Becoming a private music teacher is a very common way for musicians in all walks of life to make a living, or to simply make a little bit of extra money on the side.
There are many benefits associated with teaching privately. You can make your own hours – often teachers will work as little as a couple times per week for three to four hours a day.
Finding students isn’t that difficult but if you want to get teaching right away, getting hired on at a music studio or teaching through a music store is a great way to easily build your student base.
The pay for teaching music lessons is good. Generally, your pay will start at $30 per hour and go up from there. But if you're a private teacher, you can control that rate (within reason).
Teaching can be very rewarding, especially if you have students who are excited about learning! My favorite part about teaching was always showing a student something that blew my mind when I learned it, and watch as their eyes go wide with excitement.
It’s also a relatively easy job to settle into quickly, no matter where you end up. Even if you suddenly move cities (as musicians are often apt to do), music stores are always hiring, and you can put up a few ads and start building a practice.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and daisies.
Teaching is hard work, and many people find it exhausting (that’s why I quit).
Teaching young kids can be frustrating – a lot of kids are only in music lessons because their parents put them there, and then all of a sudden you become a glorified babysitter instead of being a music teacher.
Being a music teacher means you’re self-employed, so if you don’t work, you don’t make money. No sick days or holidays. But for musicians, you’re probably already used to that.
How does one become a teacher? What credentials do you need? In this guide, I’ll walk you through the minimum requirements for private teaching as well as some easy steps to get started, and some tips from someone who’s been there!
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Minimum Requirements To Teaching Privately
So, here’s the thing: there are no regulations on private music lessons. Literally anyone can teach them. The question is, should everyone teach them?
Here are some basic skills you should possess to teach.
You Should Be Competent On Your Instrument(s)
It seems obvious that if you’re teaching, you can play well. But you would be surprised. The music store I worked at had many teachers that I would never send my kid to.
If you’re teaching guitar, you should know how to tune the guitar and change the strings. You should know the names of the parts of the guitar, you should play competently and know enough theory to understand what you’re playing.
Being able to read music is definitely important, however on instruments like guitar and drums, it’s not completely necessary to be an amazing reader.
On an instrument like piano, however, reading is essential.
You Should Be Able To Communicate Ideas Clearly
Communicating ideas clearly is the primary function of a teacher.
You need to be able to communicate ideas about theory, posture, fingering, and music in a way that is easy to understand and will reinforce positive habits.
I found that taking lessons for 10 years helped me teach music lessons. I remembered many of the little tips and tricks my teacher showed me, and just recycled them for my students.
Communicating clearly means you need to be able to communicate complicated themes and ideas in a simple manner. You should be able to speak without too many pauses in order to hold your student’s attention.
You Don't Need A Degree
Some of the best musicians in history never had a degree in music.
You do not need a degree to play or teach music.
However, being a good teacher is not easy, and having some sort of professional training, or prior experience with music lessons will help you on your teaching journey.
Education also helps you land better teaching positions if you have taken your piano exams or completed a few years of music school.
Of course, prior teaching experience can often replace a degree, in the sense that you’ll know what you’re doing, and music studios will be happy to hire you regardless of credentials.
If you’re not teaching students at a high level, a degree is not going to be of much value to you anyway.
Conversely, if you are planning to teach at a high level, and you want your students (and their parents) to be clear on the depth of your accomplishments, it's good to know that…
If You Are Teaching High-Level Students, You Need High-Level Credentials
Teaching six year olds for fun and teaching 20 year olds who want to become professionals is obviously a different ballgame.
There’s a reason English tutors are usually fourth-year English majors. They have credentials and experience to back up their tutoring abilities.
Obviously, this applies to music lessons too. But it still doesn’t necessarily mean you need a degree (my piano prof in University was a very accomplished pianist, but never obtained a degree).
You Need To Be Patient With Your Students, Especially Kids
For better or for worse, kids can be annoying, gross, and stubborn. They cry and scream and get frustrated, and if you’re not okay with that, you may want to reconsider your career path.
If you're going to be teaching young kids, think about how much you like hanging out with kids. Some people love it, other just don’t.
Personally, I found I was in between. By the end of my last teaching job, I was turning away students under eight. I preferred teaching middle and high school students, because they were usually in lessons to learn something. I hated babysitting kids who weren't interested in learning anything.
What Are Your Responsibilities?
As a teacher, you have some fairly specific, but straightforward responsibilities. These include:
Planning Individual Lessons/General Themes & Goals For Individual Students
Every student is different, so you’ll need to be able to identify specific goals for them and create a lesson plan that will help them achieve those goals.
You don’t need to make lesson plans for every single lesson, so long as you’re following a general path that leads them towards something that they want to achieve.
Arranging Schedules, Billing & Entering Students Into Exams/Recitals
As a private instructor, you’ll need to be a part of coordinating lesson times with your students. Sometimes, if you’re teaching through a store or studio, they’ll set all of this up for you, but even then, you’ll have to deal with missed lessons, rescheduling, and so on.
You’ll need to be very organized with your billing, so as not to underpay or overpay yourself, and make sure that you get paid on time for your services.
If you have students participating in music exams, festivals, competitions, or recitals, teachers are generally responsible for registering their students and organizing that. So, be aware of these opportunities as well.
You may also be responsible for setting up a music recital or workshops for your students, depending on your business model.
Learning New Teaching Techniques & Consistently Improving Yourself
I’ve always believed that it’s important to do everything you’re doing well.
You will enjoy teaching more and have happier parents/students if you are constantly working at your teaching ability and learning new ideas and concepts you can share with your students.
If you don't keep improving, it means there will be an upper limit on the students you can take on, and that can limit your market somewhat. There are always more beginners to teach, mind you.
Administrative Tasks Associated With Running A Small Business/Being Self-Employed
You’re probably already doing much of this, but you’ll need to keep track of your income and expenses. You’ll need to do your own taxes too. You don’t get healthcare or any other type of insurance and you’ll have to save for incidentals.
All of these are regular tasks associated with being self-employed. You get all the benefits and upsides of being self-employed, and all the work and downsides of being self-employed!
Tips For Getting Work
Getting work as a music teacher isn’t terribly difficult. Building a full-time practice takes a long time, but if all you want to do is teach little bit on the side, you can get set up relatively quickly.
Here are a few ways you can start working as a music instructor right away.
Join A Music Studio Or Music Store
Many music stores have lesson studios. Often, the store will do all of the administrative work and advertising for you, in exchange for a chunk of your teaching fees.
These stores are almost always hiring, and they don’t mind hiring more, as the more teachers they have, the more money they’ll make.
Music studios are usually a collection of teachers that work together to run the business and simplify administrative tasks. They’re usually hard to get into, but are often looking for new teachers.
Also, you don't need a degree to begin working at a music store.
But while this is a good way to start teaching without having to do any of your own advertising or administrative work, it's not the same as private instruction. The goal here would be to gain some experience as a teacher and understand the ins and outs of running your own business.
I would not suggest “stealing” the store or studio's students when you're ready to strike out on your own, as this is generally frowned upon. But everything you learn should help you build your own teaching practice.
Put Advertisements Up To Attract Your Own Student Base
If you have a decent space in your home, or are willing to travel to student’s homes, you can advertise your private music lessons online, at bars, schools, and music stores.
You may slowly start building a practice of students this way, and the more you do, the more word will spread.
In addition to tear sheets, you can also use your website, email, social media, Facebook advertising, and other channels to promote your services.
If you are an artist or a musician with a social media following, teaching online music lessons is as easy as putting up a few posts advertising lessons.
You may find yourself teaching quite a few online lessons, especially as your following grows.
Teaching online does have certain advantages, since you can gain access to a global audience and grow your student base.
Promote Your Services Through Word Of Mouth
Primarily, your business will grow through word of mouth.
So, tell people at your gigs you teach, tell your friends and family, put it out on social media, post it in musician’s forums, etc.
Eventually, people will take note, and you’ll have a bunch of students lining up to work with you.
Final Thoughts On How To Become A Private Music Teacher
Getting started as a private instructor is relatively simple.
All you need to do is:
- Build a level of competency on your instrument(s). Keep learning on your own.
- Set aside and maintain a clean, organized, and safe space in your home for lessons.
- Purchase all the tools you need to furnish your teaching environment (chairs, music stands, sheet music, pens and pencils, desk lamps, etc.).
- Prepare handouts, worksheets, info sheets, and other documents for your students.
- Begin attracting a student base through marketing and word of mouth.
- Schedule your students in at appropriate times, and beware of double booking yourself.
- Teach your students in a friendly, professional manner and build a solid reputation for yourself.
- Make effective use of “downtime” when students cancel or don't show up.
- Customize curriculums based on your student's goals and teach them want they want to learn to keep them engaged.
- If possible, get paid upfront for your work (i.e. a month's worth of lessons).
- Track all income and expenses.
Those are the basics of private music instruction. Note that it can take longer to establish yourself as a private instructor versus an instructor at a store or studio, but if you stick with the process, your efforts will pay off.