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How to Become a Music Teacher

how to become a music teacher

Interested in becoming a music teacher but need help figuring out where to start? Many people are interested in teaching music but feel overwhelmed by the process of becoming a certified teacher. You’re not alone! In this article, we’ll discuss what music teachers do, how to become certified, and the skills you’ll need to be a successful teacher. We’ll also cover other topics, such as music teachers’ salaries and how long it takes to become a music teacher.

What is a music teacher?

A music teacher is a specialized instructor who teaches music-related skills and topics such as music history,  composition, and musical instruments. Music teachers can work in public, private, charter, or specialized schools such as fine arts academies.

Types of music teachers

Music teachers can work in elementary, middle, or high schools. Elementary music teachers typically teach more broad, foundational music topics. Music teachers often teach more specialized courses, such as choir, band, or orchestra, at the middle and high school levels.

Some music teachers may teach music classes at summer camps, local libraries, community centers, or private lessons. Others may go on to teach at the college level. Teaching at the college level typically requires a Ph.D. or a master’s degree.

What does a music teacher do?

Music teachers use state or district standards to plan and teach engaging and effective lessons. A music teacher’s job description also involves using appropriate assessment strategies to evaluate their students’ progress. Music teachers must also follow state and federal educational policies such as IDEA.

How to become a music teacher

The path to becoming a music teacher is similar across most states and typically includes earning a bachelor’s degree, completing a teacher preparation program, and taking the required certification exams.

Earn a bachelor’s degree, preferably in music, education, or a music-related field.

A bachelor’s degree is required to become a certified teacher regardless of what subject you plan to teach. Many music teachers choose to major in Music, Education, or music-related fields such as music composition or performance.

Complete an approved educator preparation program.

An educator preparation program includes courses specific to education and field experience in the classroom (often referred to as student teaching). Many colleges offer educator preparation programs that can be completed while you’re working towards your degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you must complete an educator preparation program for alternative certification.

Planning to teach in Texas? 240 Certification has an affordable, state-approved alternative certification program that takes about 12-18 months to complete! 

Pass your state’s required testing and credentials

To become a certified music teacher, you’ll likely need to take at least two certification exams: general teaching practices and music. Depending on your state or district, you may also need to take additional exams that cover topics such as Essential Academic Skills.

Different states use different teacher certification exams. Many states use either Praxis or NES exams. Other states like Florida and Texas use their exams like the FTCE and TExES.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your certification exams will be easy! Many test takers are surprised at the difficulty level of these exams, even if they have extensive music knowledge and experience in education. Exams cover pedagogy and professional responsibilities. Be sure to use study guides, practice tests, and other free resources to familiarize yourself with the exam format, content, and style of questions.

After passing your certification tests, you’ll need to apply for certification in your state. This usually involves a small fee, paperwork, and a background check. For additional information on certification applications, check your state’s Department of Education website.

Apply for a music teaching position.

Once you have completed your teacher preparation program and passed your certification exams, it’s time to apply for jobs! One of the best places to look for teaching jobs is on each district’s employment website, but you can also find job listings on sites such as Indeed, SchoolSpring, or ZipRecruiter.

In some schools, you can apply for jobs and start teaching while you work towards your certification. In these cases, you will be hired under a probationary contract and have a specified time to pass your certification exam. (Note: You’ll still need a bachelor’s degree or higher in these cases.)

Tip: Start working as a substitute teacher while you work towards your degree or certification. School districts are often more likely to hire someone who they’ve already become familiar with their work as a substitute. 

Helpful Skills for music teachers

The most effective music teachers have strengths in many of the following areas:

  • Communication – Music teachers must communicate not only with students but also with other teachers, administrators, and parents. Successful music teachers know how to communicate effectively with different audiences.
  • Patience – Patience is a crucial trait for teachers of any subject or grade level. Working with children or young adults can be challenging at times, but with patience and understanding, it is an incredibly rewarding career.
  • Organization – Music teachers see many students daily. Music teachers at the elementary level may see every student in the school over the course of a week! Organization skills are key for keeping accurate records of each student’s progress.
  • Collaboration – Music teachers often collaborate with core subject teachers to plan interdisciplinary units or projects. They may also collaborate with other fine arts teachers to plan and direct performances, such as a school musical. Be prepared to work with your fellow teachers for the benefit of all students.
  • Passion for music – Music teachers should have a contagious passion for their teaching topics and skills. Your passion for music will make your lessons more engaging and lead your students to greater music appreciation.

Common career paths for music teachers

Many music teachers choose to be teachers for many of their careers, although they may move to different schools or teach different grade levels. Other music teachers become department leaders or even music curriculum writers. Curriculum writers can work within a school district or for outside curriculum companies.

Music teacher salary and job outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median salary for music teachers is $61,350 at the elementary level and $61,820 per year at the high school level. Remember that this will vary greatly by different states and areas within each state. For example, music teachers in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania metropolitan areas can make nearly $95,000 annually. In comparison, music teachers in nonmetropolitan areas of South Dakota have an average salary closer to $40,000.

Teachers across all subjects are in high demand right now, so if you’ve been thinking about a career teaching music, now is the time to do it! The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that from 2021 to 2031, elementary and high school teacher positions, including music teachers, will increase by 4% and 5%, respectively. Remember that there will not be as many music jobs as core subject positions because most schools have only one or two music teachers. However, these positions are still expected to increase at a steady rate.

Music teacher FAQs

How long does it take to become a music teacher?

This will vary based on several factors:

  • If you are just starting college, you must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete an approved educator preparation program, and take the required certification exams. From the start of college to passing your certification exams, you can expect this route to take about 4 – 6 years, depending on how quickly you earn your bachelor’s degree. Most colleges offer ways to complete an educator preparation program or student teaching internship while you complete your degree.
  • If you already hold a bachelor’s degree and work in another field, you must complete an alternative certification program and pass the required certification exams. Most alternative certification programs take between six months to two years.

Planning to teach in Texas? 240 Certification has a high-quality, state-approved alternative certification program that can be completed in 12-18 months!

  • If you already teach another subject, you will likely need to register and take the required music certification exams. This can be done quickly if you are adequately prepared for the exam. However, while passing the music certification exam will qualify you as a certified music teacher, many schools may prefer candidates with a music degree or related experience.

What is the salary range for music teachers?

The salary range for music teachers varies greatly based on your location and years of experience. Music teacher salaries can range from $33,000 to as much as $100,000! The good news is that teacher pay scales can usually be found on a school district’s website, making it easy for you to decide which jobs meet your income requirements. Generally, you can expect to make more in states with a higher cost of living and larger metropolitan areas.

Most school districts determine salaries based on years of teaching experience, so your salary will increase slightly each year. If you’ve taught other subjects or at other schools, this will typically count toward your years of experience.

Can I teach music without a music degree?

Yes! Many music teachers have degrees in other areas! While a music-related degree will help prepare you for a career as a music teacher, it is not required in most school districts. Many music teachers, especially at the elementary level, have degrees in Education or a related field. Other music teachers may have completely different types of degrees. The most important thing is that you have a bachelor’s degree or higher and are certified to teach music in your state.

Are there benefits to earning a master’s degree?

Under some circumstances, having a master’s degree may be beneficial. Some schools, particularly specialized Fine Arts academies, may prefer that their teachers have master’s degrees. Other schools may require a master’s degree, such as band or choir director, for certain roles. Additionally, most school districts have a slightly higher salary for teachers with master’s degrees.

You may also want to consider a master’s degree if you would like to advance your career into other educational roles, such as a curriculum writer or a head of department. If this is the case, you may want to consider a master’s degree in an area outside of music, such as a Masters’s in Curriculum and Instruction.

Before jumping into a master’s degree, consider the cost vs. benefit of doing so. While salaries are higher for those with master’s degrees, it is usually only a small difference. If you plan on being a classroom music teacher for several years instead of moving into a new role, it may be best to hold off on a master’s degree.

What certification do I need to become a music teacher?

The certification requirements for music teachers vary by state but typically require a general teaching certification plus a specific music certification. For example, in Texas, you must pass the TExES Pedagogy and Professional Responsibilities EC-12 and the TExES Music EC-12 to become a certified music Teacher. You must take the FTCE General Knowledge, FTCE Professional Education, and FTCE Music K-12 in Florida.

Your college or alternative certification program will be able to direct you to the exams you need to take in your state. You can also check out our free test series resources for articles on common teacher exams and free practice tests for some of the exams you may need.

What other certifications can I get to advance my career?

Some schools prefer that their teachers be certified in other areas besides music, such as working with students who speak other languages or students with special needs. These certifications require different exams depending on your state but often have exam names such as English to Speakers of Other Languages or Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications.

Interested in teaching a different subject? Check out these additional articles:
How to Become an Art Teacher
How to Become a History Teacher
How to Become an English Teacher
How to Become a Physical Education Teacher
How to Become a Math Teacher
How to Become a Science Teacher
How to Become an Elementary Education Teacher
How to Become a Substitute Teacher

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