Skills and Attributes Needed to be a Private Music Teacher

A look at the essential skills, training, salary information and working conditions of music instructors who teach from their private home studios.

Private music teachers are trained individuals who have established their music studio as a home-based business. They provide music instruction to children and adults of all ages and levels.

Music instructors teach students proper technique, musicianship, practice strategies, music theory and appreciation. Music lessons are taught either one-on-one or in group classes.

Key Skills Needed to be a Private Music Teacher

Music teachers need strong written and spoken communication skills. They give music lessons to a wide range of students, from preschool children to retirees. Having the versatility to communicate with all of these age levels is not just an asset, but a necessity.

Listening skills are vital. Music instructors need to listen carefully to musical elements such as notes, rhythm, articulation, pedaling, shaping, tempo and flow. Based on their assessment, they help their students correct inconsistencies and learning errors.

Music teachers should possess good perception and observation skills. They need to detect and correct improper technique and posture which, if left unchecked, could lead to musician injuries. Effective music teachers are sensitive to their student's body language. They also need to be attuned to their students' shifts in mood and energy level, then make adjustments to better meet the needs of their students.

Independent music teachers also require strong administrative, planning and organizational skills. Aptitude, learning preferences, motivations, needs, interests and personalities are unique to each student. Therefore, lesson plans need to be personalized for each student.

Education and Training Requirements for a Private Music Teacher

Education and training requirements vary, depending on the subjects taught and instrument. All music teachers have taken years of music lessons. Many perform as soloists or collaborative musicians. Some music teachers are also adjudicators, examiners, composers, music publishers or clinicians.

Music teachers who teach classical music have achieved a high level of proficiency in their instrument, many holding a music diploma or degree. Teachers who fall into this category include: piano teachers, voice teachers, music theory teachers, strings teachers, woodwinds teachers, brass teachers and percussion teachers.

On the other hand, there are some teachers with extensive performing experience and practical music theory knowledge but they lack certification from a music conservatory or university. Coaches and teachers active in the popular music industry are in this category.

Teachers who offer group lessons such as Kindermusik, Music for Young Children, Kodály, Suzuki or Yamaha go through additional program-specific training.

Job Responsibilities of a Private Music Teacher

Private music teachers are self-employed. They are responsible for all facets of running their own business, including:

  • Developing lesson plans, teaching materials and time-lines tailored for each student
  • Preparing students for music examinations, festivals and competitions
  • Lesson registration and scheduling
  • Set lesson tuition, develop and enforce studio policies
  • Communicating with parents with regards to performance opportunities, student progress, issues and registration deadlines and requirements for examinations, festivals and competitions
  • Sales and marketing
  • Administrative tasks such as bookkeeping, filing, research and development, cleaning, troubleshooting technology issues
  • Keeping up with their own professional development
  • Staying current on trends on music pedagogy and studio technology and software available
  • Ensuring the safety and welfare of their students while under their care

Independent music instructors can keep up with their professional development through continuing education and being involved with a professional music teaching association such as the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) and the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers' Associations (CFMTA).

Salary Information and Working Conditions for Private Music Teachers

Unfortunately, the figures are not well documented. One site, Indeed.com lists the average salary for an "instrumental music tutor" as $52,000. Whether that  reflects the salary for someone who teaches at the post-secondary level is unclear.

It is safe to say that private music teachers earn more than music teachers who teach in a music store/school. Private music teachers establish their fees based on their education, teaching experience, performing experience and track record.

The market can be somewhat volatile. Combined with the limitations to teaching, there seems to be a significant number of instructors who teach music on a part-time basis.

Private music teachers provide instruction in their home studio. Some have their office in a separate room from their teaching studio, while others teach and do office work in the same space.

Home studios contain a professional library or audio/visual recordings, music scores and textbooks, at least one instrument, a metronome, good lighting, good seating, voice mail or an answering machine to take calls during lessons, music stands, a washroom and a waiting area. Some studios have a computer, rhythm machine or recording equipment. Many piano teachers for instance, own more than one piano. The second instrument is used for ensemble playing or teacher demonstrations.

Although some private music teachers offer lessons during the day, most teach in the afternoon and evening, when their students have come home from school or work. Some music instructors offer lessons on the weekends.

Private music teachers generally teach throughout the school year, although some offer summer lessons or workshops. January to June are especially hectic as that is when students polish and memorize their pieces to the high degree of fluency required to perform at recitals, examinations and music festivals.

Private music teachers need a diverse skill-set to succeed. In addition to possessing a high degree of knowledge and proficiency in their instrument, they must adapt and change their teaching approach to match the needs of each student. They must be highly organized as they balance the needs of their students, the administrative needs of their business, and their own professional development. The pace can be intense but the rewards of sharing their love for music and hearing each student develop their own musical voice are priceless.

Originally published on Suite101 on June 11, 2010. Information updated March 10, 2013. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.