Filtering by Category: Career

The money question again!

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hey, how's it going? I'm doing a school career report on concert pianists (and yes, I did find this site through googling 'how much money does a concert pianist make') and WAS wondering how much a concert pianist makes /year and/or /concert, but only for the report information. My teacher is making us find this, and I cand find it anywhere else. I really am interested in pursuing this as a career, but not for the money, as you said, but for the joy and experience it brings you Thanks so much...and sorry about the inconvenience!
 - Jill

Dear Jill,

Uh-huh. Here we go again. :-) For the sake of stray visitors, I'm going to do a little re-posting so that all readers are on the same page. After a reader asked me "how much money does a concert pianist make" (it wasn't the first time someone asked this), I provided a long response. My original posting is indented below:

I'm not in it for the money, and it bothers me when people become preoccupied with this facet of the profession. Every time I check this website's Google stats, I see dozens of people finding the site through some variant of the following search: "How much money do concert pianists make?" I mean, really?! For real?! If you care about money, please don't become a pianist. You may or may not make a significant amount (my income fluctuates wildly from year to year -- there's no way I could tell you my "salary"), but that's definitely not what it's about.

When a pianist seeks the fame and glory of the concert stage, he or she is probably on a path to disappointment; when a pianist is motivated by the genuine love of music, he or she will certainly find a satisfying musical career. There are countless fulfilling ways to make money as a pianist, not all of which are limited to performing on the concert stage. (Please view the "Ask Greg Archives: Career" for examples.) Yes, teaching music is one, but there are many more possibilities.

"What is it you do to support yourself financially?" The answer: I play the piano and compose.


I keep a busy concert schedule, both as a soloist and a duo pianist. My recordings are self-produced and selling well, so I actually make money when you buy one. Please buy one. I'm a YouTube partner, so YouTube pays me when you watch my videos on YouTube. Do it. Click on those ads next to the videos! :-) I receive commissions and royalties from the works I compose for The 5 Browns. Liz and I sell my piano duo scores to the public; you can buy them on the scores page. That's most of it -- performing and composing! -- although I do give lectures here and there, I'll publish my book someday (someday!), and I have other surprising plans for the future in the works. At the moment, I don't pursue any financial gain through teaching, web design, video editing, or accompanying -- with everything that excites and consumes me, I simply don't have time.

Some people think I'm savvy, but I'm doing what feels obvious to me. I'm following my mission ("to make classical piano music a relevant and powerful force in society") in every avenue of my professional life, from my performances, compositions, concert programs, and recordings to my websites, videos, and book. My mission is ever present in what I do because I believe in it so passionately. It's not like the things I do are creative, random ideas; they are born from an innate necessity -- from a desire to make what I love relevant and powerful to others.

I really believe that if you are doing what you truly love, you'll find a way to survive. I'm not prancing about in piles of cash, but I manage to find enough doing what I do to pay my bills. I wish I had more (it would go right into recordings, videos, and websites!), but really, when it comes to money, my only concern is that I have enough to keep doing what I love. If it really matters to you how much money a concert pianist makes, I recommend another profession!

(Jan. 14, 2009)

Now your teacher wants hard, cold facts. Numbers. I get it. Exactly how much money does a concert pianist make? Try asking your teacher how much he or she makes.

Actually, just tell your teacher that the question simply does not apply to pianists. It's like jamming a square block through a round hole.

Pianists don't have fixed incomes like doctors, plumbers, teachers, or astronauts do. The variety of incomes among pianists is enormous -- and for that matter, a single pianist's income fluctuates wildly from year to year. Ask yourself, "how much money does an actor make?" The answer is not so different from how much money concert pianists make. The answer is case-specific, year-specific, event-specific! If you insist upon numbers, try an annual income range of $-1,000,000 to $1,000,000. I'm not trying to be difficult; it's just that there is no straightforward answer.

From my perspective, it's a bizarre question because I hardly know any pianists who make their entire income purely through performance. I listed my multiple avenues of income in the post I pasted above. Many, many performers teach, some compose, others write, organize, accompany, conduct, direct, analyze, collaborate, etc.. It seems that a well-rounded artist can't bring him or herself to reside purely on the concert stage. It's a bizarre question because many pianists make huge financial investments into their own career -- publicity materials are expensive; so are videos, recordings, pianos, and practice spaces. Many pianists I know are severely in the red, even if they make a healthy income through performances. It's a bizarre question because many pianists are sponsored by generous individuals. Does this count as income? Sponsors allow musicians to share their talents with low-income audiences; sponsors make classical recordings possible (most classical CDs are expensive to produce, but do not sell well!); sponsors keep classical music alive. See that "Donate" button on the right? That button helps make my projects possible -- videos, writings, recordings, and more.

Okay, so how much does a pianist make per concert? Again, the answer is hugely variable. Many concerts are pro bono (performed free of charge), and some performances earn their performer as much as $100,000. This fee may or may not be in addition to the cost of travel and accommodations. Most large concert organizations can't afford to pay more than $5,000 - $15,000 in artist fees per event, and many have much, much smaller budgets.

All in all, I'm inclined to repeat my initial post. The successful pianists I know are not in it for the money, but they all find a way to survive.

One final note: before you go hammering out an hourly wage, please consider the incredible number of hours pianists spend practicing for their concerts... the time they spend on planes and waiting in security lines... the time they spend away from their families. It's a 24/7 job we love.

- Greg (March 6, 2010)

Orchestral Pianist

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
First let me begin by saying that I discovered you and your musical brilliance via youtube and that extravagant video of you and your accompaniest's interpretaton of "The Blue Danube", an exceptionally well demonstrated piece of art I must say. Anyway in light of seeing your evidently incredibly skills I took some time to look at my own, and though I've only been playing piano for about three years (with rapid improvement due to my prior musical learning via the flute for about 6 years) I was interested in doing it as a career. I just want to know if I'm being realistic. I'm twenty years old now and working on building a repotoire to apply for an undergrad school (certainly nothing as prestigous as Juilliard, perhaps I could end up there for grad school). If my private teacher thinks I have the talent and technique to pursue it do you think it's unrealistic to fulfill my dreams of being a orchestral pianist? Am I just too old to start working towards a dream like that? I'm sure you get numerous variations of this question but any other answer than one specifically catered to my personal question just simply won't do. My sincerest thanks for your time in even bothering to answer. All the best in your own musical endeavours! Your are certainly a talented and devoted individual!
 - Lawrence Scanlan 

Dear Lawrence,

Wow. An orchestral pianist! That is a fantastic idea, but there are a few things you should know about the position:

  • Orchestral piano jobs are very hard to come by. There are few positions and the demand for them is high.
  • Orchestral piano jobs are usually part time. Most orchestral pianists I know have other jobs on the side.
  • Some orchestral pianists are also employed by the orchestra to play in chamber ensembles with other orchestral musicians -- they are expected to be multi-faceted musicians that can fit in whenever and wherever they are needed.
  • Orchestral piano jobs often come through "connections" -- in other words, current members of the orchestra often recommend pianists they like to fill this role.
  • Orchestral pianists MUST be able to count. The few orchestral piano playing jobs I've taken over the years have made significant demands on my ability to count empty bars (49 bars of rest +3 bars of 5/8 time +7.5 bars of prestissimo 3/4 time, then PLAY!)

Orchestral piano playing is a unique and fun universe! I wish you the best in your pursuits.

- Greg (Nov. 4, 2009)

Live In the Moment

Added on by Greg Anderson.
its the second time im asking this question and nobody 27 ,ive been playing for about 3 not good enough but i 'd love to become a good pianist,what should i do?and is it possible considering my age and few years of playing?
  - Celine


You'd have a better chance at winning the lottery than becoming a concert pianist at this point in your life. That said, there is no doubt in my mind that you could become a "good" pianist someday in the future. Actually, who knows, perhaps you already are a fantastic pianist.

My advice for you is the same advice I gave to Emma above: forget how long it will take to become "good" or "better" -- instead, focus on having a wonderful time doing exactly what you are doing right now. Enjoy practicing the pieces you are currently learning and forget about what is yet to come. I've been playing the piano for over 20 years, but I've loved *every* day of it.

Seriously. Live in the moment. You'll definitely get better with time, but playing the piano is one of those things that should be awesome all the time, regardless of your ability.

- Greg (Nov. 4, 2009)

Obsession and Success

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
i am a 16 year old pianist and is now a grade 5 student.i started when i am 12. During the holiday before the year 2009. i suddenly become very ambitious and i wanted to become a concert pianist. But the problem is there seems to be too many discouraging post and also encouraging post about being a concert pianist.most professionals says that one must start at a very very early age to become concert pianist. now i am so scared because even i if i am a quick learner i still cannot make it to grade 8 or deploma before entering a music university. those who started early get to play excellently before 12 and then they still have the many years to fix every single weakness. i am starting to feel the stress now because i put a lot of hope onto piano career and i surely don't want a very very dissapointing days after all those hardwork like a begger on a street playing piano and too poor to buy anything and die. i want to have a very normal and also very sustainable live doing a job that i love. The main reason i become so obssesed about piano is when i feel sad i get to play sad piece and when angry i play crazy technical piece just like all those actors in movies. and i think piano is something that is classy (high class , all those tuxedo stuff). i would like to be a person of high class somedays mum said i am going to college near my place to study whatever while attending piano lesson at my area to continue until diploma.and then i apply for music college again after my college years. and of course i manage to play plenty of hard piece which my teacher don't know i can play them.i am better then all student that is in my grade(those students play piano just for fun.but i take piano more seriously then them).i play the kholer sonatinas book and i have to learn those piece.took others 2 weeks or more to play 1 movmment but took me only 1 week to play 1 movement (the most is 2 weeks if the piece is hard). i also learn the exam piece before my teacher even ask me to try teacher was shocked when i played it out straight away.and i plan to migrate out of my hot country to a colder dig into my essay and correct any wrong opinion and give advise and anything you want to say to me.i am just a very obssesed and discouraged pianist. i am starting to feel more head ache now to think about my future and everything about piano and about time i have left.your advise is greatly needed by me.
 -Daniel C.H.L.

Dear Daniel,

Yikes, lets take a deep breath! I'm not going to have any answers for you; nor will anyone else. Nobody can predict who will have a huge, successful, world-traveling piano career and who won't. If you're playing the piano purely because you hope for such a career, I recommend you find something else to do, because you're playing the lottery with your career!

You sound somewhat conflicted... Piano and high class society? Playing the piano can be a classy occupation (though it certainly doesn't need to be), but it is very unlikely to provide you with the finances to join high class society. Obsessed and discouraged? Obsession is an absolute must for any thriving piano player, but if you are truly, truly obsessed, it is unlikely you will ever find yourself discouraged for very long. A rather wonderful perk of obsession: it makes you oblivious to any setbacks or impossibilities. (Of course, if you're of the obsessive temperament, I recommend you direct your obsession down healthy avenues.)

I also sense somewhat of a competitive vibe from you. Does it really matter how fast your high school classmates learn their music? As you say, use the piano as an outlet for your emotions, not as means to bolster your self-worth.

If, however, (and I've said this many times before -- please see the "Ask Greg: Career" archives) you simply want to play the piano for a living, go for it. Society has many, many different needs for pianists that you could fill. Most piano careers will not make you incredible wealth, so as I said above, joining the upper echelon of society is unlikely, but they can be extraordinarily satisfying.

Just make sure that you chose a career playing the piano for the right reasons; if so, things will work out.

- Greg (August 12, 2009)

Advancement speeds; teachers

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg,
I have been taken piano lessons for over 6 years now. I started taking lessons when I was 43 years old. I usually spend at least an hour per day practicing, but I'm not happy with the outcomes. I can play Fur Elise, some of Bach's pieces, and Chopin. But, each piece took me so long time, like two-three months, to master. Is it normal for my level? Secondly, my goal is to play pop music but I have been trained with classical music teacher. Should switch teacher to pop music teacher now? Thirdly, when can I stop taking lessons then practice on my own?
 - Vince

Dear Vince,

Playing the piano is hard! It takes unlimited perseverance to master *any* piece of music; "unlimited" because you'll never really master it -- you can always improve! Even concert pianists look for outside advice and seek the counsel of teachers. I wouldn't worry -- two or three months is not unreasonable at all for the pieces you mentioned, especially considering that you've been playing for only six years.

If you'd like to play some pop music, then you should! I assume you are playing the piano for your own, personal enjoyment; if so, then you should occasionally be able to play what you want! I agree that classical music training is important, but perhaps you could spend some time every day working on a song you like. Or, you could sight read a new tune each day. The more you improve your sight reading, the faster you'll learn the notes to new pieces (though it will still take a while to "master" the music), and the less frustrated you will be during your practice sessions.

- Greg (May 10, 2009)

Concert Pianist In Private

Added on by Greg Anderson.

Dear Greg,
Is it possible to become a concert pianist and not perform? I am just starting to play the piano and would like to play at the concert pianist level...just not with the audience, career, all that jazz. How long does this usually take and how many hours should I practice a day?? Thanks!!
 - James

Dear James,

Of course! Who's going to stop you? I believe that music making can be incredibly personal and solitary at times; there's no need to always have an audience at hand. Go ahead, transform your home into your own private stage!

How much practice is necessary? I've been hearing this 10,000 hour rule touted a great deal in social circles (after an Malcolm Gladwell made it the subject of his recent book, "Outliers"), and I think there is something to it. The rule: to become truly fluent at a specialized skill, one must devote at least 10,000 hours of practice. I'm certain this also relates to piano playing.

That said, you can still have a great time playing piano music with less than 10,000 hours of practice under your belt!

- Greg (March 6, 2009)

Do What You Love

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg,
I am a high school student who's been studying ARCT repertoire for 3-4 years now. I'm in an academically demanding program and I study hard. Nowadays I find that because of my studies I tend to practice piano less and less (AHHH!!). I only get to practice an hour a day at most- if I'm lucky. Last year, I entered a lot of competitions and played at nationals for one of them. Overall, I think I did relatively well (compared to the extremely limited number of practice hours I put in, that is). I love music, but I find that in the past I've been putting it aside just because I thought "what am I going to do in life with a music degree? Let's just be a doctor" haha. But I've just recently realized that I actually want to do what I really love to do. Do you think I should drop out of my academic program and devote myself fully to the piano? But what if I decide I want to go back..? Ahh :s
 - Confused

Dear Confused,

Wow! These are intense questions!

I'm obviously of the mentality that one should base one's career on what he or she loves to do. What may surprise you is that I also believe one can love to do a great many things. Job satisfaction comes from how you chose to respond to situations at work, not the situations themselves. How did I get through high school without going crazy? I made the most of my assignments -- I turned them into projects that interested me. A simple report became a full magazine spread; an essay became a passionate opinion piece; a science project became a wild and engaging museum piece. I filled speeches with appropriate magic tricks, and I found ways to insert music into everything. I may have created more work for myself, but because I was invested in what I was doing, it felt like less.

The point is: you can probably turn anything you do into something you love. It all depends on your approach. I honestly believe that you can drop out of your academic program or you can stay registered, and in either case, you can find ways to be happy.

And what if you want to go back? If you are truly determined, you'll find a way to make anything happen.

Good luck and HAVE FUN!

- Greg (Dec. 30, 08)


Added on by Greg Anderson.

Hello Greg!
I've taken piano lessons when I was about 9 years old, but quit due to lack of money in the family. Ever since, I have been playing for fun and composing my own music. I'm 17 years old right now, and for the past year I have been teaching myself to read music because I wanted to learn classical pieces. An orchestra director at my school overheard me play Liebestraum by Liszt and said I was very talented, especially for someone who's self-taught. She actually didn't believe I could read music that difficult in one year. I want to become a pianist, and I finally realized it. My parents aren't supportive of my decision, they would rather I go to university for med school. Anyway, I've been doubtful about considering being a pianist because I started so late. Regardless of my passion for piano, I look at all the great virtuso pianists, and they all started at such an early age and went to prestigious conservatories. I'm just a regular, self-taught, seventeen year old girl. I'm not expecting to become a concert-level pianist or anything, but I do want to do this for a living, and I will put every ounce of willingness, dedication, and passion I have. Any advice for me? I'd appreciate it.
 - Irina

Dear Irina,

I'm impressed by your determination, but I can only give you the same advice I give to everyone. Whatever you do, please remember that no matter how good you are, the musical world is a fickle place. One can never truly predict his or her successes. As long as you choose to play the piano because you love it, you will be content with a musical career -- as a teacher, a concert director, a composer, an arranger, a critic, a writer, a concert pianist, an accompanist, a publisher, an entrepreneur, a conductor, or whatever else. If you choose to play the piano because you want to be a famous pianist or wealthy, you will very likely be disappointed with your choice.

Best wishes!

- Greg (Dec. 30, 08)