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Musical Instrument Instructor

With most musical instrument instructors, a passion to play usually outstrips any financial gain.

"Be prepared to work long and hard for little financial reward," says Terry Davison, a piano teacher. "It's a field you enter because you love music, not because you want money."

Davison has a passion for his craft, something violinist and violin instructor Lisa Gilliard feels is lacking in most professions.

"I don't necessarily think of what I do as work. And I think in today's society, that is a big benefit," says Gilliard, from Aurora, Colorado. "I actually enjoy what I do, and I don't think enough people do."

A lot of opportunities exist for music instructors, whether they teach from their home, travel to clients or teach online.

Davison teaches online piano lessons.He expects the Internet to be the next big trend in music instruction.

"This is a new and emerging field, and the bugs are still being worked out," says Davison. "But students are able to work directly with a variety of teachers without leaving their homes. It is convenient for all concerned, and enables the student to experience a broader spectrum of style and talent."

Computer-aided teaching allows students from around the world access to music lessons they would otherwise not be able to get, Davison adds.

Others, like Gilliard, teach music the old-fashioned way. "I enjoy being able to have a home studio, which allows me to be home raising my children," says Gilliard, a mother of two.

But there are drawbacks to working at home, she says. "I am not given benefits by an employer, such as health insurance or retirement funds. I don't get sick days. If my kids or myself are sick, I don't teach. If I don't teach, I don't get paid."

For this reason, Gilliard needs a secondary source of income. She works one day a week at a studio, and she teaches Grade 4 and 5 students part time. "I think that most musicians teach as well as do something else, such as work in a band or symphony," she says.

But if you teach out of your own home and you have your own instrument, start-up costs can be minimal, Gilliard says.

Dianne Clark also enjoys the convenience of working at home. "I get to set my own schedule....It gives me the chance to do what I like plus do other things."

According to Davison, the challenge in this line of work is making enough money to survive. "The analogy of starving musician applies more often than not," he says. "It takes dedication to make it work, and many teachers have other jobs on the side to pay the bills." Davison is one of them.

Pay is commensurate with experience, adds Gilliard, who charges less than average. The reason for this is twofold. She is working on a bachelor of music degree, and she usually has her kids around the house while she teaches.

Advertising and start-up costs should also be considered.

Start-up costs vary, depending on what you develop as well as where you develop.

How big your business will be depends on how much it costs to start up a private music studio, Clark says. Advertising costs, rentals and supplies should all be taken into account. Sometimes you have to get extra insurance, adds Clark. "To start up today would probably cost about $1,000. And that doesn't factor in everything."

Once you've set up shop, the next step is to advertise. While a popular way to advertise is on the web, others put notices in newspapers or flyers or post ads at schools and local churches.

Piano instructors should also obtain a Grade 8 Piano and Grade 2 Theory, Clark feels. But to be a well-rounded music instructor, you'll need a music degree and experience in playing and performing, says Clark, who has a BA in music and in psychology.

Whether teaching online, from your house or in clients' homes, the field of music instruction is open to those who have a passion to play. And if you work hard at it, you might even make a decent living.


National Association for Music Education
Dedicated to advancing music education

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