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.

Should I Become a Professional Pianist?

In your work 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.

You may 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. Your daily work may involve traveling to perform or working in a studio. Though your work may be enjoyable, you might have to endure periods without a steady job.

Career Requirements

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 $20,206 per year (2015 Median salary for all pianists)

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

Step 1: Begin Training Early

Long before enrolling in a bachelor's degree program, aspiring pianists typically begin practicing at an early age to gain valuable skills and discipline. Young pianists may pursue training with a teacher to learn to play the piano, interpret music and understand music theory. It's also important for young pianists to set a regular practice schedule to improve and develop their skills.

Success Tip

  • Perform in front of an audience. While training and practice are important, participating in recitals, orchestras and other ensembles will be beneficial as students continue to grow as a musician and prepare for formal training.

Step 2: Enroll in a Bachelor's Degree Program

To be competitive and skilled in piano playing, aspiring pianists will need to enroll in a bachelor's degree program in piano performance. This is an opportunity for pianists to expand their repertoire and learn to play classical, jazz, blues or religious music. The curriculum within a bachelor's degree program provides foundational coursework in theory, piano performance and aural skills. Often classroom settings are combined with an emphasis on recitals before peers and instructors.

Success Tip

  • Enroll in music camp or earn a fellowship. Extra opportunities such as these can provide additional training and experience for pianists, helping them develop and refine their performance skills.

Success Tip

  • Consider obtaining a master's degree. Enrolling in a master's degree program will provide students with additional training opportunities and prepare them for professional careers. These programs will also combine academic coursework with performance opportunities, and electives will be offered that allow students to tailor their programs to piano interests.

Step 3: Begin Looking for Work

New pianists may find work through smaller art communities, religious groups or symphonies. Full-time jobs in piano performance will be difficult to come by, though it is possible for pianists to gain work and experiences through places like nightclubs or churches. Depending on the background of the musician, a pianist can teach at a school, university or conservatory to supplement his or her income.

  • Consider getting an agent. Although many musicians choose to look for work on their own, employing an agent to find work or audition opportunities can help professional pianists take advantage of an agent's additional networking connections.

Step 4: Network and Create a Portfolio to Advance Your Career

Many pianists find work through prior professional contacts. Play publicly with as many musicians as possible, as often as possible, to increase your experience, visibility and contacts. Collect or record your performances to share with potential clients or venues as a way of increasing your potential performance opportunities.

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