you don’t have an undergrad in education, you may want to look for a program that will grant you your teaching license.

Again, some programs will grant a certification to teach K-12, while others will ask you to choose between elementary, middle, and high school education. This will vary based on school, program, and state requirements.

You will also need to pursue specific certifications for the state in which you want to teach. In order to avoid going through the process of applying for a new license or certification after earning your master’s, you may want to decide where you’d like to end up first, before applying to master’s programs. That way, you can plan to earn your degree and certification in the state in which you will ultimately work.

How to apply to a master’s in music education program
To apply for your master’s, you generally need to submit two letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a personal essay. For the essay, you may be asked to describe why you decided to become a music teacher in the first place. Did your high school pit conductor inspire you with her passion? Did your gig teaching private bass lessons overtake your non-music day job? Don’t forget to mention why the specific program to which you’re applying is the right fit for you. Whether it’s a focus on early childhood education, like in this program at Columbia University’s Teachers College or the convenience and affordability of an online-only program, like this one at UNC Greensboro, it’s important to specify how a specific program will you achieve your goals.

An audition showing fluency on at least one instrument may also be required for a master’s in music education program. You will likely be required to submit GRE scores as well, though these will not be a priority unless you’re applying to a top-tier program.

So, how do I become the inspiring music teacher I always wished I had?
A master’s degree is a great first step towards a career in music education. But it’s not the only step you should take. Make connections. Stay in touch with your undergrad and grad school professors, your high school teachers, and anyone you know in the music and education fields. And, continue practicing, creating, and improving your craft! The more you engage with music, the easier it will be to relate this back to your teaching methods. This will help you grow as a musician and as an educator. Keep falling in love with music, and you’ll love teaching it.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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