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Instrumental Musician

Instrumental musicians play musical instruments. They perform as soloists or with orchestras, small ensembles or popular bands before live audiences, in recording studios or in workshop situations.

  • Avg. Salary N/A
  • Avg. Wage N/A
  • Minimum Education Varies
  • Outlook below avg
  • Employed 2,800
  • In Demand Lower
Also Known As

Musician, Artist

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Musicians (5133.1) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Musicians and Singers (F033) 
  • 2011 NOC: Musicians and singers (5133) 
Interest Codes
The Instrumental Musician is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).

Interest in precision working to play instruments by manipulating keys, bow, valves, strings or other parts of instruments


Interest in co-ordinating information from a musical score to produce notes accurately


Interest in diverting and entertaining audiences as soloists and as members of musical groups

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 
It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn More

Updated Dec 19, 2016

Instrumental musicians usually specialize in one instrument or type of instrument. They play almost every day, practicing on their own or in rehearsals with other musicians and singers or in live performances or recording sessions. They may be required to:

  • sight read musical parts quickly and accurately during rehearsals
  • play from musical scores, music charts or from memory
  • improvise as they play.

To expand their musical repertoire, musicians are constantly learning new pieces. However, they may have a number of standards that they may choose to play depending on the instrumental group, the audience and the setting. They may:

  • play with popular music bands or in other live performances such as ballets, operas, musical theatre or cabarets
  • provide musical background
  • appear as guest artists with orchestras and small ensembles.

Popular musicians work with a variety of people: other performers, managers who handle their business affairs, booking agents, promoters, music publishers, producers, recording directors, songwriters, club owners, talk show hosts and radio announcers.

Working Conditions
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Instrumental musicians work long hours. Practices and rehearsals usually are held during the day; performances often are evenings and weekends. It is not uncommon for musicians to travel on tour or wherever they can find work (clubs, taverns and concerts halls). They may be required to lift and carry instruments and accessories weighing up to 10 kilograms. Electronic audio and related equipment may weigh considerably more.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 10 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Musicians need the following characteristics:

  • the discipline required to practice regularly
  • the ability to creatively interpret music
  • the money management skills required to deal with highly variable incomes
  • good communication skills
  • a co-operative attitude and the ability to accept constructive criticism
  • the ability to handle pressures associated with performing in public.

Since musicians work in a very competitive business, it helps if they are:

  • determined and confident
  • dependable and flexible
  • able to handle themselves well in business negotiations.

Musicians should enjoy playing musical instruments and entertaining audiences.

Educational Requirements
Updated Dec 19, 2016

In addition to musical talent, musicians need good business skills and a working knowledge of the music and entertainment business. In particular, they need to know how to keep records, negotiate contracts, keep financially afloat and promote themselves.

Classical musicians usually start training at an early age on the piano or a stringed instrument. Most brass, percussion and wind instrument players begin their music studies in elementary or junior high school. Some musicians are self-taught. Formal music training of some kind is required to sight read music and understand music theory, harmony and improvisation. Knowledge of related technologies such as musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) software and music notation programs is an asset.

Once students have developed a certain level of competence on an instrument, they may audition for community bands and orchestras to gain experience playing in a group with a musical director or conductor.

Formal music training is available through private lessons and through programs offered at post-secondary institutions and music conservatories (for example, the Royal Conservatory in Toronto or the McGill Conservatory in Montreal). In Alberta, the following post-secondary institutions offer music programs:

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

Grande Prairie Regional College

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Entering music competitions is another way of testing one's performance skills, gaining recognition and exposure, and earning money through winning scholarships and awards. For popular musicians, winning a major talent contest may provide the opportunity to produce a professional recording or music video.

As the music video business grows, it is increasingly important for musicians to know how to perform on camera. At some point in their careers, successful popular musicians usually need to produce a music video to gain wider recognition. It also is important to be computer literate because recording equipment often is digital.

Certification Requirements
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Certification is not required, as there is currently no legislation regulating this occupation.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Instrumental musicians must audition to find work. Classical musicians who perform mostly with symphony orchestras and small ensembles audition before committees comprised of musicians and the music director. Popular musicians (for example, jazz, rock, country and folk musicians) often send demo tapes to booking agents, bar and nightclub owners and entertainment promoters. Once musicians have established their reputations, they may be called to play at particular gigs or bookings, or to play for specific recording sessions.

The music industry is intensely competitive. Talent, versatility and flexibility in accepting work away from home are crucial for maintaining a viable career. Being able to play more than one instrument is a definite asset. Freelance and popular musicians who play in recording sessions usually are able to play a number of different styles of music. Those who are fortunate enough to sign contracts with record companies may record their own songs or cover other people's tunes. Independent recording artists may market their products and services via the Internet.

Some musicians work as accompanists for other performers or choral groups.

Classical musicians may work with:

  • symphony orchestras
  • wind ensembles
  • chamber orchestras and music groups
  • string ensembles
  • brass ensembles
  • recording studios
  • Broadway type shows.

When they have passed all the requirements for orchestral positions, classical musicians may be offered yearly contracts with insurance and pension benefits. Employment in an orchestra requires musicians to perform at a high level with sometimes limited rehearsal time.

Exceptional players may become principal players, doing more solo work and assuming responsibility for rehearsing other musicians in their sections. The lead player in the whole orchestra is a violinist called the concertmaster.Some orchestral players may become conductors, composers, orchestrators or arrangers.

Musicians playing popular music may work:

  • in nightclubs, lounges and dance halls
  • as session players for other artists
  • on cruise ships and in resort hotels
  • for private parties and benefits
  • in recording studios
  • at music festivals
  • on tour in concert halls or large stadiums.

Freelance and popular musicians must constantly improve their techniques, creating new possibilities. Popular musicians must be extremely flexible in their hours of work, places of employment and types of contracts.

Breaking into the music business requires dedication, talent and sometimes good luck. Developing contacts in the music business is as important as finding opportunities to perform.

Instrumental musicians are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 5133: Musicians and singers. In Alberta, 93% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Over 3,000 Albertans are employed in the Musicians and singers occupational group. This group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 1.3% from 2016 to 2020. As a result, 39 new positions are forecast to be created each year, in addition to job openings created by employment turnover. Note: As instrumental musicians form only a part of this larger occupational group, only some of these newly created positions will be for instrumental musicians. 

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Wage & Salary
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Many musicians are members of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada. This association sets minimum wage guidelines with different fee schedules for different settings. For example, side musicians for top recording artists earn substantially more than members of small rock bands playing in hotel bars. (As of October 1, 2018, the minimum wage in Alberta is $15.00 per hour. For more information, see Alberta Employment Standards.)

Many musicians work at other part time jobs to supplement their income. Some work in music related jobs such as arranging, artist management, composing and song writing. Teaching music, either independently or in affiliation with an institution or organization, is the way most Alberta musicians supplement their incomes.

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Musicians and Singers occupational group earned on average $18.13 to $26.71 an hour. The overall average wage was $20.19 an hour. More recent data is not available.

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Fine Arts and Performing Arts
Other Sources of Information
Updated Dec 19, 2016

Alberta Music Industry Association website:

American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada website:

Calgary Musicians' Association website:

Cultural Human Resources Council website:

Edmonton Musicians' Association website:

For more information on career planning, education and jobs call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-644-9992 or 780-644-9992 in Edmonton, or visit an Alberta Supports Centre near you.

Updated Jun 01, 2009. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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