“Nothing is more beautiful than a guitar, except, possibly two.” - Frédéric Chopin
Around one in five amateur musicians plays the guitar. A lot of musicians would love to earn a living off their passion for the guitar but there are hardly a wealth of opportunities. Even if you’re a fantastic guitarist, you’ll need a solid background in music and know people in the industry if you want to earn a living.
Of course, we’re not here to discourage you but rather be realistic about how you can become a professional guitarist. Fortunately, there are several routes to becoming a professional guitarist and we’ll be going through them in this article.
Start Playing the Guitar Young at a Conservatory or Music School
Most people probably think that guitarists spend most of their time going from town to town performing shows in front of thousands. However, in reality, the lives of most guitarists are quite different.
Before you can become a famous guitarist, you need to master playing the instrument itself. The guitar is a tricky instrument to learn how to play. It’s a good idea to start as soon as you can and those who pick up an instrument from a young age tend to be better at it.
As early as primary school, there are options for kids wanting to learn to play the guitar. Most of these opportunities come outside of primary school but kids can learn about music theory and playing the guitar. In conservatories and music schools, they tend to start with an introduction to music and theory before moving onto choosing the instrument they want to play. Certain instruments are more popular than others.
Kids can get lessons about music and the guitar specifically. Some conservatoires even offer music tuition for those as young as 6 months! They can get a few hours of tuition each week but kids’ classes are usually shorter affairs due to the limited attention spans of children.
Generally, children will be taught by music and teaching professionals. As they get older, their lessons will start to look more like the traditional lessons you’d think of when you think of a conservatoire. By the time they reach secondary school, their music tuition will be quite serious.
Of course, there’s also the option of personalised or private tuition. These are tailored courses and sessions where children can learn exactly what they want. Most conservatoires will offer recognised qualifications and music exams, too.
Find out more about being a professional guitarist.
Studying a Music A Level to Become a Professional Guitarist
A music qualification is always a bonus when it comes to jobs. Not every course offered by conservatoires comes with a recognised qualification and they’re not all as widely recognised as an A Level, either.
At the end of your schooling, you can always choose music as one of your A Levels. Generally, if you’re looking to study music at university, a music A Level of similar will be one of the requirements. Many conservatoires also offer degrees in music and will either want applicants to have qualifications. A Level Music will include both music theory and performance and is a great stepping stone towards higher education. By this stage, you’ll probably be quite serious about your music.
Of course, you can also study other A Levels in other subjects at the same time but you might want to lean towards the arts if you’re applying to art-based or music degrees. While an A Level in music doesn't guarantee that you'll find work in the music industry, there are many careers in music that require a music degree and it's much easier to get onto the courses with a Music A Level.
Studying Music Degrees at University or a Convservatoire
An A Level in music probably won’t be enough to become a professional musician. Generally, you’ll need to study music to degree level in a university or a conservatoire.
In the UK, conservatoires act quite similarly to universities but instead of attending lectures and seminars, you’ll regularly be working alongside professional musicians with an emphasis on one-to-one tuition, group work, and performance. Similarly, the timetable is usually more demanding with students doing a 9 to 5 almost every day of the week with performances on weekends and evenings.
Furthermore, you’ll be expected to regularly practise during your own time.
While every conservatoire will offer music courses, many also offer acting and drama courses. Like universities, they’ll offer undergraduate degrees and postgraduate degrees. If you're looking to play guitar in an orchestra, a conservatory or school of music is usually the best way to go because, in addition to music education, there's a large focus on music performance, classical music, and playing under a conductor.
Find out more about how much guitarists earn.
Become a Professional Guitarist to Teach Music
If you’re not interested in the performance side of being a guitarist, you might be interested in sharing your knowledge of playing the guitar as a teacher or a tutor.
There are a few options:
- Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and teaching in state schools.
- Teaching in universities or conservatoires.
- Teaching as a private tutor.
Not every career in music means that you have to play music for an audience. Being a music teacher can be rewarding as most music students (at least at the higher levels) are very enthusiastic about their music.
Check out our tips for pro guitarists.
The Qualities and Skills a Professional Guitarist Needs
Forget the idea that a gifted guitarist won’t need to work as hard. While some people are better than others when it comes to playing music, nobody gets better without putting the effort in. You’ll struggle to become a professional guitarist if you can’t read sheet music and you won’t be able to become a composer if you don’t understand anything about melodies.
If you want to make music the main way you earn money, you’ll need to work hard at it.
- Give yourself clear, ambitious, and achievable objectives. At the start of each month, give yourself a goal that you can achieve and break it down into steps or parts for each week. You’ll soon start to see yourself making more progress than before.
- Practise and rehearse daily. Your guitar should never have the opportunity to gather dust. After all, practice makes perfect so keep at it. If you’re struggling with something, break it down into more understandable chunks. Try to regularly go back to it and make slow but steady progress.
- Don’t rest on your laurels. Even if you’re very good, you can always get better. Guitarists will regularly face stiff competition and you need to improve every aspect of your playing.
- Improve your stage presence. As a professional guitarist, you need to be as comfortable on stage as you are in the studio or at home. Film your performances and look at what you can improve.
- Network. It’s difficult to build a music career on your own. Surround yourself with ambitious and useful people. Hang around with musicians who can help you improve as a professional guitarist.
A professional musician is also an entrepreneur. They need to find opportunities and ultimately get paid for their playing. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, either.
If you're composing music, you can always supplement your income by working with record companies as a session musician, songwriting, or playing with a symphony orchestra. There are plenty of music careers out there and regardless of the musical instrument you play, you can make a living playing it.
In any case, it can be tricky breaking into the world of professional musicians. You’ll want a good knowledge of music theory, guitar technique, and performance skills to succeed.
If you'd like to learn more about the guitar and how to play it, consider getting help from one of the many talented tutors on Superprof. There are several ways you can learn to play the guitar and there's something for every level and every budget.
Face-to-face tutorials are between you and your tutor and you'll enjoy lessons that are tailored to you and what you want to learn. While these tend to be the costliest type of tutorials, they're also very cost-effective as every minute is spent helping you to improve your playing.
If you can't find any tutors near you, there's always the option to learn how to play the guitar with online private tutorials. Thanks to video conferencing software, you can now be taught by tutors all over the world. Online tutorials tend to be cheaper than face-to-face tutorials.
Finally, if you're looking to save money, group tutorials are usually the cheapest per student per hour as you're all paying for the tutor's time. However, you won't get the personalised service you would expect from the other types of tutorials.