Music Teacher Education

While the core of an education revolves around the fundamentals – reading, writing, mathematics and science – the world we live in includes so much more. Learning the beauty and history of art and music creates an appreciation of the things us around us in ways that academic basics sometimes can’t. If you are passionate about music, and want to ensure that kids grow up with music and all its wonders in their life, you may want to consider a career as a music teacher.

1. Get The Right Teaching Education

Being a teacher in the public schools in the United States requires at least a bachelor’s degree in all states. The specific education requirements are set by each state, but will mostly follow one of two pathways:

The first pathway is to get a bachelor’s degree in teacher education with an emphasis in the area you wish to teach. For a music teacher, this would mean completing a specified number of credit hours in music – typically 30-45. This curriculum ensures that you understand the principles and practices of teaching as well as the specific subject you want to teach.

The second pathway is to complete a post-baccalaureate teaching credential program after receiving a bachelor’s degree. These programs are typically the equivalent of 1-2 years of full time coursework, and teach the principles of education and teaching on top of the subject mastery you’ve achieved from completing your bachelor’s degree. If you are choosing to teach a subject other than what your bachelor’s degree is in, you will generally be required to take additional coursework to reach competency in that subject.

Some states offer a track specifically for graduates with bachelor or master’s degrees in music called an endorsement program. An endorsement program allows you to use your bachelor’s degree to meet the education requirements with some supplemental education for teaching practices. For endorsement programs, you must teach in the area of your bachelor’s degree.

When you’re considering the education you need to become a teacher, you’ll need to decide if you want to teach older grades or younger grades. This will determine the type of license or credential you receive and educations are tailored to ensure you meet the qualifications for the type of license you want. Multiple-subject credentials allow you to teach in elementary schools, and single-subject credentials allow you to teach in middle and high schools. While music teachers in elementary schools are oriented differently than regular teaching positions in that they teach only one subject, many states require that teachers in elementary settings have the age appropriate credential regardless of subject matter. However, some states – or school districts within states – allow special consideration for music teachers and some professionals will find that they are qualified to teach in all grades and in many schools. Make sure you check your state’s specific requirements for teaching credentials for music.

You also want to research your state’s education requirements and make sure that the program you’re considering is approved for teacher education. Many states require that the college or university program be accredited by the National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE).

2. Take the Required Teaching Exam

Nearly all states require that a teaching candidate pass examinations before receiving their credential, certification or license. Teacher examinations come in two types:

  • Basic Skills Tests: these are tests designed to test ability and competency in core subject areas, such as reading, writing, mathematics and basic teaching theories and principles.
  • Subject Area Tests: these are tests that assess ability and competency in a specialty area, such as music.

Testing practices vary between the states – some states offer their own tests, many states use the Praxis examinations. Praxis is a national testing organization that offers standardized testing in many areas of education. Praxis offers both basic skills tests and subject area tests, and they handle the test administration, scoring, and communication of results to state licensing boards. Many tests – both state specific and Praxis – are now offered online.

Both the basic skills test and the subject area tests in music have multiple components, and each state will determine which areas a teaching candidate will need to pass in order to meet the licensure/credentialing requirements. Some states also have examinations in state-specific practices or teacher ethics that must be passed before a license will be issued.

3. Get Your Classroom Experience

Because teaching is a dynamic, hands-on profession, all teacher education programs require that students complete a series of student teaching rotations. These rotations put you in a classroom environment with a mentor teacher to learn how to put your education into practical application.

Student teaching experiences are scheduled in the later part of the curriculum. Many schools will require a minimum GPA in the required coursework in order to move into the student teaching rotation, and some schools will require a student teacher to pass the state or Praxis examinations before placements will start.

Student teaching placements will generally be arranged to put you in the educational setting where you license will be. However, most programs will attempt to ensure a broad experience through the course of student teaching rotations, so you may find yourself in a number of varied positions to learn multiple facets of the profession.

Skill areas targeted in student teaching experiences include:

  • Lesson planning
  • Information delivery
  • Applying education practices in a classroom environment
  • Progression of classroom responsibility
  • Parent-teacher communication
  • Inter-professional communication
  • Data recording and distribution
  • Testing

Music teachers will also learn the practical aspects of instruction in many of the following areas:

  • Voice instruction
  • Vocal ensemble conducting
  • Instrumentation
  • Instrumental instruction from beginning through advanced
  • Band and orchestral conducting
  • Music theory instruction
  • Music history instruction

Each program determines the amount of time spent in student teaching placement, with requirements ranging from 300 to 500 hours.

4. Get the right Teaching License, Credential or Certification

In general, the process to become a music teacher includes three steps:

  • Complete your education
  • Pass the required examinations
  • Complete the state’s application process

All states have an agency responsible for the oversight of public teachers. It may be a state board of education, a council for teacher education or a professional standards board. But in each case, the agency ensures that public teachers are qualified and have met the state’s requirements.

While the specific application guidelines are established on a state-by-state basis, you will likely find that the process looks something like this:

  • Completing the state’s specific application
  • Mailing certified copies of your transcripts to the state board
  • Sending testing scores to the state board
  • Completing a background check
  • Registering your fingerprints with the state
  • Sending letters of recommendation
  • Paying an application fee

Steps may vary slightly for candidates for endorsement credentials, if your state offers one. Applicants who have teaching licenses or credentials from other states may also have a slightly different process. Teaching licenses and credentials do not automatically qualify a candidate to teach in a different state – always investigate reciprocity guidelines if you’re considering relocating after you’ve received your license or credential.

Most states establish a time period for a license or credential and require renewal to continue to be qualified to teach. The renewal process generally requires updating your personal information and paying a fee, and may also require that you complete a certain amount of continuing education hours. Two to four years is a common issue period for licenses before renewal is required.

In addition to your state’s license, you may find that you want to pursue supplemental credentials or certification to enhance your qualifications as a music teacher. Many national organizations offer programs that demonstrate a dedication to the profession of teaching music, or offer you training and education that improves your abilities. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (, for instance, offers certificates in music instruction that demonstrate advanced understanding of both the subject and the principles of teaching it.

5. Stay current with Music Teacher Education

Research in education theory advances, legislation of teaching requirements revise, music evolves and changes. Becoming a music teacher requires staying current in the various practices and theories. Learning never stops, and remaining an effective educator means you need to keep abreast of the changes in your field. Continuing education in the various areas of your profession ensures that updates in practices and teaching principles do not pass you by.

Most states require continuing education as part of the license or credential renewal process in order to ensure that their educators are staying current with trends in education or changes in legislation. Specific requirements are set by each state, but 8-12 hours per year is common. Most states will allow courses in both education practice and your specialty area to count towards your continuing education requirement. Some states only allow hours taken by approved providers be applied toward license renewal, so always investigate a potential course to make sure the hours of instruction will count towards your renewal.

You can also stay current in the field by connecting with other music teachers through one of the many national professional teacher associations. The National Association for Music Education (, The Music Teachers National Association ( or the National Association of Teachers of Singing ( are just a few of the professional membership organizations that allow professional teachers of music to connect and network. These organizations offer courses, conferences and publications to allow you to continue to grow professionally as a music teacher long after that first day of classroom instruction has passed.