Music Education Certification & Licensure in the United States


Teacher Certification and Licensure Practices for Music Educators


Teacher certification and licensure practices for music educators vary by state. Preservice music teachers, practicing music teachers, and music teacher educators can all benefit from knowing what the music teacher certification practices are in each state. This information can inform state music education policy, preservice music teacher preparation, teacher mobility, and reciprocity.

Special thanks to researchers Brittany Nixon May, Karen Willie, Cherilyn Worthen, and Allyssa Pehrson, for collecting this licensure information and sharing it with NAfME to benefit the profession. NAfME will continue to work with these researchers to update this information on an annual basis.

Photo: franny-anne / iStockPhoto


In 2016, we gathered information on music teacher certification for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We collected our information through state department of education websites, phone calls, emails, and online inquiries. (This table was updated in 2018 and 2020.)

The table, now available on the NAfME website, contains this data set, including information regarding certificate age levels and subject areas, levels and length of certification, testing requirements, teacher performance assessment, reciprocity, alternative certification, and fees.

As we compiled the information from various states on music teacher certification, we noticed some interesting trends among the states:

  • Thirty-nine states designated “music” as the subject area for certification.
  • The most prevalent age-level designation for music teacher certification was all-level (e.g., K-12, PK-12)
  • Twenty-eight states offered K-12 certification, 16 states offered early childhood-12, three states offered early childhood-adult, and three states offered all grades/levels.
  • Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia required a music content exam.
  • Twenty states required exams in basic skills, music content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.
  • Twelve states required a teacher performance assessment (e.g., edTPA).
  • Application fees ranged from $0 to $200.00, with a median fee of $75.00.
  • Forty-six states and the District of Columbia claimed some level of reciprocity with each other through NASDTEC (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification).
  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia offered some kind of an alternative pathway to licensure or certification.

In comparing the 2016 data with music teacher certification data from the past five decades, we noted a decrease in specialized area designations, such as instrumental or choral in favor of the broader designation of “music.” We also noted age-restricted designations, such as elementary and secondary, were more common in earlier decades and that most states now only offer an all-level age designation (e.g., K-12). The age-designation has also expanded recently to encompass early childhood and adult learners. Finally, testing requirements have increased in all areas (i.e., basic skills, content, and pedagogy), and an increasing number of states are requiring teaching performance assessments, such as edTPA, for music teacher certification.

We recommend that music educators continue to regularly reexamine teacher certification as federal and state policies and mandates continue to alter certification requirements. Additionally, both music teacher educators and K-12 music educators should be proactive in familiarizing themselves with legislative policy issues surrounding certification in their state, as these policies can directly affect teacher preparation programs, hiring decisions, and teacher mobility.

Lynn Tuttle, Director of Public Policy & Professional Development,  October 6, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (