39 Orchestral Etiquette Tips Every Musician Ought to Know

If you play in an orchestra or band, you probably already know that rehearsals can be a fun and enjoyable time, or just super frustrating and annoying.

When rehearsals go bad…there are a lot of things that are not within your control.
-The repertoire you’re playing
-The competency of the conductor.
-The temperature of the hall.
-The lighting situation.

And the list could go on and on.

However, one of the most common AND most preventable frustrations often come from your colleagues in the orchestra, who are rude, inconsiderate, or just don’t know any better.

There’s not much you can do to stop their annoying behavior, (except maybe sharing this post with them…?)

But before you start pointing the finger, check out this list to make sure there aren’t some things that you’re doing that could be rude or annoying those around you.

Before Rehearsal:

1. Never sight read in rehearsal. Prepare your part in advance.

2. Write in cues, bowings, or other notes before the first rehearsal, but do not make the part illegible for your stand-partner.

3. If you are on the outside, put your fingerings on the top line. Inside players: below the line.

During Rehearsal:

4. Show up early to rehearsal to get your instruments together, and be warmed up at least 10 minutes before the “A” is given.

5. If you were given originals to practice, be on stage at least 15min before the first rehearsal to allow your standpartner sufficient time to transfer their fingerings to the part. If you were given photocopies, transfer your fingerings if you need them to the part you will be performing from.

6. Have good hygiene, keep your shoes on, wear appropriate clothing, etc.

7. Do not noticeably tap your foot or conduct along. If you can’t help yourself, at least tap your heel, and not your toe-it seems counterintuitive, but it’s less noticeable.

8. Do not turn around and look at the people behind you, or the winds and brass while they are playing. It’s disconcerting.

9. Do not tap/applaud/shuffle for every solo that section colleague plays. Save it for when it really means something or better yet… stay still and just give them your positive words afterwards.

10. Do not tell someone they sound good if they do not deserve the praise.

11. Never complain about your reeds, strings, bow hair etc.

12. Practice only your own part on stage before rehearsal starts… never play passages from another person’s part or excerpts from different music, and especially not your concerto!

13. Avoid “silent practicing” by tapping, plucking, playing sul-tasto, or air bowing. It’s noisy, annoying to your colleagues, and lets everyone know you didn’t learn your part.

14. If the conductor asks to start in the middle of a high phrase, do not find your note by playing it before the downbeat. Find it silently and pluck the string once, if you really need to check.

15. If you are concertmaster or a principal, avoid demonstrating to your section if a verbal description is more efficient. If it’s clearer to demonstrate, that’s ok, but be cautious about hijacking everyone’s rehearsal time just because you have the authority to do so.

16. Avoid asking questions about notes/rhythm/misprints during rehearsal – this wastes valuable rehearsal time. Check the score with the conductor during breaks or after rehearsal.

17. Your pencil is your best friend…. Do not make the same mistake twice because you “forgot.”

18. When a conductor speaks to you, always acknowledge by making direct eye contact and possibly a nod “yes.”

19. Remember that every time you are in public, an impression is made, good or bad… This applies both to the music you play and the statements you make to your colleagues.

20. Be direct and friendly about fixing pitches or rhythm. Do not be manipulative about your words.

21. The only conversations during rehearsals should be about issues regarding the music, and only at the appropriate times.

22. Do not pack up before the end of rehearsal…. you still might have more to play.

23. If the conductor says: “That’s it, unless you have anything you’d like to go over again?”

KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!

Unless..

a) You are the concertmaster

b) You are a principal, that was the last rehearsal, and you know that there will be definitely be a train-wreck in the concert if you don’t fix it.

c) You want to experience the easiest and quickest way to make an entire orchestra angry at you.

During Rehearsal or a Concert:

24. Always double check rehearsal/performance times, locations, and dress code.

25. For string players, when the “A” is given: do not start tuning before the concertmaster starts.

26. Keep perfume and cologne to a minimum – many will appreciate none at all.

27. Have your mute ready if the repertoire asks for it. And “grease it” if it makes a lot of noise when putting it on. (Some body sweat will usually do the job).

28. If you don’t have a mute, make one with a dollar bill or a paper clip.

29. Be aware and sensitive to other people’s line of sight to the conductor. Hats are generally discouraged, and be reasonable with up-do’s, pony-tails, or buns, if they are obstructing someone’s line of sight.

30. Do not yawn or “buzz” your lips audibly if you are tired.

31. Avoid nervous repetitive actions: Looking at reed, adjusting seat/stand, instrument adjustments, fixing your hair, or other actions that draw attention to yourself.

32. Your non-musical accessories (phone, keys, etc.) belong in your case/purse/man-bag, not on the shelf of your stand waiting to tip over and clatter to the floor.

33. Do not turn a page during silence. But if you must: lift the corner of the page so that it does not scrape against the stand.

34. Do not overly flourish unless it is the end of the movement/piece.

35. Swab out discreetly and not if the person next to you is playing a solo. (for wind players obviously)

During a Concert:

36. Do not cross you legs on stage in a concert.

37. Leave your seat immediately when switching pieces or seats… swab out and pack up later. The next players want to play a few notes before tuning!

38. At the end of a piece, do not finish playing and put your instrument down before the conductor has concluded.

After a Concert:

39. Do not start bitching or complaining about anything until you have left the building. Even then, make sure you know your audience and that what you say won’t offend them or someone they respect.

19 replies
  1. professional string player
    professional string player says:

    A lot of these are extremely valid… I suspect those are the ones provided by Mr. Hawley. A lot of these are crap. Fingerings in the part? Maybe for amateurs… Of course a principal should not demonstrate in the sense that they are showing their section “how it is done,” but demonstration of specific strokes or bowings by the concertmaster can be a critical time saver (it is often times easier to observe a bowing than to have it verbally described to you.) This is done by the finest musicians in the world’s best orchestras. And what professional would pack up before they were absolutely sure they were no longer needed? Maybe that is directed towards student wind players… that’s not really an issue of etiquette.

    Reply
  2. Daley
    Daley says:

    I also agree about no fingerings in the parts. Firstly, it makes you look fairly amateur if you need lots of fingerings in your parts. That’s one of the reasons we have our parts early to practice. Major fingering issues should be worked out in your personal practice before the first rehearsal. Secondly, your fingerings are just that…*your* fingerings. Someone else may very easily choose other fingerings. Also, because they are your own fingerings, they shouldn’t be going into a part owned by the orchestra, or even worse, a rental company. Many orchestras use rotating string seating, so the next time you perform that piece, you’ll be on a different part. Additionally, the orchestra librarians are the ones who have to clean up the musicians’ messes in the music, including fingerings, and they will be upset with you. If you deface a rental part, you can even be fined the replacement cost for it, from either your disgruntled librarians, or, even worse, the rental company itself.

    Reply
  3. Arturo González
    Arturo González says:

    There are many different things to say about etiquette in performing at stage and rehearsal, but all of them can be outlined consciously on the fact of we must keep daily ethical and musical standards, even if we’re talking about amateur, professional or in an Orchestra/Band/Choir educational system.

    Reply
  4. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    The entire list is too much detailing of what should be common sense. // Dont bang your heel on the floor in lieu of your foot. Toe metronome inside your shoe but always with reference to the Conductor, not a replacement. Never show off with concerto bars to prove how good you are (stopping where it gets tricky) etc. etc. Copy the leader, listen to the conductor – soft pencil marks for any cuts etc. When you are finished with the parts, clean them up and return them after the last performance. Never use HB’s or H pencils, they cut into the paper and are impossible to get off properly.//Shut up when the conductor stops the orchestra – it is terribly rude and stupid not to listen to instructions from ‘the top’ your comments are irrelevant. Get your part right at home, not at the desk during rehearsal. Mostly you will really enjoy and contribute to the music if you work hard at home and listen so that you fit in and dont outplay the section you are part of.

    Reply
  5. williamk
    williamk says:

    The opening paragraph of your blog sounds like it MIGHT be appropriate for college or pre-professional conservatory students, but then you proceed to outline instructions that are mostly appropriate for students in grades 5-12. Nonetheless, your opening bullet points seem jaded and make performing in an orchestra sound tedious at best. If your goal is to inspire students to practice and love an orchestral instrument, why would you encourage them to be snobby about the rep, the conductor, or the hall they are rehearsing in? Only 1% of anyone who plays an instrument will ever have an audition for a professional orchestra, and only a tiny fraction of those people will get a job.

    So I repeat, who is your audience for this blog or this site? The answer is: young students and amateurs.

    Lighten up and teach students how to love playing with other people – then those of us who consider ourselves professionals might have more gigs, more students, and who knows, maybe even an audience.

    Let’s just hope good violin teachers don’t misguidedly use this list as a teaching tool – yikes.

    Reply
    • OGibbles
      OGibbles says:

      Hi William,
      Actually the site is for anyone who finds it helpful. Which so far has included everyone from youth orchestras to concertmasters of the MET orchestra.

      I think you’re right about some stuff-I could definitely add some more positive ones. It’s a little harsh at times. I try to have a good sense of humor in everything I do, which should be apparent in most the content on the site. But you’d be surprised at how many “professionals” still think it’s ok to ask a question from the back of a section.

      Reply
    • Bob
      Bob says:

      williamk – Where in this list do you see the writer encouraging students to be snobby about the repertoire, the conductor or the hall in which they are rehearsing?

      Reply
  6. Pat
    Pat says:

    What about stand partner space invasion…? Never let your bow, or bow arm cross your partners instrument . Totally not cool…never let your playing bump into the other person or their instrument..so rude.

    Reply
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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Check out the entire list over at ViolinExcerpts.com […]

  2. […] Geared mainly for orchestral string players, there are some good nuggets of advice for any musician who rehearses and performs in 39 Orchestral Etiquette Tips Every Musician Ought To Know. […]

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