“The guitar has a kind of grit and excitement possessed by nothing else.” - Brian May
According to a 2018 study by Consequence of Sound, those who learn to play the guitar tend to do so mainly for fun and play songs for their enjoyment or for family and friends rather than to become a professional guitarist.
That said, nothing is stopping you from earning a living from your music. The guitar is a musical instrument that offers plenty of possibilities for those who play it.
In this article, we’ll look at these possibilities and how you can use your guitar playing to earn money, how much you can earn, and what a career as a guitarist is like.
Why Become a Professional Guitarist?
Music is more than just a leisure activity. If you’d like to get better at it, improve your rhythm, or learn more about music theory, you’re going to have to work at it. It’s difficult to put in this work to establish your music career if you’re not passionate about the guitar.
This is the first thing that’ll push you to get better as a musician, passion. Anyone working in the arts will need to be passionate as it can be very demanding. Ask any comedian, singer, or dancer about how tough their job can be.
Similarly, you could compare being a guitarist to being an athlete; you need an insane amount of passion to ensure that you remain motivated at all times. Unfortunately, that’s not all. You need to be rigorous, ambitious, and disciplined.
Being a guitarist isn’t just about performing at concerts, being on the road with the band, and going for drinks after a show. You’ll need to regularly practise playing the guitar. This involves practising at times when you’d still rather head out and get some fresh air. The type of passion that you’ll need will vary from person to person.
Maybe you’re not interested in being a soloist. You might want to join a band with a drummer, bassist, pianist, and a saxophonist. In some cases, being a musician is more fun when you share your passion with other musicians.
You might be interested in teaching music to aspiring musicians. Whether you play funk, pop-rock, or jazz, you can become a guitar teacher and teach in a school or as a private tutor.
You might be interested in a variety of different music careers. You could be a music teacher, guitarist in a band, and also in charge of finding gigs, organising the band, and managing money.
So would you like to go pro?
Find out more about the advantages of being a professional guitarist.
Do You Need to Study to Become a Professional Guitarist?
You don’t necessarily need formal qualifications but they can help you in certain careers. Music education is not only a great way to get into the music business but a conservatory (or conservatoire) or school of music can teach you a lot about music production, music technology, and lead you towards a degree in music.
Conservatoires and music schools are a way to learn more about music and the guitar and get an excellent music education. Music schools even allow very young students to study music and guitar, which can allow children to discover music and learn about different musical instruments. Initially, they won’t learn a particular musical instrument but they will be given the choice later on.
Similarly, children learn a lot about music in school. Some may even learn about music theory during this time. Generally, children won’t take music that seriously until secondary school and you won't start focusing on music performance.
If students choose to continue studying music to GCSE level, they’ll usually have to learn a particular instrument or sing. You can also study music at A Level or music schools. If you’re looking to join an orchestra, music schools are the way to go.
Music A Level can be studied at sixth forms and colleges. Generally, A Levels in music are more academic than other types of qualifications. Either way, an A Level is a pretty good way to get onto a music degree.
If you want to teach music, you’ll probably need to have studied music to a degree or master’s level before studying a teaching qualification. To teach at higher levels like at university, you may need even higher levels of music and teaching qualifications.
Find out more about becoming a professional guitarist.
How Much Does a Professional Guitarist Earn?
Generally, there aren’t many professional guitarists in the UK (at least in comparison to other lines of work). This makes it difficult to work out how much they earn. Their salary will be affected by several criteria:
- Their seniority.
- How many hours they work.
- Their reputation.
A guitarist playing in an orchestra under the watchful eye of a conductor will probably earn more than a busker on the tube, for example.
The average wage for orchestral musicians in the UK is around £30,000 per annum.
If you prefer to earn money as a teacher, it’ll depend on other factors:
- Your seniority as a teacher.
- The type of school or establishment you teach in.
In secondary schools, teachers begin on £24k. In inner London, teachers start on £30k. Private tutors’ rates, on the other hand, are dependent on a huge number of factors.
There are other ways for guitarists to earn money through teaching but again, the salary’s not set in stone. Similarly, guitarists can also earn extra money by playing gigs. Whether you play blues, folk, or rock, you could always look to earn money by playing the guitar at gigs and concerts.
Then there’s busking...
Find out more about how much guitarists can earn.
What Is a Typical Career Path for a Guitarist?
A guitarist’s career isn’t your typical career path. You won’t join a company and then try and get promoted to earn more money.
A guitarist needs to be more adaptable to get ahead or make a living. Whether you join an orchestra, a band, or become a teacher, you can earn a living. If you become a teacher, however, you’ll probably play your guitar at work much less than you’d like to. However, if you’re playing shows, you mightn’t earn a guaranteed salary.
In an orchestra, you’ll earn a wage as you play along with other musicians. In terms of career goals, you might be hoping to become a soloist. Otherwise, you might want to join foreign orchestras and see other parts of the world.
Teachers tend to have the clearest opportunities to increase their salaries. Similarly, you can improve your seniority and your wage in most teaching jobs. To increase your earnings, you might want to look at other places where you could play gigs. You can also look for opportunities by growing your network. One day, you might even be playing festivals.
As you’ll have understood, don’t overestimate how far you can go as a guitarist. Like most artistic careers, there’s not an established career path.
So would you still like to become a professional guitarist?
There are several ways for music students to break into the music industry and it all depends on the type of education they get. While a bachelor of music leads to plenty of different careers in music, there are plenty of music-related jobs that can be very rewarding.
Similarly, there are plenty of composers and musicians who don't have a bachelor of arts and still find a record label. For most classical music careers, however, formal tuition from a reputable department of music is required.
Check out our tips for having a successful music career as a guitarist.
If you'd like to learn more about the guitar without attending a music school or the music department at a university, you can get a private tutor. The advantage of a tutor is that they can teach you about various aspects of music from nailing auditions, songwriting, music competition, or just help in the recording studio.
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.