Career Options for Pianists: What do accomplished players do for work?

July 12, 2021

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Millions and millions of children and adults all over the world take piano lessons. For the vast majority of these students, playing piano is a nice hobby. It’s an activity that enriches the soul and mind – something that makes us both happier and smarter. Yet, there is a small population of pianists who enter the professional performance world. Let’s take a look at  the careers options for pianists who are very accomplished players!

A friend of ours and a former Riverside Music Studios piano teacher wrote a book that states that it takes more training to become a pianist than an astronaut –  we think it’s true! Most professional pianists begin piano lessons at a very young age and practice a lot. There are  certainly some phenomenal exceptions when pro piano players have started from scratch in teenage years or even as young adults; however, the majority of professional pianists they begin taking lessons between ages 4 and 6. Practicing piano becomes a lifelong journey.

Classical vs. Non-Classical Paths

When young pianists decide to purse professional careers,  it usually means going for a music performance degree in a conservatory or university. They also usually have to choose whether to focus on classical or non-classical music. In most music colleges this means choosing between classical and jazz degrees. Sometimes you can also find degrees in contemporary improvisation, rock music, or church music. Classical majors continue with predominantly classical music in their lives and jazz majors do all other piano styles.

Classical Piano Jobs

You can pursue playing non-classical music without going to college but you absolutely can’t pursue classical music without the college education aspect.

Becoming A Concert Pianist

Perhaps the most ambitious career choice for a pianist is becoming a concert pianist. This career requires constant traveling while maintaining peak performance shape at all times.

At any given moment, there are only a handful of people who achieve a status of a recognizable name and who earn their living primarily by performing.

Artist management companies book such pianists for performances and tours. Audio and video recordings is another source of income although nearly non-existent income since the start of audio streaming platforms.

Accompanist or Collaborative Pianist Careers

Performing with other musicians requires a different skill set than performing solo. The challenge for accompanists and collaborative pianists is the very large amount of repertoire necessary! These pianists must learn many pieces very quickly in order to be prepared to work alongside singers and other instrumentalists. In this career,  pianists are paid either directly by other musicians or sometimes they may be employed by a university or orchestra as a staff accompanist.

Piano Teacher/Instructor Career

From teaching young kids to adults, beginner to professional levels, there are many small and large music schools and universities that are happy to have great piano players to work for them! Many pianists have their own teaching studios where they teach private lessons. Teaching piano is challenging because you must not only to be able to play well yourself, but also to be able to relate to the students. A perfectly skilled piano player doesn’t always mean a great teacher.

Orchestral Pianist Career

Piano is not always included in the instruments of an orchestra. Don’t mistake it for when the piano is a solo instrument played by a concert pianist who is not a part of the orchestra staff.  There are pianist positions in orchestras, too. Usually these are part time positions.

In reality, classical pianists usually combine a few of the jobs above. Most have teaching positions as they are the most stable income. Performing gigs can be organized not only through the artist management companies but through smaller organizations and also directly. Same goes for accompanying gigs, recordings, and other musical projects.

If you are a really good classical piano player, then there will be many opportunities for you to earn your living!

Non-Classical Pianist Jobs

Church Musician Playing Piano/Organ

While many classical pianists serve as church musicians, technically you don’t have to be classically educated to become a church musician. This job ranges from very part time or full time. Some church pianists only have to be at work for 2 hours just a Sunday, while others have much more responsibility.  The challenge of being a church pianist is that you must be a good player but also be able to lead the church choir during the service. Some churches also use more contemporary music or a mix of the classical and contemporary.

Keyboard/Piano Player in a Band

A  piano or keyboard player can be a permanent member of a group or a freelance musician playing with different bands/groups. Piano or electric keyboards are part of virtually any musical style. The challenge of playing in a band is to know all the working of electric keyboards and other equipment and to generally be lucky to play with successful bands.

Jazz is generally the style that requires virtuoso piano playing and often features piano as a prominent instrument. In other styles, piano/keyboard usually plays the role of a background instrument.

Music  Arrangement Jobs

Another fairly new but very much in demand job is arranging music for piano solos. This is where a good piano player will create a piano version of a pop, rock, or any other style of a song and sell the sheet music for it through various platforms. In order to do this, it’s necessary to have some technical knowledge (most arrangers use computer programs to create the sheet music), as well as knowledge of music notation. It’s also important that the pianist is a technically qualified piano player so that the arrangement sounds good and is also comfortable to play.

Solo Performance as Singer/Songwriter

If you happen to be a good singer who can also play the piano, then solo performing is another option where having taken piano lessons would definitely pay off. You can probably think of many artists who do that really well!

Good piano playing skills can be also used in composing, arranging, and producing music of any style.

As you can see, there are many career options for pianists.  Being a professional pianist is often a hard job that requires many years of learning and practicing but in the end it can make you very happy!

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