To help, I’ve put together this guide based on my 30+ years of running career and entrepreneurship programs at Manhattan School of Music, Indiana University, and New England Conservatory. My aim here is to help you format a CV so you can present your qualifications well and be one step closer to landing the job.
In this guide I clarify what a CV for a musician is, what to include and what to leave out, and how to format your CV, including templates and examples. Let’s start with the essentials:
What IS a CV?
In the US, the term curriculum vitae (CV) refers to an expanded, detailed version of your résumé that’s used when applying for college teaching jobs. It provides employers with the relevant details of your teaching experience, performance and/or composition credits, relevant publications and research, awards, and your training.
CVs are also requested when applying for grants, fellowships, or graduate schools, and for university speaking engagements, and faculty departmental or tenure reviews.
How long should a musician CV be?
Because employers expect to see details, especially of your teaching experience, CVs are longer than the typical one or 2-page musician performance résumé. More veteran music educators may have a CV that extends to 10 or more pages. But if you’re early in your career, most likely your CV is closer to 5 pages. Don’t “pad” your CV.
What matters is that you include the truly relevant credits and details, and that your CV is formatted to make it easy to scan and digest.
What is special about musician CVs?
Musicians typically have many performance and/or composition credits to list. And how you categorize and arrange your information matters because you only get one chance to make a first impression.
These days, with 200+ qualified musicians applying for any one college teaching job, you need a CV that helps you stand out, so you have a shot at getting the interview. I’ve seen too many musicians shoot themselves in the foot using CVs that fail to highlight what matters most. That’s why I created this guide: to help you get the writing process off to a great start.
What do employers want to see in a musician CV?
First off, search committees want to see your relevant teaching experience. But it’s not enough to simply list your duties or responsibilities. After all, with 200 other applicants, many with equivalent experience and credentials, you need to detail what sets your teaching apart.
Second, they want to see what else you would bring to the position that would benefit their students and department. This means you will need to carefully read the job description and organize and detail your relevant performance, composition, scholarly work so that it presents you as an excellent candidate.
In preparing your materials, make sure you are clear about what current employers are asking for in job descriptions. Check the Chronicle of Higher Education, HigherEdJobs.com, and College Music Society’s Music Vacancy list for postings but when applying to any job, make sure you read the full job description on the institution’s website.
Musician CV Details
1. Check your margins
Adjust these under format > document to 1 inch on all sides. Whatever you do, don’t use margins smaller than .75″. And make sure your margins and your letterhead are identical on your CV, cover letter, and any other application materials (teaching philosophy statement, references sheet, Bio, etc.) Cramped margins look unprofessional and make your text look crowded.
2. Fix your page numbers
None on the first page. Then on all subsequent pages, instead of your letterhead, put in the upper right-hand corner your “last name, CV pg. 2 of 4” and on the next page, “last name, CV pg. 3 of 4” etc. This makes it easy for search committees when paper copies of materials inevitably get separated.
3. Check your typeface
That’s the font—the letter style for your CV text. The text should be in an easy-to-read conservative font such as Times New Roman or Palatino. Use the same font and point size for headers and text (generally 10-12 pts.).
4. Keep eye distractions to a minimum
Don’t use all capital letters: THEY HAVE THE EFFECT OF SCREAMING. And avoid using underline or unnecessary italics or bold. These extra eye distractions steal from your precious 6.25 seconds—the average time employers spend on each résumé. Use italics for titles of works only. Use bold for category titles only. Make your CV easy to graze.
5. Place your content categories in bold at the left-hand margin
Then Indent ➡️ the text under each category header: indent to the right ➡️ using .5” TAB. This makes it easy for readers to quickly see the category headers and jump to whatever they’re most interested in.
Upgrade your Musician CV Content
1. Make the order of your categories strategic
These should reflect the employer’s priorities: this big bucket priority order is generally Teaching Experience first, then Performance and/or Composition, with Education towards the end.
Many grad advisors will say lead with your own education credits, that you should first show your degree and school. My view is that the 200 other applicants have also gone to excellent schools and have competitive degrees, so the real differentiation you can make is through your teaching experience—that’s why I recommend you start with that. If you have very little teaching experience you may feel you need to start with your own education. But don’t automatically start with Education: make an informed choice.
2. Check the order of your listings in each category
Within a category, items with dates should be listed in reverse chronological order. Begin with the most recent and work backwards chronologically to the least recent. In the US, this is what employers expect as they are most interested in what’s current, so put that first.
3. Add dates only where needed
This would be for awards, recordings, orchestral work, your degrees, singers’ roles, plus any extended teaching jobs, church jobs, etc. Place dates at the end of the text line, after a comma. Simplify date ranges as 2020-22 (instead of 2020-2022).
Composers often include the year a work was completed or premiered. No dates please for single workshops, clinics, recitals or other one-off performances. In categories without dates, place items in order of most impressive first and then vary the listings to emphasize the diversity of your experience and locations.
4. Bullet like a pro
For your bulleted teaching details: No full sentences, No paragraphs, No first person “I”. Keep bullets concise: No longer than 2 lines each. Use active impressive verbs to start each bullet. Avoid using the words “Duties” or “Responsibilities” and instead, focus on what you accomplished and what the actual results were. Make your bullets count.
As a music career coach, I’ve found many musicians have never described their teaching or thought about what makes their teaching distinctive. And that’s why working with a coach to help clarify and articulate your strengths can make a world of difference.
If you’d like personalized help to fine-tune your college teaching job materials and are curious about working with an expert music career coach, see my signature program at https://angelabeeching.com/land-the-job/.
5. Beware of overwhelm
Aim for no more than 7 listings under any one category. If you have more, consider using multiple category headers. For example, if you have the category “Solo Recitals” and have 20 venues listed under it, consider dividing these up into “Solo recitals, US” and “Solo recitals, International” (or some other geographic distinction to make 2 smaller categories).
Similarly, aim for no more than 7 bullets under each job listing. If you have many more, consider whether each one is relevant to the specific job you’re applying for, because less is often more.
Design Your Musician CV Letterhead
“Letterhead” refers to your name, profession, and contact info arranged in an attractive graphic design at the top of all your application and promotional materials.
In choosing your letterhead design, keep in mind that every font style has a different look – communicates a different “personality” or image (sophisticated, direct, energized, bold, optimistic, elegant, slick, etc.). Here’s what goes where:
1st line: Your name, instrument or voice type / educator (or simply musician / educator)
2nd line: Your street address or PO box, your email, phone, and/or (optional) your LinkedIn address, website
Note: Don’t write “CV” or “Curriculum Vitae” at the top of your document. It’s unnecessary.
Here are three examples of the same musician with three different letterhead fonts and layouts. There’s no right or wrong here, these all look professional. I recommend you try out at least 10 different contrasting fonts to find one that looks great with your name and particulars.
Consider including a professional profile in your musician CV
A professional profile statement, placed immediately below your letterhead, is a concise statement of what you can offer a particular employer. It’s your most relevant highlights: your 3-second “package.”
It’s NOT an old-fashioned résumé “objective” stating the kind of job you are looking for. Nor is it a generic list of your qualifications.
It’s a statement of what you can offer a particular employer: your tailored 3-second “package” of what’s most relevant for the specific job.
Note that profiles are not written in full sentences, these are phrases, and there’s no “I” or “my.”
Professional Profile Example 1
“Experience teaching solo and collaborative piano, directing successful summer piano camp, and coordinating faculty, staff and student accompanists. Classroom teaching of piano literature, pedagogy, and class piano. Performances in Singapore, Italy, Mexico and the United States including 6 world premieres. Additional experience as author/composer, music business instructor, and Church and collegiate organist.”
Professional Profile Example 2
“Award-winning music educator: experience includes teaching violin to students 4 to 31, coaching chamber music, and teaching pedagogy. Built and successfully recruited thriving preparatory feeder program; developed and implemented pedagogy curriculum at the graduate level. Solo and chamber performances in 13 states and 6 countries including concerts at MoMA (NYC) and the National Concert Hall (Taiwan). Success in grant writing, program design, and international teaching in the developing world.”
The Bottom Line
In the end, to be effective, your musician CV needs to clearly showcase your most relevant qualifications for the particular job you’re applying for. Beyond that, it also needs to highlight what distinguishes you from the 200 other candidates.
I hope you’ll use these tips and strategies to improve your CV and advance in your job search.
Remember, your CV is just one piece of your application portfolio. You’ll also need a well-written cover letter and often a teaching philosophy statement as well as an EDI statement focusing on how you will support the institution’s equity, diversity, and inclusion policies.
If you’d like personalized help to fine-tune these materials and are curious about working with an expert music career coach, see my signature program https://angelabeeching.com/land-the-job/.
- Jazz musician
Note: the first part of each of these examples includes a template showing the format for your letterhead and the teaching section so you can see the layout and the appropriate details to include. Following that, you’ll find the performance (or composition) section with typical categories and relevant example listings included.
Download a PDF of all 4 Musician CV Examples:
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