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How to Become a Professional Musician

How to Become a Professional Musician

  • Student Tips
Alyssa WalkerFeb 22, 2017

The curtain rises and you hear the orchestra’s thrum. The show begins -- with the movement of your hand. As Victor Hugo once said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” You can turn your passion for speaking through music into a career with some dedication, thought, and unwavering commitment. For those of you who can’t help but speak through music, consider making it your career, in addition to your passion. Here are four things you must do to become a professional musician.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

Professional musicians often begin their careers without knowing it at an early age. If you’re past that point, there’s hope. Take lessons with a professional instructor and practice as often as possible. If you’re a university student, depending on your level, consider playing an instrument in a band or orchestra. Use any opportunity you have to practice. Here’s a tip: record yourself frequently and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you hear when you listen to your recorded work.

Here’s another idea: consider studying at a conservatory -- a school that offers specialized training for aspiring musicians. Studying at a conservatory requires that you practice frequently, and audition well -- your acceptance depends on it.

2. Study Music Theory or Music Performance

Get your bachelor’s degree in music theory or music performance. Earning your undergraduate degree is a requirement if you want to become a music director or composer. Even if you don’t want to be either of those things, getting your degree is still a good idea. Here's why: credibility. Any interested employer who sees that you have an undergraduate degree in music will take you seriously. Check out London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance.

If you go, make sure your program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music -- this requires at least one audition (See #1). With both degrees, you’ll study music education, modern popular music, music culture, and music history. In addition to the chance to specialize, you’ll have the chance to study conducting, performance, orchestration, and methodology. The programs at the University of Northern Iowa and Greenville University offer music programs that might just be what you’re looking for.

3. Work Ethic and Coping Skills

Working as a professional musician requires that you have what it takes: a work ethic and the ability to work under pressure. In other words, being a professional musician means you must have grit.

Learning anything -- especially an instrument -- takes commitment. Preparing for auditions, which are a requirement in the field, takes practice and dedication. Rehearsals and practice will become a part of your life. Professional musicians do not have nine-to-five jobs—you take your work with you wherever you go.

Learning how to take criticism—which comes with the territory -- means you’ll have to have coping skills. Professional musicians must have a way to cope with the stress of critics and occasional failures.

4. Gain Exposure and Perform Often

The more people hear your work, the more likely you are to find work. Exposure may take the form of auditions, recitals, or maybe even that campus production. Another great source for gaining exposure? The internet. Websites like and Spotify offer aspiring musicians and online forum for recording and marketing your work. There’s also YouTube -- make your own channel and play or sing your heart out.

Working in a field that makes your heart sing is a gift few of us get to experience. As a professional musician, translate your passion to your profession. With any luck, the two are interchangeable. Bravo!

Alyssa Walker

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.