Music is an art form that transcends all barriers, whether defined by language, culture or values. In fact, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote that “Music is the universal language of mankind.”1 You can find music in every observable society, associated with all facets of everyday life—from infant care to love to worship.
If you have a passion for music and a desire to turn that passion into purpose, you might be wondering how to become a music teacher. This detailed guide explains the process—from earning your music education degree to deciding on a specific career path.
Earning a Music Education Degree
As you are researching how to become a school music teacher, you will see that the process begins with your college applications. As you consider which colleges to apply to, pay careful attention to their program offerings. You will want a music education degree that will give you the necessary framework to pursue licensure or certification as a music teacher. Make sure your music education degree includes one or more student teaching experiences.
When you are in college working toward your degree, there are a few things you should keep in mind. You might already be an outstanding musician with years of practice under your belt. However, you should enter your degree program with a beginner’s mindset. Strive to be coachable and teachable. Be receptive to new ideas and new ways of practicing your art. Be willing to put in long hours of practice between classes and during school breaks, and set goals along the way to keep yourself on track.
Graduation will be a major milestone in the process of becoming a school music teacher. Afterward, you will need to obtain appropriate state licensure or certification to teach. Once you have all the necessary credentials, you will be ready to apply for your first teaching job.
By this point, you might already have your heart set on a specific type of teaching position, such as teaching fifth graders in a private school setting. However, you should be open to other possibilities. You may work at a few different schools before finally landing your dream job. All the experience you’ll gain along the way will help you become a better teacher.
What Does a Music Teacher Do?
What a school music teacher does might seem fairly obvious. They develop lesson plans aligned with state and national standards, deliver lectures, teach music theory and help students become better musicians. However, these general responsibilities only scratch the surface of what a dedicated music teacher really does.
Music is the universal language. It brings people from all walks of life together. In fact, music education is crucial for healthy development, and music teachers are the instruments that help children reach new heights. According to the New England Board of Higher Education, scientific studies reveal the following benefits of music education in schools:
- Better memory: Students who learn to play musical instruments consistently show better memory capabilities than those who do not. This is because music students must remember how to read sheet music, identify the proper notes and remember song lyrics.2
- Elevated language capabilities: Scientific evidence suggests that the areas of the brain that manage language comprehension and musical abilities are closely linked. Music education helps students develop stronger reading comprehension skills and broader vocabularies.2
- Stronger mental processing: Studies show that students with musical training have greater volumes of gray matter in their brains. This helps them process situations and brainstorm solutions more readily. Furthermore, musicians appear to have better interpersonal skills, as musical training teaches them how to listen to others and respond with sensitivity.2
Music education is also linked to better study habits, teamwork and hand-eye coordination, among other benefits.2 If you decide to pursue a career as a music teacher, you can help your students reach their full potential not just as musicians, but as productive members of society.
Earning Your Music Education Degree
Universities offer degrees in both music performance and music education. If you know that you wish to become a school music teacher, you should enroll in a music education degree program. Look for one that leads to initial teacher licensure. This indicates that the program is aligned with the standards of teacher certification. In other words, by the time you graduate, you will be fully prepared to tackle the licensure requirements. Note that teacher licensure requirements vary by state, so be sure to check the requirements for the state in which you plan to teach.
As a student in a music education degree program, you can expect to take a blend of courses that center on classroom instruction and hands-on practice. You will hone your skills as a musician in both group and one-on-one sessions. You will also explore teacher preparation coursework, such as teaching methods and theories, technology for educators, child development and classroom management.
Look for opportunities to practice your skills outside of class. For example, your campus may offer a choral group, orchestra or marching band. Get involved in campus productions as much as possible. Not only will this be good for your resume, but it will also give you experience in delivering live performances.
Completing Your Student Teaching Requirements
All aspiring teachers must complete at least one student teaching internship. Student teaching is a full-time endeavor. You will be placed in a classroom with an experienced music teacher. It will be your responsibility to observe how that teacher imparts knowledge and manages the classroom. You will also have plenty of opportunities to deliver your lesson plans and work with the students.
At some universities, aspiring teachers may complete one student teaching internship at the elementary level and another at the secondary level. Doing this will help you improve your skills and allow you to learn from more than one experienced teacher. Plus, you’ll be able to determine whether you should focus your career goals on the elementary or secondary level.
Student teaching is an invaluable, real-world experience, so make the most of it. Take plenty of notes and write down questions to ask the teacher after each class. Internships vary slightly, but in general, student teachers are first expected to closely observe the experienced teacher. After a week or so, student teachers gradually take on more classroom responsibilities. By the end of the experience, you should be able to confidently deliver lesson plans and help students reach their full potential.
Before you can begin your student teaching practicum, you must meet the requirements of your university and state. In general, student teachers are required to complete all other coursework for their music education degree program satisfactorily while meeting minimum GPA requirements. They may also be required to pass certain examinations and educator proficiency assessments. In addition, all student teachers must successfully obtain fingerprint clearance.
Obtaining a Music Teacher Certification or License
After completing your student teacher practicum and graduating with your music education degree, you will be ready to pursue music teacher certification or licensure. This credential is necessary to work as a teacher in public school systems. Note that if you intend to open your own music education business, you might not need a teaching license or certification. However, earning this credential can help your business be more successful, as music students and their parents may be more likely to choose a licensed or certified teacher for their music education needs.
Criteria to pursue a music teacher certification vary from state to state. In Arizona, the eligibility criteria include:3
- A fingerprint clearance card
- Submitting an Application for Certification and the accompanying fee
- A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
- Completing a teacher preparation program, two years of full-time teaching experience or an out-of-state certification
- Meeting the professional knowledge examination requirements
- Meeting the subject knowledge examination requirements
- Completing college coursework covering the U.S. Constitution, the Arizona Constitution and professional responsibility/ethical conduct
- Documentation of work experience
In addition to securing the necessary certification or licensure for the state in which you plan to practice, you might decide to acquire voluntary credentials. For instance, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is a well-respected, independent organization that offers board certification for teachers throughout the United States.
While it might not be strictly necessary to land a job, becoming a board-certified teacher can brighten your employment prospects. Your resume will stand out from the crowd with this additional credential, and you may have more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating your salary. The NBPTS offers two certification options for music teachers: music education for early and middle childhood, and music education for early adolescence through young adulthood.
What Can You Do With a Music Education Degree?
After you have successfully navigated the process of becoming a music teacher, the next step is to land employment. There are many types of opportunities available for skilled music teachers. You might decide to work in K-12 education in a public or private school, for example. Another possibility is to pursue employment at a university or a dedicated music education institute, although those generally require applicants have advanced degrees.
Wherever you end up, you will likely divide your time among multiple types of responsibilities. Your primary responsibility, of course, will be to lead music instruction. You might teach large classes or smaller groups of students, and you might offer one-on-one tutoring for students who need extra help. You will assign homework, including music theory homework and practice, and you will test students on their progress. You will calculate grades, write progress reports and meet with parents. Music teachers must perform some of the same duties as core subject area teachers, such as monitoring the lunchroom or being a chaperone during field trips.
In addition, a school’s music teacher may also lead the band, marching band, choir or orchestra. Music teachers may collaborate with drama teachers on school musical productions and school plays that require musical accompaniment. This can require teachers to work some weekends during the school year.
Deciding Whether to Launch Your Own Music Education Business
If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you might decide to open your own business. First, you will need to consider whether there is enough demand for music tutoring in your area to support your business. If so, you can consider the following questions as you shape the identity of your music education business:
- Will you offer lessons to people of all ages or only to a certain age group?
- Will you offer lessons to beginners, advanced students or both?
- What styles of music will you focus on?
- How will you market your services?
- Will you teach students at your home or will you use another location? (Some musical instrument stores and music schools rent space to independent teachers.)
- Will you need special equipment (piano, audio amplification, online teaching equipment)?
- What will be your policies for cancellations, payments, rate changes and scheduling?
- Will your business operate as a sole proprietorship (under your own name) or will it have a separate legal identity?
- What will make your music education business distinctive? What will draw students to you?
You will also need to develop lesson plans and gather learning materials and resources for your students. Starting your own business can require a lot of hard work and long hours, but entrepreneurs often find it rewarding. As an independent music teacher with your own business, you will have the flexibility to set your own curriculum and establish your preferred hours.
You can pursue your passion for music and prepare to help the next generation of students by earning your music education degree at Grand Canyon University. Here, you’ll find a range of accredited degree options that lead to initial teacher licensure. These include the Bachelor of Arts in Music Education - Choral: Voice degree, the Bachelor of Arts - Piano Performance program and the Bachelor of Arts in Music Education - Instrumental: Brass, Woodwind, Percussion, or Strings degree. Emerge with a solid foundation of fundamental knowledge in music theory, practice, pedagogy and conducting. Click on Request Info above to begin your exciting future at GCU.
1The Harvard Gazette, Music everywhere in March 2021
3Arizona Department of Education, Requirements for the Standard Professional PreK-12 Music Education in March 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.