Paths to becoming a public school music teacher

Aside from the obvious music ed major/ undergrad degree, what other paths are there to becoming a public high school music teacher? S22 is not ready to commit to any particular major right now, which is fine. He plans to be heavily involved in music, so I’m pushing a SLAC (definitely not music school at this point) so he can sample some different disciplines. I’m just wondering what alternate paths exist to become certified to teach music if he decides to major in something other than music ed or he selects a school that does not have it. He is still interested in this as a career, but is also interested in performance and health sciences.

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Some experience with that. Short answer - availability of “alternate route” varies by state as do the requirements if a non-standard route is available at all. (Off topic - teacher salaries also vary wildly by state if eventual salary/life style is a concern)

Background - adult professional musicians in my immediate family, 10 - 15 years out of major conservatories that have no Music Ed degree paths. We know 5 - 8 conservatory graduates who are now working as public school music teachers after completing additional degrees or “alternate routes” as defined by a given school district and/or state. Working in different areas of the country.

One of mine looked into getting certified as Covid tanked the full time orchestra gig. Didn’t follow through. Researched several states - I’m thinking Texas (good starting teacher salaries), Illinois, New York??? I think a simple google such as “masters in music ed teacher certification” or “music teacher licensure”. There are university programs geared to students with undergrad music performance degree holders who do not also have teacher certification. The programs mine found required at least a full year of coursework - methods, education basics, etc - student teaching and passing all the state defined Teacher Exams such as Praxis or other requirements as defined by the state for licensure.

We do know two conservatory grad students who went that route in Illinois. One of the students picked up the requirements needed for certification without getting a Masters Degree, the other enrolled in a Masters with Licensure program. In both cases, it involved full time school for nearly 2 years, not only methods and student teaching and ed courses, but in one case additional general ed subjects despite having completed similar at conservatory. And - based on what “mine” learned a year ago, I believe the requirements have changed since those friends went through the process, so your S could end up chasing a moving target of new options and/or requirements - makes planning hard!

Several others we know have obtained jobs and licensure through special state or district programs. In these instances, the conservatory grads obtained public school jobs with a temporary license due to a shortage of music teachers. Requirements are defined differently by state and in some instances, district.

In general, the conservatory grad needed the BM (or MM or DMA) in Music, multiple verifiable years of teaching for a private school or music school, AND needed to have been offered a job in a school district. If degree and experience requirements were met, the conservatory grad could be hired by school district. In order to keep the job for the long haul, the temporary certificate/license needed to be upgraded to permanent status. This retired passing whatever teacher exams an undergrad music ed major would need (Praxis - Music, Praxis - PLT, state exam, state alternative to exam, etc). Additional coursework in general education was also required in some states.

It is first thing in the morning without my 2nd cup of coffee and I feel that the above was disjointed! However, the process is disjointed and highly variable! I think the faster answer is - if your S is thinking of public school music teaching, the best route is the established Music Ed major you mention! It is possible to teach in a private school without certification, but most privates seem to prefer teacher licenses or unique qualifications for the job they are offering. Private music schools can, of course, hire whoever they want.


Wow, ok. Yes, music ed would definitely be the easiest route!! I wish he knew more which direction to go. He’s now talking about exploring a career in health sciences so he REALLY does not know. Maybe things will be more clear after this summer, he is hopefully going to be doing DCI (drum corps). We are in Texas, where marching band is huge and employment opportunities are plentiful. He would love to be a drumline tech and work his way up to director from there. I guess I will try and get him to focus on SLACs with music ed programs. Thanks for your thoughts and it’s obvious now there are likely multiple ways to achieve a music teacher goal if you’re flexible, but some are going to be far more time-consuming and expensive than others.

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Musicaspirant did a nice job of laying the different possibilities. But here’s the thing. Alternate routes don’t do a good job of preparing anyone to be a successful teacher. So why go that route?

Teachers are required to get a master’s degree anyway. There are colleges and universities that have programs designed to take those who have no undergraduate teacher preparation and accomplish that in their master’s program. My daughter did that in another field in one year at Simmons College in Boston. My son did it - also in another field - at Fordham University in NYC.

The other option is to choose a SLAC which includes a teacher certification option. Some do - sometimes in collaboration with another nearby college or university. He doesn’t have to make his decision about that now, but he can keep his options open so that he still has options while he’s still an undergrad.

I’m just pleased he told us he hasn’t decided 100% on music. We had several conservatories on his college list. That could have been a hugely expensive mistake! He is 17 and still needs a lot of frontal lobe development.

I had been so focused on looking at music ed… I’ll need to check on general teacher certification programs as well.

My S19 is now in the middle of his dual degree BM/BSEd program and couldn’t be happier. He is getting the best of both worlds. By doing music ed, your son will get all the methods classes he needs to actually help kids who don’t play his primary instrument, which appears to be percussion, like my son. It would be really hard to help someone with their embouchure if you have never been exposed to that. It takes a LOT of research, but you can find the right place and path.

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S22 is registered for beginning trumpet in high school next year. That may offer additional insight into whether this is something he wants to do career-wise. I’m not sure what state you are in @KatzHerder, but it seems like here in Texas percussionists frequently teach percussion only. I’m sure in other states where marching band and drumline isn’t as big, it’s necessary for percussion specialists to teach wind instruments as well. But it sounds like it’s part of the curriculum regardless of primary instrument and it will make him more employable, anyway.

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He does not have to do a BM degree to do music ed for grad school. If he wants to do music in a BA program, he can submit a music supplement (recording/video, music resume, letters of recommendation related to music). He can continue lessons and extracurricular performance, sometimes for credit.

He can go to a liberal arts college or university as an undecided. That is absolutely fine. It sounds like he feels pressure to know what he wants to do, not only for college but for career, and I hope he can use the first two years to explore before deciding. Things really do tend to work out. He can intern , work and volunteer as well as part of that exploration.

If he wants to do music, he might look more deeply into schools that do offer BM’s because the BM students may get the best teachers and performances. Oberiln’s Musical Studies program is an exception: it is a BA recently enhanced with access to the conservatory resources. There may be others.

But if he loves music he does not have to major in it, if he is not sure. He can continue lessons, practice and performance in ensembles on campus and keep music in his life.

I encourage you, and him, to read the Double Degree Dilemma essay in the “Read Me” thread closer to the top of this thread.

ps our local teacher got a BA at a LAC and then did one year of grad school to get his master’s in music ed.


Only some states require teachers to have a master’s degree. Having one gets you a pay increase in many other states though.

My son is a music Ed major at UNT. The trouble with being undecided is that music Ed is both very specialized and very loaded with requirements. It’s a very full degree program. One of my older kids was an engineering major, which is known to have a lot of requirements and long course sequences. Music Ed is arguably worse in that regard. Lots of requirements in coursework (both general and specific to music and education), proficiencies, testing, observation, student teaching. etc.

It would be very difficult to go back and become a music teacher later without at least having completed an undergraduate degree in music. The alternative paths in my state (AZ) require that you have an undergraduate degree in the subject you plan to teach.

And I agree with the previous poster who said that alternate certifications are maybe not the best to prepare one to be a teacher. One of my son’s high school music teachers had an alternate certification and lacked some of the qualities and tools needed to be truly effective. Good musician, not a good teacher.

If he wants to keep a door open to teaching in Texas, carefully research what that requires and make sure any school he chooses has that pathway available. It will generally be better/easier to get a degree in the state in which he plans to teach. My daughter attended an LAC in Texas (Southwestern) and there is a degree path for music Ed there. It’s generally possible to double major at an LAC but I would ask specifically if it is possible to double major with music Ed and something else and still graduate in four years.

My son at UNT is on track to graduate in four years (including student teaching), but that has meant two summers of classes just to fit everything in. He has a couple of friends that came in with a ton of AP credits that are planning to finish in 3.5years. I can’t imagine finishing in four years doing a double major in music Ed and something else, even with AP credit.


Yes, agree that he would need an undergrad degree in music. I assumed that was the plan. Maybe not?

FWIW, if his medical thoughts include med school, he can get in with any major he likes, including music. He just needs to take and do well in the Pre-reqs plus the MCAT.

My parents and an aunt were all music teachers in school, but they went the Music Ed route at SUNY Potsdam (Crane School of Music) plus it was truly eons ago, so the medical part is all I can add. I only hopped on this thread out of curiosity to see what answers would show up.

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OP: “it seems like here in Texas percussionists frequently teach percussion only”

I don’t know exactly what you are referring to here - perhaps as regards instructors in Drum Corps? Is this true also in the public schools?

Do the school districts in Texas employ specialized teachers such as “instructors of percussion” for their programs? It would be more likely (in my experience which is not in Texas) for a school district to employ an instrumental music instructor with a Music Ed degree and certification. That person runs the band, orchestra, choir, or general music program or some combination of the above. In my area and perhaps yours also, a school might also have instructors such as a specialized percussion instructor available for private instruction during the school day or after school hours. Teachers in these situations (at least where where I am) are paid not by the school district, but by the parents of the student enrolled for lessons.

I’m wondering if it would be helpful for you to take a look at the Music Ed degree requirements at a school in Texas - UT Austin or similar. Lessons, music theory, music history, conducting, music methods, ensembles and some classes in the Education Dept are generally required of Music Ed majors. Typically, a music ed undergrad would specialize in instrumental, choral or general music methods with a smattering of each of the other disciplines. The certification/licensure generally (in my experience - different states could be different) allows a graduate to be hired for any music teacher teacher position, but individual graduates may not want to consider a job outside of their area of specialization. An individual coming into the process later or through an alternate route would need to pick up all the knowledge that an undergrad Music Ed major would be expected to know.

I noticed that the University of Houston, Moores School has a route to getting teacher certification for those with undergraduate degree in music but no certification. Maybe there is info on the website that would be useful to have a look at.

Teachers in private situations - private studios, for profit or not-for profit music schools, community schools, etc - often have BM (MM and DMA) performance degrees. I have also known teachers in such situations with a BA in music and also, no music degree at all. Frequently these teachers are paid hourly based on the number of students they teach with no benefits.

@Parentof2014grad My D is a performance major at a SLAC and is quickly finding out she has no room in her schedule to explore… I imagine music ed would be the same. I sense a pang of regret, but she has made her schedule for sophomore year and appears to be sticking with it. At some point very soon, she won’t have any other choice. She actually applied to Southwestern as well, I was not 100% sure it was a musical match for her but loved the campus and vibe.

@Musicaspirant The public schools here have have a full-time teacher devoted solely to teaching percussion - “percussion director”. During marching season, they work with the drumline and front ensemble independently from the rest of the band. After marching season is over, they work on individual skill development while they prepare the percussionists for night of percussion. They are also responsible for the middle school beginners and teaching them the fundamentals. Some 6A schools even have additional percussion techs who are contracted for marching season to get the drumline just right. It’s serious business down here!

@Bill_Marsh No, he is not 100% sure he wants to major in music. He now says he is interested in nursing or maybe some sort of allied health career (radiology, sonography, EMT, etc.). He has a GPA issue right now, so I think we will see right away when he takes Intro to Bio his freshman year whether he’s going to put in the amount of effort needed to be admitted to nursing school. Meanwhile, he works his tail off on his music. Hours and hours every day. Like I said above… frontal lobe.

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Wow!!! "The public schools here have have a full-time teacher devoted solely to teaching percussion - “percussion director”. "

Impressive! Thanks for explaining to me - nice to see money going to public school music programs!

We are a string family. I’m picturing the Woody Allen clip of cello in the marching band in Take the Money and Run!!


They do a great job… every percussionist that comes out of that program should have the skills to apply for music school if they so desire. But as far as string programs go… we don’t have one. :disappointed_relieved:

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@KatzHerder Can I ask where your son is at?

My S23 still has music ed very high on his list of possible majors so I have been looking at options for him.

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@murray93 Texas is the only state I know of that hires percussion specialists. We have a friend who went there to teach after her MM. That is awesome.

@2plustrio My son is at Western Carolina University. He auditioned and got in all over the region, but really clicked with his studio professor at WCU. Plus, it gave him the dual degree option. And, though it is packed, it is perfectly achievable in 4 years with no summers, including student teaching and marching band. He loves it.


@KatzHerder Thank you, that is really good information to have regarding public school percussion teachers being a Texas thing. I will have to mention that to my son. I suspect it may be true for other big marching states (OK, LA), but I don’t know for sure.

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I have just learnt recently that Eastman has a Forte Program for their Applied Music Performance majors. Basically, 9 semesters with the extra semester tuition free to have both BM and music Ed FORTE Program - Eastman School of Music

I guess it gives the music performance major the option to teach in stead of pursuing a graduate program right after UG.


My school district in Virginia has percussion instructors as well, both in middle school and high school. The percussionists sign up for a percussion class separate from the winds, and we only play together in after-school rehearsals.