How to Make a
Living as a Classical Guitarist

Many people are intimidated when they think about making a living as a classical guitarist. They wonder... how will I make enough money? What jobs are available? Is it too competitive? Such questions scare many guitarists away from pursuing their life's passion as a career.

But in reality, thousands of classical guitarists around the world are making a comfortable living every day. Here, you will learn the the ins and outs of how to start a career as a classical guitarist.

Getting Started: What are your Career Options?

Basically, there are two main career paths for classical guitarists: teaching and performing. Of all classical guitarists, probably around 90% make a living by just teaching, around 2% make a living by just performing, and around 8% do some combination of both.

Option 1: Teach Classical Guitar

Teaching is, by far, the most common way that classical guitarists make a living. Why? Because it is very easy to get a steady paycheck from teaching. Almost all classical guitarists teach at one point or another.

What do Classical Guitar Teachers Do?

Most classical guitarists teach private lessons to students on a weekly basis. For instance, a teacher might have 30 students, and give each student a one-hour private lesson every week.

However, some guitarists teach in other ways, such as group lessons, master classes, workshops, and ensembles.

As a teacher, you can either work at an institution (such as a music school or conservatory), or you can have a private studio. If you have a private studio, you find your own students and set your own rates, hours, and teaching policies. However, if you work at an institution, you let other people control those things for you.

Example Teaching Jobs

  • Private Studio Teacher
  • Music School Teacher
  • High School Teacher
  • Community College Teacher
  • Conservatory or University Professor

What is it Like to be a Teacher?

Teaching can be a very rewarding career path. As a guitar teacher, you develop strong personal relationships with your students... you help them grow and develop as musicians, and you become lifelong friends in the process. Moreover, as you do this, you will find that you learn a lot about yourself and your own musicianship along the way.

How are Teacher's Paid?

Some guitar teachers charge a flat rate for each lesson (e.g. $40 per lesson). For these teachers, their monthly salary depends on the number of students that they have.

However, other guitar teachers (that work for an institution) may receive a fixed salary, regardless of how many students that they have.

How to Become a Guitar Teacher:

To become a guitar teacher, first, you should get certified. The best way to get certificated is to get a degree in music from a college or university. However, you can also get certified with specific guitar methods (such as Suzuki) or specific school systems (e.g. Illinois public schools).

Although you could theoretically teach guitar without any certification, you will always have a more successful career if you are certified. The more certification, the better. Getting certified makes people respect you more as a teacher, and will increase your salary in the long run.

Then, once you are certified, the next step is to apply for teaching jobs. Go around to schools or colleges and see what places will accept you. Or if you want to start a private studio (not through an institution), start advertising to find potential students.

Start by applying for small jobs at local music schools, high schools, etc. Once you get more experience, you will be able to apply for better teaching jobs at larger colleges and universities.

Option 2: Perform Classical Guitar

Performing, although less reliable than teaching, can still be a great way for a classical guitarist to make a living.

What do Guitar Performers Do?

Guitar performers give many different types of performances. Some perform solo concerts. Others perform in groups such as guitar duos, and guitar quartets. Some focus on a specific style of music, others play a wide array of music.

Likewise, there are many different performance venues. Some guitarists play at local libraries, retirement homes, and churches. Other guitarists play in large concert halls around the world.

Example Performance Collaborations:

  • Guitar Duos, Trios, and Quartets
  • Guitar-Flute Duos
  • Chamber Music Groups
  • Playing as a Soloist in an Orchestra
  • Recording Music for Movies
  • Playing in the Pit for an Opera or Musical

Example Performance Venues:

  • Concert Halls
  • Retirement Homes
  • Restaurants (background music)
  • Weddings
  • Events
  • Libraries
  • Street Performing
  • Churches
  • Cruises
  • Guitar Festivals
  • Guitar Competitions

What is it Like to Be a Performer?

As a performer, your career is very versatile. You can collaborate with whomever you want, play in any venue you want, travel wherever you want... your imagination is the limit!

Performing can also be a very rewarding career. As you play concerts, you meet many people, travel many places, and develop an admiring audience.

How are Performer's Paid?

Performers are usually paid a flat fee for each concert. This fee is negotiated between the performer and the venue.

How to Become a Guitar Performer:

To become a guitar performer, first, you must have good music to offer. Your guitar playing should be very polished, and your music should be something that will be interesting to your audience. Also, it helps if you are certified with a degree in music, and have won some competitions.

Next, you need to make a press kit. This could be a website, a new CD, a brochure... anything that gives people an idea of your music.

Finally, the last step is to market yourself. Sell yourself to the best places that will buy your service. If you are a good salesperson, you can do your own marketing by calling people, visiting customers, sending emails, etc. Otherwise, you can hire a manager to do the marketing for you.

Other Ways to Get Supplemental Income

In addition to teaching and performing, many classical guitarists find other small ways to get supplemental income. Here are some examples:

  • sell guitar CD's
  • sell guitar method books
  • work at guitar festivals and competitions
  • start a guitar teaching school
  • speak about guitar topics at various events
  • write for guitar magazines and blogs

What's a Guitarist's Salary Like?

Through some combination of teaching, performing, and making supplemental income, most full-time classical guitarists get somewhere between $50,000 and $120,000 per year.

That being said, guitarist salaries can vary a lot. Depending on how many students they teach, and how many concerts they play, classical guitarists make as much or as little money as they want. They are in complete control of their own career.

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About Me

My name is Daniel Nelson, and I am a classical guitar teacher and performer from Los Angeles, California. Click here to learn more.