What Credentials Do You Need to Be a Private Music Teacher?

What are the required credentials to be a private music teacher? The simple answer is, there are none! You can be a private music teacher as a high school student teaching your friend, or a college music student, or just an experienced amateur. That’s the simple answer, but does that mean anyone is qualified to teach music? Should everyone be allowed to teach music?

Minimum Requirements

There are no regulations on private music teachers. These “minimum requirements” are the requirements I think all music teachers should try to live up to, and what students should require of there teachers.

All music teachers should be able to play the instrument that they’re teaching. Pretty obvious right? You’d be surprised. My business is connecting music students with teachers. I’ve been doing it now for about 7 years. I’ve interviewed a lot of potential music teachers. I’ve been extremely surprised by how many people, who already were teaching on their own, could not play the instrument they were teaching.

I don’t mean they couldn’t play it well, I mean they couldn’t play it at all.

I once interviewed a talented vocalist that was applying to be a voice and piano teacher. Our requirements were that we had to hear them play/sing every instrument they wanted to teach. This applicant sang very well. There were no issues. She was obviously very accomplished. When I asked her to play the piano, she said she could play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. I was a little surprised, but I let her go ahead and play. She literally played the melody of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with one hand. Just the melody. It was pretty odd.

Afterwards I approved her to teach only voice. She sent me an email saying that most of her current students are piano students and that she is qualified to teach the piano. She even said in the email “even though I can’t actually play I know how to teach it.” I found it so odd that she actually never became a teacher for us for voice or piano.

On a separate occasion I was interviewing a guitar teacher. He forgot to bring a guitar to the interview (strike one), but I let him know we had one that he could play. I don’t really play, so it wasn’t tuned. I gave him the guitar, and he asked me to tune it for him. He didn’t know how to tune a guitar, but he wanted to teach it.

Why Teachers Must Know How to Play

Even for beginner music lessons (maybe especially for beginner lessons) there are important attributes to playing an instrument that can only be taught by someone who plays the instrument. If you don’t play piano, how can you discuss posture or fingering? If you don’t play a wind instrument how can you teach embouchure?

I’m not saying anyone who teaches beginners has to be a virtuoso, but there has to be some level of competence with their instrument.

Do You Need a Degree to Teach Music?

Some of the best concert performers don’t have a degree in music. A lot of these musicians were so good they went straight to concertizing and skipped the degrees. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the experience and knowledge that degree holders do, it just means they got that knowledge and experience from their private teachers growing up.

The degree in and of itself doesn’t instantly qualify you to teach. It’s what goes into it that’s important. One teacher might know just as much (maybe more) than someone with a degree. It’s a matter of experience. The degree is something tangible that shows that you have a certain amount of knowledge and experience. It’s not impossible to get this experience from a different source.

If the Teacher Isn’t Teaching an Advanced Student – The Degree has Little Value

When people go to school for music, they are not beginners. Most of the time music students have been studying music for most of their entire lives. When they start out as a music major they (typically) aren’t learning how to read or play the basics of their instrument. A music school expects that music majors already have that knowledge.

Just about everything I learned working on my music degree did not help me at all in teaching a beginner student. What about pedagogy classes though? If you’re not familiar, pedagogy is basically learning how to teach. I was a piano performance major. Perhaps if I was a piano pedagogy major it would be different, but I had only one semester in piano pedagogy. It was a small class, and I think we met for a couple hours a week. I learned a little bit, but nothing that I think would disqualify someone who had not taken the class from teaching piano.

Advanced Students Benefit From Degrees

Do you need a degree to be a private math tutor for a 6 year old? Even if you didn’t like math, I bet you can teach first grade math just fine. Do you need more experience if you want to teach multivariable calculus? Playing an instrument may not directly correlate to math, but the student’s level is important.

Beginners aren’t going to benefit much from a teacher with an advanced degree, but more advanced students will. There is plenty that I learned while in school that is important for advanced musicians to learn. I personally would not be equipped to teach those subjects if I did not go to school.

If you don’t have a degree in music, or equivalent experience in music, teaching on a more advanced level may be difficult. That’s ok. Most musicians are very aware of their shortcomings. If a student gets to a spot where the teacher feels like they can no longer help them progress, the teacher will often be the first person to suggest the student find a new teacher.

A Degree Does Not Necessarily Denote Quality

Teaching and playing are much different. Some of the best performers are just not very good teachers. Most of these musicians have learned their instrument for their entire lives. Playing their instrument is as natural for them as speaking or walking.

I’m from the US, but I lived in Thailand for a couple of years. I learned the Thai language primarily on my own.

I would often go up to native speakers and ask for help on how to pronounce something. I would ask them questions like, “where I should put my tongue when I say this word?” or “how should I move my lips when pronouncing this consonant?” No one ever had a good answer for me. Just because they could speak didn’t mean they could teach.

I ended up asking my native speaking friends to repeat a single word over and over again. I would stare at their mouths. Then I would ask them to listen to me say it. I asked if I sounded like a native speaker when I said just that one word. It took a long time, but I finally figured it out.

Are there people out there that could tell me how to speak Thai and where to put my tongue and lips? I’m sure there are, and I would have learned faster if I learned from them. They’re called teachers. Doing is not the same as teaching.

Great Teachers Have Experience

You become a better musician from practicing music. You become a better teacher by practicing teaching. Everyone needs to start somewhere, so having no experience shouldn’t stop someone from trying to teach, but the best teachers have typically been doing it for a while.

Just like in music, though, just doing doesn’t make you better. You have to actually put forth real effort and practice teaching. Good teachers try to get better. They read, experiment, and work hard to make their students better. They work just like they would while practicing their instrument.

If you find a private music teacher like that, hold on to them tight because that’s exactly the teacher you want for the long haul.

No One Really Cares About a Private Teacher’s Credentials

This may sound a bit harsh, but I’m serious. I’ve been setting up students with teachers for a long time. Very rarely does somebody not want to take lessons with a teacher because they don’t have a degree in music. You have to remember, lessons aren’t about the teacher, they’re about the student. The student is learning because they want to progress (or because their parents are making them). They don’t care if they progress with someone with an advanced degree or not. They just want to get better!

Conclusion

If you don’t have a degree in music don’t let that stop you from teaching. If you love your instrument and feel like you have the ability to help others learn how to play it, go for it! Some of the best teachers out there don’t have a formal degree.

I’m not the only person with an opinion (and this is a very opinionated topic), what do you think should be the requirements for teaching private music lessons? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re a teacher, and you want to find some extra students, check out YourMusicLessons. We’ll help you start or grow your studio.