According to Americans for the Arts, students who participate in art and music education for four years score nearly 100 points higher on the SAT than those who study for one and a half years or fewer. Among lower-income students, arts education correlates strongly with lower dropout rates.
Many may consider arts courses—which include art, drama, and music—frivolous extracurriculars. They couldn't be more wrong. Arts education is, in fact, a significant contributor to student success.
If you have an aptitude for music and a calling to instruct young people, you might be cut out for a career as a music teacher. Like most musicians, you won't get rich doing what you love. School music teachers earn the same as other educators—after accounting for factors like years of experience, education, the grade they teach, and state and district salary expectations. However, unlike their peers, music teachers can increase their earning potential by offering private lessons before and after school hours.
This article on music teacher salary covers:
Music teachers can work with students from preschool through college—both in schools and through private music lessons. They teach music theory, history, and instruments and conduct school choirs and orchestras.
Job descriptions for music teachers differ drastically by grade level. Elementary school teachers may focus on growing a love of learning in their students and introducing them to musical concepts. Secondary school teachers may work on technique or preparing students for orchestra. High school teachers may lead students in high-level performance and even competition.
The good news is you don't need to choose one over the other right away. Bachelor's degree programs for music educators, like the one at Berklee College of Music, help qualify graduates to teach every K-12 grade. According to Berklee, "Those who work as general music teachers are expected to be proficient in many instruments and have a diverse skill set that includes conducting, composition, and more."
Music professors teach at the highest level. According to Berkeley, "Music professors at colleges and conservatories work with advanced students to deepen instrumental skills, refine ensemble playing, and expand knowledge of theory, composition, reading, repertoire, improvisation, and more." Guest lecturers, teaching assistants, and tenured professors fall under this distinction.
Finally, private teachers usually work with individual students to advance their knowledge and love of music. Private teachers often work for themselves or outside organizations like music camps. They may teach full-time or part-time, supplementing their teaching income through performance.
A bachelor's degree is the most common requirement for becoming a music teacher at the K-12 level. Schools confer degrees with names like Bachelor of Music in Music Education or, more simply, Bachelor of Music Education. Students take classes like:
Though music education programs are often broad—to prepare students for more teaching roles—you may earn a concentration or minor, such as vocal performance.
Each state has unique teaching certification requirements. According to the National Association for Music Education, the two most popular certification pathways are K-12 (28 states) and early childhood-12 (16 states). Many states offer ascending certification levels, often requiring more education—a master's degree—the higher you go.
Becoming a music professor is much harder than teaching at the elementary or secondary school level. Reaching one of these positions frequently involves earning a PhD or master's degree, at the very least. It usually isn't enough to just complete extra education. Music professors in higher education are often expected to be virtuosos as well.
As a rule, music teachers earn the same average salary as other teachers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn a median income of $61,350 per year. High school teachers earn $61,820. These numbers shift depending on where you work and live. For instance, New York and California pay secondary school teachers over $90,000 annually—a pay increase usually absorbed by the relatively high cost of living in these locations.
Teacher pay frequently works on a "step and lane" schedule, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. This means raises may correspond to accruing experience, additional degrees, or certifications. Teachers commonly start their careers earning under $45,000 and work their way up the scale (musical pun not intended). Individual school districts have the largest impact on salary with wealthier ones paying the most.
As you consider a career teaching in the arts, keep in mind that tight education budgets post a constant threat to arts education. When purse strings get tight, art and music are often the first subjects to face cuts, translating to inadequate facilities and equipment or even fewer jobs. Low-income areas usually feel budget cuts the most—especially in districts where individual families cannot afford to pay for equipment and materials themselves through extra fees. If you want to have a higher impact, these areas are where music teachers are most needed.
As a rule, private school teachers earn less than their public school counterparts. According to ZipRecruiter, the national average annual salary for a private school teacher is $48,500 per year.
It may be possible to earn more teaching at one of the United State's prestigious music conservatories—though it's difficult to get exact numbers. Ziprecruiter says that boarding school teachers earn just over $58,000 per year, with the highest salaries reaching over $132,000 annually. Naturally, these numbers depend heavily on the individual school and your status as a teacher. Still, they illustrate that it's possible to make good money for teaching at a very high level—where jobs are extremely competitive.
The BLS reports that art, drama, and music teachers earn an average wage of $75,900. The top 25 percent makes $100,000 and above, with the top ten percent making $156,000. Not every college professor earns that much (or anywhere close), but many of the top-earning music teachers in the United States teach at colleges and universities.
Teachers often get excellent benefits, which can help make up for comparatively lower salaries. The benefits package for public school teachers includes better insurance and pension plans than the average worker.
Why is this, and what does it mean? One reason is that school districts frequently offer to increase benefits rather than give monetary raises, meaning total compensation can look different from salary. Still, according to the Economic Policy Institute, "The benefits advantage of teachers has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty." In fact, "the teacher total compensation penalty grew by 11.5 percentage points from 1993 to 2021," and that was before teachers took an additional hit with 2022's inflationary run.
The good news is that becoming a private music teacher doesn't require any degrees or certifications, though they can help market yourself to potential clients. Still, if you're a wickedly talented musician with a personable teaching style, you'll do well. Music is a subject where talent shines through more than credentials. Teaching privately also allows room for specialization—for instance, becoming a piano teacher or clarinet teacher, if the market supports it—rather than needing to play numerous instruments.
According to ZipRecruiter, private music teachers earn an average income of $71,000 per year, which translates to $34 per hour. But, the exact number is harder to pin down than that; much depends on how good you are at things like advertising and maintaining clients. The main benefit of being a private teacher is you can set your rate. Still, it's not as simple as charging more means you'll make more. You likely need better qualifications to increase your rate successfully. Plus, if you live in a place with lower incomes, you likely won't be able to charge as much because the community cannot support it. Finally, as a private teacher you'll be self-employed, with all the tax complications (and additional self-employment tax to cover your FICA obligations) that entails.
So, the answer comes down to whether you want to bet on yourself. Self-employed music teachers have a higher earning potential than others—usually excluding college professors—if they can master the business side. Keep in mind that the self-employed must pay for things like healthcare and retirement out of pocket.
The third option for those who love music—or money—is teaching at a school and having private students on the side. It is theoretically possible to teach plus tutor, but you'd need to manage your time judiciously. You could also use the summer months to take on extra students or work at a music camp, which generally garners hourly wages.
Not every musician becomes the next Prince, but teaching music is a flexible career path with numerous ways to make a living.
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