I started teaching piano lessons in high school. While my friends were working at the mall, I was making a lot more $$ in less time, by teaching. I was barely seventeen years old, and I had a lot of doubts about charging for piano lessons because I was young, and just a piano student myself. I had zero degrees in music, let alone a high school diploma! But, I had some substantial music experience behind me and felt confident about the fundamentals of music. I had eleven years of piano lessons, participated in bi-annual piano recital performances all of those years, Certificate of Merit achievements (California Music Teachers Association annual music student achievement event), participation in all high school bands and choir, and I was already working two jobs in music: one as a lounge pianist at a Chinese restaurant (I'll save those stories for another time), and one as a piano-accompanist for a children's choir.
If I started teaching lessons with ZERO music degrees and teaching experience, you can, too. We all have to start somewhere.
Fast forward some decades (I'm now a music theory professor): most of the college students that I work with support themselves while they are working on their music degree. I always encourage my students to find jobs in the music industry rather than working at a coffee shop or in retail. While the latter is honorable and honest work, if you are confident that your career goal is to make a living in music, you need to start making money somewhere in music. And the sooner, the better. I knew that I wanted to go to college and be a music major, so teaching felt like a natural step in my career.
Teaching beginners is the BEST side hustle for music students.
This article is going to make the argument for how teaching music to beginners will not only bring in more income in a shorter amount of time than your coffee shop job, but that it will help you become a better musician yourself, give you soul-fulfilling purpose, and inspire the next steps of your music career.
But am I even qualified? If you're reading this, then I'm going to guess, yes. Likely, you are a high school or college music student, or, a lifelong musician looking to try something new.
To gauge more definitively:
- You have a strong grasp of the fundamentals and read music (if you teach a Western instrument that uses music notation).
- You're playing music repertoire at an intermediate level and have performed on your instrument.
- You're taking music lessons or classes yourself (some kind of continued music education). You stay curious about music, continue to ask questions, and seek answers to those questions.
- You're involved in music-making. You might be in a band or ensemble. You are actively making music in your community.
If you said "yes" to all four statements, then you are a good candidate for teaching beginning music lessons.
The other considerations are personality-related. Warning: if you don't have these traits or are not willing to develop them, then teaching is not the right fit for you.
- You must have patience, in many cases, extreme patience. Empathy is required is this job. You must have the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone learning for the very first time.
- You must have the ability to break down a musical phrase into a step-by-step process of learning, explain music in simple language, and demonstrate everything on your instrument.
- You must have a positive attitude even if your student is NOT performing to your standards. You must be willing to teach your students HOW to practice, be clear with your expectations, and give them the skills to complete the tasks that you ask of them. I designed a practice planner to help my students manage their time and meet their musical goals.
- You must be able to communicate effectively with parents on billing, musical progress, and what they need to do at home to encourage progress. A thriving teacher-parent relationship is crucial to music student success.
- You must be organized, or at least, be willing to put systems into place that involve scheduling, billing, communication, feedback/progress reports, weekly assignments, short and longterm goals.
If you said "yes" to those five statements, or "no" but you are willing to work on them, then you are a good candidate for teaching beginning music lessons.
Although I have been teaching music for decades, it might interest you to know that I change my teaching techniques every year. I experiment with new techniques. I retire techniques or improve on techniques that didn't produce the results I wanted. I invest in music theory pedagogy workshops, attend conferences, belong to organizations in my field, and continue my own education on best practices for teaching.
Teaching IS learning. One-on-one teaching requires the ability to adapt, experiment, and personalize to accommodate individual learning styles.
I still continued to teach piano lessons even though I got a "C" in music theory at my community college!
I might not have fully understood how to voice-lead a German augmented 6th chord...I mean, what was the point of voice-leading, anyway?? But, I DID know how to teach my little students to read music and inspire them to practice week after week after week. I had little reward systems and music games to incentivize. I was expanding as a musician, as were they. They tried their best every week which inspired me to do the same in my own music classes at school, even when I was totally confused with advanced harmony.
Your goal with teaching beginners is simple. If you still have some doubts about whether you are qualified to teach music, consider this: there are only two main goals when teaching beginning music lessons:
- Give students a strong foundation in musical skills.
- Cultivate the student's love of music.
That's it. Really! If you can keep all actions aligned with providing strong foundational music skills while cultivating a love for music making, then you will be successful at teaching beginning music lessons. Do not put anymore pressure on yourself to think that it has to be harder than that.
One of the main skills that kids develop in music lessons, is work ethic. I believe that this crucial life skill is not discussed as much as, say, the "Mozart Effect," or that studying music helps with academics. Making weekly goals requires structure, consistency, and the discipline to execute. You need all three in order to have success at ANYTHING in life, not just music. If you can help a young child develop the crucial life skill of consistency, you will have succeeded.
Hone your own skills. Whatever insecurities you might have about your qualifications to teach, consider this: the act of teaching is part of your own musical training. When you can take X concept, break it down and explain it with clarity to somebody else, you now own it. (the next step for fulling synthesizing concepts, is to use X in an original musical context, like composition and improvisation. The other way, is to identify X concept in your musical repertoire, called "music analysis," but, it must be music that you can play yourself).
Recall the you are a good fit for teaching if you engage in "continued music education."
Below is a chart from Unpacking Bloom's Taxonomy, which talks in detail, the student outcomes and learning goals that must be attributed to every course that is part of a highly structured curriculum. Many higher education institutions use this method when designing their courses and writing course descriptions.
A beginning-level course tends to focus on skills toward the bottom of the pyramid, while more advanced courses should be cultivating skills higher up on the pyramid. In my Music Fundamentals course, for example, I want my beginning musicians to generally demonstrate bottom-level skills involving "remembering" and "understanding." As they advance through my theory sequence, they begin to use more mid to top-level skills that "apply" and "analyze" musical knowledge.
To achieve full synthesis of concepts of theory to practice, I aim for the very top: "CREATE." I always choose to give my theory students a final project in composition. Composing original music allows students to "assemble," "construct," "develop," and "author" learned materials of music into a cohesive original artwork. Composition helps integrate theoretical concepts into real-world practice.
Top-level skills: composition and improvisation should be practiced right from the beginning in order to synthesize theory into practice.
So where does "teaching" fall in Bloom's Taxonomy? I would argue that teaching falls under multiple levels, and that this demonstrates how teaching can actually function as part of your own musical training. Teaching is not just to impart knowledge and create a livelihood. Teaching helps YOU become a better musician. Here's why:
Read the following while glancing at the pyramid.
Levels 1& 2. Explain ideas or concepts. The nitty gritty of all lessons. It goes without saying that you will be defining, repeating, and stating facts and basic concepts over and over: note values, dynamics, tempo marking, note reading, clefs, hand position, tuning, etc.
Level 3. Use information in new situations. You will be demonstrating musicianship, interpreting notation, applying technique.
Level 4. Draw connection among ideas. There is no doubt you will begin to connect the materials of music (chords, scales, melody, rhythm, etc.) with the overall study and practice of music.
Level 5. Critiquing is teaching. Evaluating and recommending musical solutions is part of your own musical synthesis. Correcting student errors is one of the best ways to deepen your own practice. This is why many college theory and aural skills courses incorporate "Error Detection" exercises.
Level 6. Authoring. With more experience under your belt, you will begin to design your own music curriculum. You will take the best practices from all of your teachers and make them your own. You may even start authoring your own instrumental exercises, theory lessons, and written exercises. This is how I wrote my book, Visualize Keyboard Scales & Modes. My teaching experience helped me design lessons in my own style and voice.
YOU will become a stronger musician through teaching music.
I failed music history and had to take it at another community college.😱
Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of medieval and Renaissance music, although it has helped me to better understand the form of motets and madrigals as a piano-accompanist. The names and dates would not stick in my memory. BUT, my piano students were playing fun, little homophonic, tonal pieces in keys other than C major! I would say that was a win. They were expanding as musicians, and so was I. Well...I was trying at least.
How to find students. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent looking to start music lessons for their child. The first place that they will go to, are people they see and know, making music. If you work at a school, religious institution, youth organization, etc., begin there. Let folks in that community know that you are looking for new beginner students. When I was working as a church musician, I asked that an announcement be made in the weekly newsletter, as well as in the service program.
Word of mouth is always the BEST way to get students!
It's a bit tougher to find students without some kind of feeder community that you belong to. While there are some local music teacher roster lists that you can join, in my experience, not a lot of parents use those to research potential teachers for beginners. When seeking a music teacher, they will use a trusted source; either they will enroll their child at an established music academy, or, they will go by word of mouth.
Some questions to help you find students:
- Do you have friends that are teaching that can refer you?
- Do you have local neighborhood kids that might be interested in taking lessons with you? (post a cute sign on your home advertising)
- Do you have music teachers or music professors that can help you find students? Is there a way to use your college or high school institution to help you recruit students?
- Are there after-school programs that you can teach at? Are parents asking for piano/violin/guitar lessons?
- If you are playing at a local coffee shop or other venue, be sure to have business cards or small flyers advertising your teaching/playing services.
- Can you post your teaching services in a Facebook group of your local neighborhood?
- Can you post your teaching services in a local neighborhood app?
As a beginning music teacher, I do not recommend:
- Paying for advertising.
- Offering to teach for free.
- Applying to teach at an institution or music academy because they require credentials or an advanced degree, and teaching experience. The only way to get those kinds of positions without the minimum credentials, is if you know the hiring party.
- Asking schools to post your flyer (it usually doesn't help).
- Posting on Craigslist (it usually doesn't help).
- Continuing to teach into intermediate levels if you, yourself, are not proficient at that level. Depending on your musical skills and willingness to continue musical training yourself, you may consider just working with a beginner student for 1-2 years max. After that, have the emotional intelligence to pass that student on so that another teacher can help them get to the next level. There is nothing unusual about having a specialty in your business. It is absolutely fine to specialize in teaching beginners, and you can further specialize in teaching just kids or just adults.
Okay, I found a student! What should I charge? Lesson fees are dependent on credentials, location, and experience, and there are various types of experience, not just teaching experience. I'll speak from the perspective of my locale in Los Angeles, Ca. Beginning teacher fees (no degrees in music and little to no teaching experience) generally fetch $20-25 per lesson, usually 30-min lessons. If you are driving to a student's home, add an additional $10-15 per lesson depending on location. A Bachelor degree in music generally fetches $35+ per 30-min lesson, and higher degrees (masters and doctorates) $45+ per 30-min lesson.
There are a lot of factors that go into lesson fees. There may be students that you want to teach but you know they don't have the financial resources for weekly lessons. You may consider offering partial scholarships to some students (do not teach for "free" or give "discounts," always frame it as a "music scholarship"). After you have a year or more experience under your belt, or if you have finished your degree or certificate, raise your prices.
The "$500/month" amount in the title is based off of having five weekly students taking 30-min lessons, and charging $25 per lesson.
Once you start teaching that one student, be sure to over-deliver. Be professional, organized, and have stellar communication. After a month or so of successful lessons (student is making progress), let that parent know that you are seeking more students, and that you would so appreciate them spreading the word for you. Do not take this step until you have proven that you can help their child make progress in music, and that they enjoy learning music with you. I guarantee that once you have proven yourself, they will be your biggest cheerleaders.
There is always extra work when you are starting something new. Once you get your first student, you have started a new business. That's right. Welcome to world of entrepreneurship. After you've settled into teaching, always approach what you do as a serious business. The world is your oyster and you can take this experience in a lot of useful directions in your music career.
I was proud that I was then able to pay for my own lessons.
When I started teaching piano lessons, I was able to take that financial responsibility away from my parents who had already invested 11 years in lessons for me. I didn't know when I started that I wanted to be a music professor, but that early teaching experience helped guide my career, put me through undergrad and graduate school (twice), and many of my students have gone on to build their own music careers.
Are you a high school or college music student, a recent music grad, professional musician, or life-long musician looking to start teaching? What are your main takeaways? Join the discussion 👇
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if there's a way I can support you.