I recently asked my Facebook friends about the biggest frustration in their music careers. The answer that rose to the top was the scarcity of full-time guitar teaching jobs at universities. Many guitar faculty are employed part-time. Professors who do have full-time positions often keep them for twenty or thirty years, making new job openings rare.
While it’s hard to find a full-time guitar professor job, it’s not impossible. I know because I did it. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for finding your dream job, but here are the steps I took:
- Gain Education – I earned a doctorate. While it’s possible to teach at a university if you have a master’s degree, the competitive job market makes it increasingly important to have a terminal degree, especially if you want full-time employment.
- Accumulate Experience – While I was in graduate school, I served as a teaching assistant. I also taught part-time in a couple of small colleges. Then, during the last year of my doctorate, I landed a one-year visiting assistant professor job at a university. These experiences helped prepare me for the job I sought.
- Cultivate Versatility – If you teach solely guitar, a small number of university jobs are possible for you. If you also teach other subjects such as music theory, music appreciation, music history, music technology, or ethnomusicology, there are more jobs for which you can apply. Because I took more than 18 graduate credits in music theory, I became qualified to teach the subject at the university level. This made me more marketable.
- Build Relationships – It is natural for a hiring committee to want to hire someone they know. If they don’t know you, it helps if they have a friend who knows you. This does not necessarily mean that you need a large number of superficial contacts; it is more important to intentionally build meaningful relationships with people in your field. Don’t just look out for your own interests. Look for ways to serve others. Relationships built on mutual benefit are the most fulfilling and the most lasting.
- Apply to Posted Jobs – During the year when I was finishing my doctorate and working as a visiting assistant professor, I applied to every full-time guitar vacancy advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education. There were only five! I was a finalist for two of them and a semi-finalist for a third, but I did not get any of them.
- Take Massive Action – Over a 2-month period, I emailed 200 university music departments where I was interested in teaching, even though none of them had a guitar job advertised. I followed up by phone with many of them. In each email and phone call, I briefly stated my skills and experience and asked if they anticipated having an opening for someone with my background. I contacted department chairs as well as music faculty members who were alumni from my alma maters. The vast majority of responses were what you would expect. “No, we don’t have anything now. If we do, you will see it advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education.” A few of them said, “We could hire you part-time.” Because I was committed to finding full-time employment, I turned these down.
- A Promising Conversation – When I contacted Liberty University, I received a different response, although I didn’t think much of it at the time. There were three faculty members at Liberty University who, like me, had doctorates from Florida State University. I contacted all three of them. The first two responded as expected: “No, we don’t have anything now. If we do, you will see it advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education.” The third professor, however, wanted to talk with me on the phone; we ended up talking for thirty minutes. It turned out she was planning to retire a year later from her music theory job. She wanted to see her position go to a former student of Dr. Peter Spencer, her music theory professor at Florida State University. Because I had studied music theory pedagogy with Peter Spencer, she was interested in having me apply to be her successor. She mentioned that although the department did not have a classical guitar performance program, they might be interested in starting one.
- A Long Delay – Again, I did not think much about this conversation and moved on with my job search. I did not receive a full-time university job offer that year, but I received several full-time job offers teaching K-12 guitar. I decided to accept a position teaching middle-school and high-school guitar in Loudoun County, Virginia. A year later, I was happily teaching in Loudoun County and thought I would stay there for a number of years.
- The Result – Then I received an email from the retiring faculty member at Liberty University; she said that her music theory position was being advertised and that I should apply. I was ambivalent. I was happy where I was. Then I received a follow-up email from the music department chair at Liberty, again asking me to apply. This pushed me over the edge, and I sent in my resumé. A few weeks later, I was invited to interview. While I was on campus, I asked whether the university was only interested in a music theory professor or whether they were truly interested in starting a classical guitar performance program. They assured me they were interested in starting a classical guitar program. When the search concluded, I got the job offer and accepted it.
- Build Your Guitar Program– During my first two years on the job, I worked with the music department chair to propose the guitar performance curriculum and see it through the university curriculum process. Over the next few years, the guitar enrollment grew, and music theory classes were reassigned to other faculty members. By the end of my fifth year at Liberty University, I was teaching solely guitar.
Is getting a university guitar job easy? No. Is it possible? Yes. I hope my story will encourage you on your career journey.
To visit my faculty webpage on the Liberty University School of Music website, click here.
Question: What strategies have you found helpful in looking for a guitar job? You can leave a comment by clicking here.