Getting Your First Job in Music Education

By Dr Elizabeth Stafford


Professional Dr Elizabeth Stafford is Senior Lecturer in Professional Studies (Music Tuition) at Leeds Conservatoire, Programme Leader for the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators at CPD Centre West Midlands, and Director of Music Education Solutions Limited.



What kind of teaching is right for me?

Private teaching

This involves teaching at your own home, studio, or at your pupil’s home. It is usually reserved for instrumental or theory teaching, but sometimes you might tutor pupils towards GCSE or A-Level qualifications as a private teacher.

Teaching in schools

This involves teaching either curricular, extra-curricular subjects, or both. It can include instrumental teaching, music, music technology teaching, ensembles, choirs and music clubs. At a senior level, it can involve managing a team of teachers.

Working for a music hub

Music Hubs employ instrumental teachers to work on their behalf in schools. This is usually hourly paid or self- employed work, and involves teaching in small groups or whole classes of up to 30 children. One-to-one teaching is rare and is usually reserved for older pupils studying Grade 6 and above. Teachers are often expected to be multi- instrumentalists, and are often contracted to teach a whole instrument family, rather than their specific instrument.

Running your own music education business

This is the most flexible option, as you can tailor the services, fees and teaching hours to your exact requirements. Although hard work to set up, this option can be very rewarding in that it allows you to deliver exactly the kind of teaching that you are interested in. These kinds of companies often deliver one-off workshops and short-term projects rather than regular teaching, and are particularly prevalent amongst musicians of non-Western traditions.

Preparing for a career in music education Qualifications

There are at present no mandatory qualifications to work as an instrumental teacher privately, or in a school or college. Many instrumental teachers are self-taught and do not even have any formal qualifications at all in music, although for classical orchestral instruments it is normal practice to have a diploma or degree level qualification.

Some employers offer an enhanced rate of pay for instrumental teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (usually for those with a PGCE), but the only music education related jobs that you legally require Qualified Teacher Status for are to teach curriculum music in a state school or college (independent, free and academy schools do not generally require QTS). Should you wish to work in the post-16 sector, some further/higher education institutions will allow you to lecture without a teaching qualification (one is desirable as many other applicants may have this), on the understanding that you will complete one ‘on the job’. 

Of course, the more qualifications that you have, the more attractive you are to potential employers, so you may wish to study for a teaching diploma or certificate to enhance your employment prospects. As part of  the  National  Plan for Music Education in England, a new qualification specifically for music educators has  been  developed. The Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators (CME) is designed to give music educators the relevant basic skills and knowledge that they need to work with children and young people. Further information on this qualification can be found at:



People often say that ‘there’s no substitute for experience’, and in music education, as in other areas of life, that is broadly true! However, everyone has to start somewhere! In order to be taken seriously at a job interview it is a good idea to have at least observed some teaching, or volunteered at a school, youth group, or ensemble rehearsal. This is less important if you are setting yourself up as a private teacher, as often parents and potential students are not as vigorous in their interviewing techniques as employers would be. It would be a good idea in any case, in order that you actually know what you are doing with your first pupil.



Along with gaining experience of teaching, you  may  want to gain some knowledge about teaching methods, theories and research. Remember – it is a long time since you first started learning your instrument, and the way you were taught then may not now be considered appropriate. The Journal of Research in Music Education is a good place to start your research –


Employment status: What kind of contract is right for me?

There are various employment options for music educators. Some music educators set themselves up as sole traders, or limited companies, but the majority fall into the employed or self employed categories. It will be up to you to decide which suits you best, but the benefits of employment include sick pay, holiday pay, and job security, whilst the disadvantages include lack of flexibility, which can be a problem for gigging musicians. In making your decision you should bear in mind any practical considerations such as whether you are hoping to buy a house in the near future (mortgage lenders are often less keen on the self-employed!).

Talking to an accountant, financial advisor, or bank manager can help you to make your decision. Visit www.ergrove. to submit your questions to a firm of accountants that specialises in working with individuals in the creative industries.

If you are intending to work as a private teacher, you should still have a teaching contract in place with all of your pupils. This ensures that you get paid for any cancellations, and that there is a reasonable notice period before a pupil ceases lessons. Templates for these contracts are available from the major music unions.


Applying for a job in music education:

In order to apply for any job you will need a Curriculum Vitae (CV) which can be submitted in its  entirety,  or  used as an information bank for filling in application forms. It should state your qualifications, experience and interests. You may also wish to establish a website which details your work as a performer and teacher, adding credibility to your professional  profile.  Audio clips or videos of you playing are a must to demonstrate your talents.

Social media accounts are  also  a  good  idea,  but  do not use these to communicate with pupils (under 18),  and be careful that the content is professional and not controversial!


What will they ask you at interview?

Interview questions will vary depending on the role you have applied for. You can be sure you will be asked why you want the job, and that there will be a question about safeguarding young people and vulnerable adults (makesure you research this subject). You might also be asked to demonstrate your musical skills or to teach a short lesson. Even if you do not have much experience, you should show enthusiasm for teaching and willingness to learn, and this can take you a long way! Make sure you have thought of some questions to ask the panel at the end of the interview, to show real interest in the position.


Protecting yourself and others: Regulations & legislation DBS

In schools and colleges, it is mandatory for all staff to have a DBS certificate. This lists any convictions or cautions, and helps employers  to  ensure  that  you  are  suitable  to be working with children and young people. Usually your employer will process this on your behalf when you commence employment, but in some circumstances you may be required to apply for one yourself. The easiest way to do this is through one of the music unions. It should be noted that even if you do have a conviction or caution, this would not necessarily bar you from teaching. Your employer would consider the severity of the incident, whether it is likely to recur, and whether you have shown remorse, before making a final decision. A DBS is not legally required for private teaching, however you would be advised to complete one so that you have it available if a parent or pupil asks to see it, as questions might be raised as to why you have not completed one, resulting in you losing potential clients.



If you are a self-employed teacher, it is vital that you have adequate insurance to support you if things go wrong. There are two main types of insurance in this instance: Pubic Liability Insurance (which would cover you if a pupil as injured during a lesson), and Professional Indemnity Insurance (which covers you if you are taken to court for the advice you have given a pupil). Most musicians just opt for Public Liability Insurance, but Professional Indemnity can be useful in certain circumstances. Membership of a music union usually provides insurance cover adequate for your teaching needs.


Union membership

There are two types of unions that are accessible to music educators, music unions such as the ISM and the MU,  and teaching unions such as the NUT, ATL, and NASUWT. You can be a member of one type of union or both types depending on the context in which you work, but the main thing to remember is that it is vital that you are a member of at least one union. Should you be accused of something, a union can provide vital financial and emotional support while you defend your claim. You will find that your own insurance policy will most likely not cover you for these kind of incidents, so unless you have a large fortune to draw on, you will need the union to support you. >>



Safeguarding is an extremely important issue for all educators and the general public. It deals with ensuring that  children  and  vulnerable  adults  are  kept  safe  from physical and emotional harm, and helps promote their welfare.

If you work for an organisation, you will need to be aware of and adhere to their safeguarding policy, and if you are a private teacher you may wish to create your own policy. Further information can be found at: safe-in-education--2


Equality, diversity and inclusion

As a music educator, you will need to be aware of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion legislation to ensure that you do not discriminate against any of your pupils.

If you work for an organisation such as a school, you will need to adhere to their Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy, and if you are a private teacher you may want to write your own. Further information can be found at: advice-for-schools


Developing as a teacher: Reflective practice & CPD

The hard work does not just stop when you get a job. Throughout your career you will need to keep up with   the latest initiatives, theories and policies if you are to be an effective music educator. To do this you will need to become a ‘Reflective Practitioner’ – someone who thinks about their teaching and takes steps to improve it.

You may also need to attend courses, events or undertake reading or online learning as part of your continuing professional development (CPD). There are many organisations that offer CPD for music educators, including the music unions, and companies such as Musical Futures (, Sound Sense (www.soundsense. org/metadot/   and   Music   Education  Solutions (

By Dr Elizabeth Stafford

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