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An education in music makes you a better employee

Are recruiters in tune?

Published:Wednesday | April 24, 2024 | 12:09 AMDiana Tolmie/Contributor

See the word ‘musician’ on a resume and you might not immediately think ‘stellar employee’ or ‘exceptional leader’. Perhaps the word evokes the image of a rock star in trouble for chucking a television out of a hotel room window. Or else someone struggling along in life, who should have picked a ‘real job’.

But is there more to the profession than meets the stereotype?

It is well known that many musicians work simultaneously in arts and non-arts roles, often to create some income security. Less understood is just how well the extensive skill set developed in music transfers to a non-arts, professional workplace.

My nationwide survey sought to find out. I began by conducting 15 in-depth interviews with musicians simultaneously working dual careers - one in music, and one somewhere else.

The preliminary findings, which are yet to be peer-reviewed, showed dual-career musicians have a plethora of distinctive workplace skills that had been enabled by their musical education and experience. This was verified by their non-musician co-workers.

The discovery sparked an ongoing second stage of research, investigating the experience of a larger group. These include:

– dual-careerists

– musicians who have exited the profession

– musically educated individuals who never pursued a music career.

With 165 respondents so far, the emerging results are significant – music education and experience lays the foundation for high levels of future aptitude in a range of workplaces.


One of the most powerful traits instilled by a music education is a deep sense of professionalism. Eighty five per cent of survey participants identified the trait as the skill that most influenced expectations of themselves and others, and the quality of their work.

A common industry saying about rehearsal reflects this attitude of consistency and punctuality – “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is left behind.”

Other notable skills included autonomy and self-direction, resilience and perseverance, and creativity.

Participants attributed the development of these strengths to the disciplined and focused attention required to learn music, and the intrinsic motivation needed to practise and perfect an instrument over a long period of time.

This is increasingly relevant in an age where screens and social media steal our concentration and cost employers’ productivity.

Another key trait identified was creativity, which may reflect findings that the musically trained have more neuronal matter, and therefore increased brain activity.

Interviews with non-musician colleagues showed that out-of-the-box thinking was particularly prevalent among jazz musicians, singer-songwriters and composers.


Participants unanimously said ensemble work – playing in bands, chamber music, orchestras, and so on – has contributed positively to their workplace team dynamics.

As one respondent put it:

“It taught me how to be part of something bigger than myself.”

Experiences in music translated to a greater appreciation of diversity and inclusivity, exceptional leadership and deep listening skills, and the ability to manage “difficult” conversations respectfully within a team.

Respondents said an ongoing passion for music improved their mental health and workplace resilience. Unsurprisingly, their non-musician co-workers reported better workplace morale and an infectious positive energy from their musical colleagues.


All respondents reported a healthy relationship with failure – experiences in music had taught them to remain curious, embrace learning and “fail forward” while owning errors.

This attitude directly enhances one’s ability to upskill in a non-music careers, something many respondents have had to do. Eighty two per cent of the exited and dual-career musicians had re-accredited, and 71 per cent admitted to “learning on the job”.

Their live performance experiences cemented their ability to work under pressure in a variety of situations – public presentations, deadlines, project management. To them it was a no-brainer: “the show must go on.”

Co-workers’ perceptions further verified the musicians’ transferable skills, suggesting they possessed high professional values, a strong work ethic, high intelligence, willingness to learn, and the ability to take the initiative.

Survey respondents work in a much greater variety of fields than you might expect, including:

– health

– science and academia

– building and engineering

– business and finance

– law

– technology

– government

– transportation

– administration, and

– religion.

Many also hold leadership positions. Economically, these findings suggest having a musician on the books may be linked to increased productivity, innovation, and profitability.


The skills of our country’s musically educated are relevant to far more than just the arts. Employers and recruiters need to respect and appreciate the professional contributions of the musically trained.

But the ongoing decline in school music programmes and nominal music teacher training, as well as a shift in tertiary training focus to STEM, at the expense of the arts, suggest we’re heading in the wrong direction.

Including a well-informed understanding of music skills in the proposed National Skills Passport would be a big step forward. So would ensuring all schoolchildren have access to proper music education, and that school-leavers are not discouraged from pursuing further music training.

Who knows, when the next pandemic comes, it could be a musician who designs the next life-saving vaccine.

Diana Tolmie is a senior lecturer of professional practice, Griffith University. This article is republished from under a Creative Commons licence. Read the full article here: