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Become a Professional Pianist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a professional pianist. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a professional pianist.

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Do I Want to Be 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. You may focus on a particular style. 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.

Job Requirements

Professional pianists typically start learning how to play at an early age. Although there are no formal educational requirements to become a professional musician, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some, like those who perform classical music, may be required to enroll in a bachelor's degree program in music theory or performance. The table below includes the requirements from the BLS to become a professional musician.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Name Piano performance, piano studies
Key Skills In addition to musical talent, musicians need have the discipline to practice, persevere in the face of rejection and network in the field

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.
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