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How to Get Started in Music Education

June 28, 2021

Person at a desk working on a handwritten music score
Music teachers have the unique opportunity to use their creativity both for their own music and to fan the flames of others’ talent. However, it can be difficult to find out how to become a music teacher and develop the skills that are essential for inspiring your students. This article will examine some of the core requirements for entering and advancing in the field as well as the more specific subject areas that serve as important music teacher qualifications.

In addition to music and education subject area knowledge, music teachers must meet the standard qualifications for teachers in their states. These requirements vary, but there are some common ones to keep in mind:

Learn about UF’s Online Master of Music Education Program

Teacher Certification Requirements

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree. Some states also require teachers to earn a master’s degree within several years of starting to teach.
  • Pass the state’s assessment exam.
  • Complete an approved teacher preparation program.

The states that require a master’s degree — including Ohio, New York and Massachusetts — use a tiered licensing system that allows education professionals to start with a temporary initial license. To obtain advanced licensing, teachers in these states must complete an approved master’s in education program within several years of gaining their initial license.

How to become a music teacher

In addition to the general teacher certification requirements summarized above, most states will require educators to have specific subject area knowledge. In Florida, for example, core music teacher qualifications include having taken coursework in these areas:

  • Applied music at the upper-division level
  • Music theory
  • Conducting
  • Survey of music history
  • Group performance such as band, orchestra or chorus

Aspiring music educators should start by ensuring they have a strong foundation in the skills required by their states before they take their teacher certification exam.

Do I need a master’s degree to become a music teacher?

While not all states require teachers to have master’s degrees, graduate-level education is an excellent way for teachers to meet subject area knowledge requirements and other music teacher qualifications. For those who feel they need to develop skills in a key area, a master’s program can help to bridge the gap while allowing them to continue building on their strengths.

Additionally, master’s programs offer opportunities to share your passion and creativity, network with other teachers and expand both your technical mastery of music and knowledge of teaching and assessment strategies.

Related content: What Can I Do with a Master’s Music Education?

Why become a music teacher?

Music brings a unique of means of expression and understanding into the lives of students, while also delivering something less tangible but just as important: a sense of connection to other people and cultures. Music teachers have the opportunity to transport people around the world to different cultures.

While the direct benefits of learning about music are significant, the indirect benefits can also play a remarkable role in learning. According to the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), learning about music can help students develop language and reasoning skills, improve memory, increase coordination, engage their school lessons, develop empathy, and so much more.

“The study of music includes the study of the people, places, and cultures involved in its creation and performance,” NAfME states. “As our country becomes increasingly diverse, it is important for students in every school setting to study a wide variety of musical styles, cultures, and genres.”

What careers are available for music teachers with a master’s degree?

Those who pursue a career as a music teacher can choose jobs in traditional education settings (like teaching elementary students) as well as those in more flexible environments (like private piano teachers or vocal coaches).

Some music education careers to consider include:

Early Childhood Arts Instructor

Working in nursery schools, pre-schools, community organizations, and other music-centric entities, early childhood arts instructors introduce children to music and encourage them to express themselves through song, dance, and movement at an early age.

Music Instructor

Teachers at elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools educate children on the basics of music and introduce them to different types of music and musical instruments. Many music teachers will also lead choirs and marching bands, and direct performances, such as musical theater productions.

Music Teacher at a College or University

While some two-year colleges may hire teachers with a master’s degree, many four-year colleges and universities will require a Ph.D., so earning a master’s degree in music education is an important step. College music education roles include positions as a lecturer, instructor, associate professor, adjunct professor, assistant professor, or professor. Topics to teach could include music history, music theory, the business of music, performance, composition, psychology of music, music and technology, and more.

Private Instructor

Independent music teachers benefit from a flexible schedule and being their own boss. Private music teachers may teach music lessons to students on how to play different instruments (i.e. piano teachers, violin teachers, etc.), how to compose, music theory, performance, and more. This role could also take the form of a private instructor working at a music school, non-profit organization, or governmental agency.

Higher Education Administrator

This role, which could involve acting as the chair of a music department, entails designing a college or university’s approach to music and music education. Many universities will require a Ph.D., so a master’s degree in music education is an important first step.

School Music Coordinator

This role assists music teachers and departments in a variety of ways, from managing the school’s inventory of musical instruments to coordinating live performances. They may also help in planning other events, such as fundraising.

Music Director

Community organizations, theatres, and churches need music directors to lead bands, choirs, and performances.

Music Librarian

Public and academic libraries hire music librarians to manage and catalogue music collections and communicate with the public, often answering music-related questions.

Benefits of the University of Florida Master of Music in Music Education

The University of Florida’s online music education master’s program supports graduate students’ development through the design of its curriculum, expert faculty, and the graduate research award, which provides financial support for professional development activities.

The comprehensive music education curriculum at the University of Florida covers the core knowledge areas required for music teacher certification and gives students the opportunity to showcase their passions through the final capstone course.

“The curriculum is actually the best part of this program,” said Melody Kneezel, a graduate of the online Master of Music in Music Education program. “It was unbeatable. I can’t imagine having learned anything better than what I learned. I was immediately able to apply everything that I was learning because I was teaching at the same time that I was getting the degree. “

Another key way the University of Florida supports its students is through the graduate research award. This award offers financial reimbursement to help cover UF students’ travel and other expenses related to professional development. While the award can be used for a variety of activities, former music education students have used it to cover travel expenses when speaking at music education conferences.

Music Education Success Stories at UF

Alumni of the online Master of Music in Music Education program at the University of Florida have shared several of their success stories, showcasing how the skills we develop help them achieve success. For example, Michelle Lucia-Ingle, a music instructor and clarinetist, shares her research from the program on using software applications to learn, teach, and play clarinet with the Thompson Symposium at Penn State University. After earning her master’s degree from the University of Florida, she was hired as a music instructor at Northland Community and Technical College in Minnesota.

When Katherine Powell was a student in the online Master of Music in Music Education program and also teaching, she applied what she learned at school to her curriculum. As a result, she was honored with a Champion for the Arts Award, as well as a separate $2,000 grant to purchase music technology for her classroom.

Other successful students have gone on to present their capstone research projects at conferences, symposia, and more.

About the University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education

The University of Florida’s Online Master of Music in Music Education program is designed with the evolution of music education in mind. In addition to covering a broad array of music genres, the program’s curriculum explores advanced concepts in music education psychology, instructional design, and technology in the music classroom. The faculty include instructors from a diverse range of professional backgrounds— from professional musicians to internationally recognized music education researchers and authors.

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