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Become a Professional Pianist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a professional pianist. Explore the education and career requirements and experience you'll need to start a career as a professional pianist. View article »

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  • 0:00 Professional Pianists
  • 0:59 Step 1: Early Training
  • 1:32 Step 1: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:32 Step 3: Entry-Level Work
  • 3:11 Step 4: Network

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Video Transcript

Professional Pianists

As a professional pianist, you can perform as a solo act, with singers and musicians, or as part of a band or orchestra. Professional pianists typically start learning how to play at an early age and later focus on a particular style, like concert or jazz piano. As a professional pianist, you'll need to practice on a regular basis and have polished pieces ready for auditions. You may travel to performance venues or work in a studio. Down time between jobs is not uncommon. Key skills for professional pianists include musical talent, discipline, perseverance, and creativity. They should also have the confidence necessary to perform in public.

According to PayScale.com in October 2016, hourly rates for pianists ranged from approximately $18.00 - $60.00. Annual pay ranged from $20,200 - $125,200.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is helpful but not required
Degree Field Music; music theory; piano performance; piano studies
Training Training programs, music lessons, vigilant practice
Key Skills Musical talent; discipline; perseverance; creativity; passion; public performance
Salary $20,200 - $125,200 per year (2016 Median salary for all pianists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; PayScale

Step 1: Early Training

Long before enrolling in a bachelor's degree program, an aspiring pianist typically begins practicing at an early age to develop his or her skills and learn discipline. Piano teachers can help future professionals learn how to play the instrument, interpret music and understand music theory, and encourage them to establish a regular practice schedule.

Success Tip

  • Perform in front of an audience. While training and practice are important, participating in recitals, orchestras and other ensembles can help students grow as musicians and prepare for formal training.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Jazz
  • Music Composition and Theory
  • Music History and Literature
  • Music Merchandising and Management
  • Music Pedagogy
  • Music Performing
  • Musical Conducting
  • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
  • Piano and Organ
  • Stringed Instruments
  • Voice and Opera

Step 2: Bachelor's Degree

An aspiring professional pianist can earn a bachelor's degree in piano performance or studies, music, or music theory. Applicants may have to audition and/or submit a recording. An undergraduate program can include foundational in music history, methods and styles, ear training, and performance. Students attend class and participate in recitals. Degree programs also provide opportunities for pianists to expand their repertoires and learn to play classical, jazz, blues, or religious music.

Success Tip

  • Enroll in music camp or pursue a fellowship. Music camps and fellowships provide pianists with additional training and experience. They can also help them develop and refine their performance skills.

Success Tip

  • Consider earning a master's degree in music. Additional training can also be found through graduate music programs, which again combine academic coursework with performance opportunities. Electives allow students to tailor their programs to their individual piano interests.

Step 3: Entry-Level Work

A new professional pianist may find entry-level work through small art communities, religious groups or symphonies. Full-time jobs in piano performance can be difficult to come by, although it's possible for pianists to find work and gain experience in places like nightclubs or churches. Depending on their educational background, they may teach at schools, universities or conservatories. Teaching jobs can supplement income earned by performing.

Success Tip:

  • Consider getting an agent. Although many musicians choose to look for work on their own, an agent - especially one with a large network - can open the door to more auditions and employment opportunities.

Step 4: Network

A professional pianist can also find work through prior employment contacts. Playing publicly with as many musicians as possible, and as often as possible, can broaden a pianist's network and increase visibility. Recordings of performances can be collected in a music portfolio to share with potential clients or venues.

Let's quickly go over what we just talked about. As a professional pianist, you'll most likely need a bachelor's or even a master's degree in music and an agent or a strong network of contacts. As of October 2016, pianists earned between $20,200 and $125,200 a year.

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