Getting into music education

 6 March 2012

Many of today’s musicians, producers and DJs build a varied ‘portfolio’ career combining performance, teaching, and a range of other music and non-music activities.

About a quarter of the UK’s music industry workforce works in education and training. Photo: Ollie Crooke
About a quarter of the UK’s music industry workforce works in education and training. Photo: Ollie Crooke

For many, it is no longer simply being a virtuoso performer, but increasingly you are required to possess other skills. It’s important to start acquiring these skills to help you to survive and thrive in the music education world.

Employers look for evidence of good musical experience combined with an ability to engage with and teach young people.

There are around 150,000 musicians and composers in the UK. About a quarter of the UK’s music industry workforce work in education and training, usually as part of a portfolio career that takes in performance, and other music and non-music activities.

Every year, almost 700 musicians begin training to be secondary music teachers and over 10,000 members of the Musicians’ Union regularly teach. With such a wide range of genres, ways of working and points of access, it can be a dense jungle of approaches in navigating your career pathway.

“Every day is different”, says freelance musician Lucky Moyo. ”I could be working in a prison today, followed by a school, followed by a group of lawyers or working in a community centre.

"Every one of these places or venues is different, challenging and rewarding in its own way. One has to be adaptable, creative and pitch things at the right level for each of these groups”.

What’s going on with music education?

The government’s Henley report on music education said that, "the best music education comes from partnership; no one teacher, performer, school, organisation, group or body has all the requisite skills to deliver every part of a rounded music education to every child."

"I could be working in a prison, followed by a school, followed by a group of lawyers or a community centre."

The National Plan for Music Education that followed the Henley report proposed a template for how music education for children and young people aged five to eighteen will operate in England, in and out of schools.

The plan focuses on outcomes for young people through a partnership or a number of Music Education Hubs across the country.

Hubs will be driven by what is needed, rather than by what individual organisations want to provide. They’ll need to find out what young people want and need, and deliver it... "and then stretch their boundaries so they experience a range of musical genres and activities."

Education opportunities for musicians

Some genres, such as African, African-Caribbean and Asian, rock and pop, and music technology, are generally not linked to suitable teaching qualifications, or few opportunities exist to gain such accreditation.

Every type of musician can get involved in music education - you just have to want to pass on your skills in some way.

Instead, many employers look for evidence of good musical skills and experience combined with an ability to engage with and teach children and young people.

Andrea Spain, Head of Professional Skills at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance suggests musicians should, “develop a rounded set of skills to compliment your musical specialism.

"Immerse yourself in a diverse and flexible repertoire and develop an understanding of the education system and the needs of schools. A PGCE and CRB check are increasingly in demand and a valuable investment.”

Every type of musician can get involved in music education. No matter what your instrument, the styles or genre you sing, play or compose in, the experience and qualifications you currently have, the age you are, or where you live.

You just have to want to pass on your skills, knowledge and experience in some way. You also need to find out what sort of role suits you best, and in what settings you can or want to work.

Skills for a career in music education

While musicians and teachers working in schools come together because they have identified some common ground, they can also vary markedly in their approach to the work and in their priorities.

Most of these differences stem from different starting points: teachers and schools start with the education. Musicians and music organisations start with music.

1. An innovative approach

Tim Brown, the founder and Managing Director of the community music organization Raw Material, highlights what skills he seeks when recruiting musicians:

"Translate the benefits of music education across to other areas of the curriculum."

“We are supporting younger musicians in developing as leaders and musical innovators, not being tied down by traditional models.

"We facilitate and support the creative and artistic development of new music and genres outside the current dominant pop trends.

"We are always looking for innovative partnerships and methods to provide more opportunities outside the conventional curriculum.”

2. A broad knowledge base

“Knowledge of a wide range of musics, flexibility and an understanding of the needs of a variety of client groups,” is an important ingredient, stresses percussionist and composer Graham Dowdall.

“Technology skills, specialism in at least one instrument or area, allied to generalism, facilitation, compositional and performance skills, optimism and utter belief that what you do is worthwhile is vital”.

3. An understanding of funding

“A knowledge of funding and how the educational landscape is shifting is very useful,” says community musician Gawain Hewitt.

“An ability to translate the benefits of music education across to other areas of the curriculum and/or qualifications is becoming more important as arts funding gets squeezed.

“The single most important skill I think I have is the ability to design, fundraise and deliver my own projects. This has given me security, flexibility and independence in my career and is as important to me now as when I first started.”

For many successful music educators understanding music from every angle is evident.

They need a range of skills: to be a player, a producer, a recording artist and maybe an arranger-composer for television or film. For some, just playing an instrument well is no longer enough.


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