What are some of the pitfalls and tips for starting out as a teacher? What do you need to start your own successful music teaching business and what are some of the things you should avoid?

  • 2
    Can we consider making this question a wiki?
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 9:36
  • A lot of this is going to be location-specific. What country are you in?
    – Laurence
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 10:03
  • @LaurencePayne - from the profile, S.Africa. But there are a lot of factors that will be similar for most places. Not sure how 'music teaching business' fits into teaching in schools.
    – Tim
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 11:01

3 Answers 3


For starters, merely being a good or great musician is nowhere near enough to be a successful teacher. Neither is having qualifications and certificates. Those downvoting - please tell your valid reasons!

  1. Having knowledge is one thing. Having the propensity to pass that knowledge on to others is far more important for teaching. So, no.1 - being able to communicate and empathise.

  2. O.k. So you passed loads of exams. That usually means in the first place that you're good at studying and passing exams. It doesn't make you a good teacher - necessarily. There may be parents, or potential students, who pose the question about qualifications, but I've only ever been asked about that once, and the fact that I'd passed no exams on the instrument concerned was in the end of no concern.

  3. Having a suitable room is pretty important. For a while I visited students, but trying to teach in the kitchen or hallway hardly worked. Plus as much time was spent travelling as teaching, and resources were rarely at hand. So, good room, good equipment - dependant on the instrument concerned. For guitar, a spare amp is basic, music stands, guitar stand, footstool etc. essential.

  4. Somewhere for waiting, for parents, next pupil, etc.

  5. Resources - something on which to play music, books, paper, manuscript paper, laptop, tuner, own instrument, etc. By own instrument, I mean just that. I prefer teaching guitar with my own on my lap; keyboard with another to explain things without shifting the student; two sets of drums facing each other.

  6. In some countries, having been certified as safe (for wont of a better phrase!) as in a Police check (in UK it was called C.R.B) is essential. Difficult for a parent, in some cultures, to let their offspring stay with what would initially be a complete stranger for lessons. I would insist on parent being there for the first few, even though I had been 'certified'.

  7. Being reliable - ready on time, prepared, not cancelling at the last minute.

  8. Having material suitable for each individual. Being flexible enough to change what you prepared if it's not going as well as you hoped. Being able to transcribe anything the student brings, there and then, to work on, using that material - love it or hate it - as a vehicle. After all, that's probably more motivating than what you'd like him to practise! But not allowing him to call all the shots. You're the teacher, after all.

  9. Being aware of publications, trends, being able to answer questions immediately - or - being certain to find out answers ready for next lesson! Obviously here, experience helps - and as a beginner teacher, one wouldn't have that, maybe.

Most of this comes from experience with private teaching, but a lot will be appropriate for schools and colleges.

That'll do for now, except to say that behind every great performer, be it athlete, player, whatever, there's often a coach who is not as good as they are - just that that coach knows how to make the performer improve. Teachers are often like that coach. So, back to the beginning - you don't need to be a brilliant player to teach!

  • I would add that it is extremely important to come up with a consistent and efficient method of collecting payment from your students (or more likely their parents).
    – Ambluj
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 0:01

A few things you should consider when starting out.

Decide what kind of teacher you want to be

A professor of music at a college once told someone close to me that he always finds it amazing when he sees a teacher, teaching young children. He says that even though he did go to Julliard, it was something he was never taught.

Just as this professor decided to focus on adults studying music at a Collegiate level so you must also decide on what kind of teacher you want to be.

Do you want to focus on primary school children, do you want to focus on teenagers, would you take on adults? All question that you must ask yourself

Where are you going to teach?

Do you want to teach at a school, or do you want to teach in a private practice? Some people do well at a school while others prefer to be their own boss.

In certain places teaching from home has a stigma associated with it. In Britain, for instance, the RCM will not give out the details of graduates to parents who inquire for lessons if the graduate works from home.

Do you have the space to work from home? In Europe it is hard to have the home where you can teach from, most people live in a flat and that is not really suited to teach from.

In North America people tend to own homes that allow for this more. If you do have space there is still more to consider. If you are teaching from home you need an open space from which the parents can see you working with their children.

There is a certain amount of natural apprehension when parents let new people in their children's lives, you need the setup where the parents can sit in on the lessons and see what you are like with them.

If you work from home you must make it clear to the children that some parts of the house are out of bounds. You cannot have children entering your bedroom.

If you live with someone then this someone must take reasonable steps to divorce him/herself from your teachings. You must also ask yourself if this person represents him or herself in a manner that aids my teaching or not?

Working for a school can also be worthwhile, having a steady paycheck and benefits like sick-leave and a pension can be great. You do give out a lot of control over your lessons when working for a school.

Many music teachers who work at schools, especially those in full-time positions, have their roster of pupils fill in for them. Some school parents apply to the school for a position and the school decides whether they have a place for the pupil. There are schools where this happens in a much more authoritarian way that what would strike some as good. It is also often not easy to cancel lessons as there is often a stringent process for this to happen.

Do you have the mentality of a teacher?

Some people are natural born teachers, some are not. So have the social graces for teaching, some do not. Teaching is both a selfless and a thankless job.

Regardless of how good you are, you are never going to be rich teaching. You are not going to be the person who plays to an audience and gets rapturous applause and the love of the masses. You are going to be the person who will work with young people, teaching them for a certain amount of time and then when they are done using you they will leave and you will never see them again.

This is not to say that teaching cannot be richly rewarding, you must just be aware of the non-tangible rewards it provides. Teaching is not a profession for people who have the locus of their self-worth foreign to themselves.

  • 1
    How did I guess this would be self-answered..! And why highlight young people? I've taught many adults, 70+ yr olds!
    – Tim
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 10:36

This is a very broad question, and entire books are available on the subject. This answer will focus on considerations of starting a music teaching business, and I'll be re-iterating some excellent points from the other answers. Some of my points may be specific to the United States.

There are a number of opportunities for teaching music. Some of these tips are for someone who is not working as an employee of an organization, such as a school, but is working independently as their own employer.


Setting yourself up as an independent music teacher is essentially starting your own business. You may teach from your own location, contract with a music school or through a music store, and/or travel to client's locations.

License and Certification

Depending on your location you will need to look up local licensing and certification requirements. In the States, a Business License is usually required to sell services to people. In some cases things like Certification and posting of Bond are required to operate a teaching business.

As mentioned, a safety certification is extremely useful, or being able to provide some sort of background check. It is also useful to have First Aid and CPR training.

You will also be responsible for reporting and paying any taxes that are required in your area. Reporting and paying taxes may be different when you are set up as a business than personal employment income.


If you are teaching from your own location, you should check local zoning rules to see if your type of business is permissible in your location. Your location should be clean and well lit, and have easy access for the client. Your clients shouldn't have to climb some rickety back stairs and travel through your kitchen to get to your music studio. It should also be clean: no pet hair on chairs, no laundry being folded, no equipment other than the music gear you need for teaching. Did I mention that it should be clean?

Contracting with a music studio or store can be a way to have a location without setting up one of your own. Teachers may pay rent on the studio by space or by student, or the studio may handle the customer and pay you directly for the lessons you teach. There are many different configurations.

If your are going to be traveling to the client's location, travel time and the additional expense of your transportation needs to considered in your pricing.


As a business you need to attract and retain customers. You should do Market Research in your area to find out what competition you have and what the going rate is for lessons of the type you are providing.

Music lessons are often a referral business, so you will want to reach out to local music stores, local school music directors and anyone else in related music business in your area and introduce yourself and the services you are offering.

Make sure you look professional when you are contacting people and potential clients.


It is a good idea to have a Contract prepared for your lesson services. The contract should detail all the expectations between the client and you, including but not limited to Scheduled Time, Duration of lesson, Payment requirements, Policies on absences and make-up lessons, Contract cancellation, late fees &c.

You should also collect on your contract all the customer's contact information, including where you can mail your invoices, e-mail addresses, emergency contact numbers, and any special considerations for the student.

You should maintain a list or database of your customers, including past customers and customer history, and keep records of all payment transactions.

Billing and Accepting Payments

You will want some way of Invoicing your clients, and collecting payment. There are many options to how you may set this up and it is a personal choice for how much you want to set up. Accepting credit cards has become easy today with many services available for individuals and small businesses.


Advertising and Marketing

Besides the very many books and web pages available on the subject, there are also often non-profit and government resources available to help new small-businesses with starting out.

Gaining and Keeping Students

Make sure you know enough to actually teach your instrument. I often have musicians come to me looking for a teaching job who have played for a number of years, but can't describe what Key Signatures are. If you don't have a degree in music or haven't passed various certifications, check your knowledge. If you are taking on students you may have them for a long time and you want to be sure that you can provide all the knowledge to put them on a path to success.

Student retention is one of your primary goals. The teaching business may start slowly, with only a few students to start with, and limited income. Students can stay with a teacher for years, and you build up more and more students as you add them into your schedule.

Clear communication with the client and acting Professional is very important.

Consistency is also very important, especially with scheduling. Students (or their parents) like to have the schedule be regular and predictable. If you are constantly changing the schedule, re-arranging the lessons or cancelling last minute you will loose your students. I have seen this happen with a number of good teachers. Eventually the client gets tired of the constant changes and re-scheduling, and drops the teacher.

Referrals are often one of the main avenues to gaining more students. Having a referral discount for your current customers, family discounts for additional family members, free lesson vouchers that students can give to their friends, and marketing material on hand such as business cards or brochures can all help bring in new business.

Get involved with your community music events, get to know your community leaders and business people, and always be on the lookout for the opportunity to mention your lesson business.


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