Teaching Artist Education?

I was wondering if anyone knew the type of qualifications needed to become a teaching artist. I’m currently torn between pursuing medicine and teaching kids music. I thought music therapy would be a good option but it’s not really what I thought it would be. Instead, I was recommended to see if teaching artist would work and I think it is a good way for me to still do both. They said I should take education classes still but I’m not 100% sure.

I think the most common question I’ll get is why I don’t want to pursue music education fully and I think it’s because I’m nervous I will end up in a school where none of the kids want to learn music (similar to my current high school). Whereas as a teaching artist all the kids genuinely want to learn. I’m also very behind with portfolio work since most people train over the summer and have been for a while. I’ve played drums for almost 2 years, I can sight read, but I’m not proficient in piano or guitar yet.

Any input or advice is greatly appreciated.

What year are you in school? Two years of “drums” is not much background. By “drums” do you mean percussion with mallet instruments, timpani, and other percussion hand instruments - or only snare and/or drum set? When you say you can “sightread” - is that rhythmic notation such as for snare or drum set, or can you also read treble and bass clef? These questions are all relevant to your over-riding question of whether you are prepared to be accepted and study music at a college level.

My next question: What is a “teaching artist” as you define it? This is not a standard term in the music ed business. Do you mean you wonder if you should pursue becoming a private music teacher running your own studio?

“Teaching Artist” is also a term that is becoming more popular as orchestras and performing ensembles have begun to offer private or public school based lessons in addition to their performing missions. In these cases, private instructors are hired by the performing entity to be teachers under the umbrella name of the sponsoring institution. Instructors may or may not also be performing members of the sponsoring group.

You may have another definition of “teaching artist” that I am not aware of!

So you are aware, In private studio teaching, “Artist Teacher” for a performing entity, and for teaching in community or private music schools, the teacher is most often paid hourly depending on the number of lessons taught (or assigned - you may be paid if the kid doesn’t show at the assigned time - or not, depending on school policies) and most teachers do not receive any type of health benefits. This also varies, but there are many private instructors and “teaching artists” (as I have defined it) who are working in numerous schools and studios and scrambling to pay for insurance and their rent on their teaching incomes. It takes time to build a private studio and a reputation as a “go to” teacher. Many you may be competing with will have advanced degrees, elite conservatory degrees, significant performing experience, etc.

Have you spoken with your band instructor or other local musicians about your interests and questions? Different regions of the country have some variation with typical norms of music instruction.

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What do you mean by “teaching artist”?

What does your portfolio consist of, and where are you applying? Will you meet deadlines?

Do you think you will be ready for undergrad music study? There are grad options for later.

You can also do a BA in music, which is a “generalist” liberal arts major usually, continue lessons and extracurricular performance, and then apply to grad school for performance or music ed. At that point you could also apply to med school with prerequisites done either during college or at a post=bacc program.

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Teaching artist as the school defined it mainly consisted of private lessons or only teaching one instrument. Which I think I still would need music education like what was said here.

Drums I mean specifically drum set and snare. Yes I can sight-read treble and bass clef. But I do have to agree I may be behind in terms of the audition component since one of my friends who did go off to major in music education did start training thoroughly with my music teacher through the summer until his audition date.

The BA in music however also seems like a good idea, then going to grade school for music education. I realized I don’t think I was doing medicine for the right reasons so I think I would like to try and pursue Music Education instead.

Thanks for the clarification - that helps target a response.

I want to give you a tip - forgive my persnicketiness. “Sight-read” to a musician means something very specific. If one is “sight-reading”, you are seeing a piece of music for the first time and playing/performing it. For instance, “sight-reading” may be included as part of an audition. The candidate is being evaluated on their ability to read and perform literally at sight without practice or rehearsal. You are using the term more in the sense that you are able to “read” music. If one can recognize the pitches and rhythms in various clefs - treble, bass, alto, etc - the person can “read” music. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the player can “sight-read” accurately and fluently. End of comment.

I suspect that many people defining themselves as a “teaching artist” as you explain the term have completed music performance degrees (BM, MM, DMA), although some could have a music ed or BA in music background. It is frankly, a rather meaningless term not requiring a music degree at all. There are no required credentials to “hang out a shingle” and open a private music studio - simply the ability to attract students. I have certainly known some effective private music instructors who are wonderful with students and quite competent to teach into advanced levels even though the instructor does not have a music degree.

A self-defined “teaching artist” is also likely to do some performing in addition to teaching - freelance, gigging, recitals, per service orchestra, etc. The “artist” has a primary instrument or instrument(s) on which they are highly capable - enough to win auditions or attract an audience. This reputation as a performer can help in attracting students.

As I hinted above, self-supporting via studio teaching and performing can be very, very difficult. You might need well need a “day job”. I know a young woman who has successfully combined medical technology and studio teaching - BM in music performance and Associates Degree in her medical specialty. For her, the best of both worlds.

Good luck to you!


My D is a teaching artist for an opera company. She does not have a music education background. She has a performance background (and an MM). She was referred for the position based on work and connection in her community. It is NOT a full time position. She is a performer, private teacher with her own studio but also with a high school (private lessons for talented students) and the primary music school in the city (a vocal performance Sat class). Plus she’s a teaching artist with the opera company where she goes out to schools and community events to represent the opera company in the community. It’s just one of her many gigs.

She got the gig due to her performance background and community networking (and having an MM in music definitely helps). In her area (classical vocalist), they are not looking for a music ed degree, they are looking for a credentialed (meaning BM or MM), successful classical performer in the community.