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Orchestra etiquette and rules

Posted on February 8, 2011 by Fiddlerman

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After reading various blogs about orchestra etiquette I decided to compile ideas
collected from many different professional as well as amateur players. If you come up
with suggestions to add or change, please contribute below.
Orchestra Rules

Always have a pencil on your stand to write down bowings and instructions.
Be kind to your stand partner.
Check with your stand partner that youre both sitting comfortably to see the

Write any additional bowings/fingerings into the pages immediately and if

something is unclear dont be afraid to ask.

The person on the inside (left) of the stand usually turns the pages of the music.
The person on the outside plays the top part of the divisi parts. The person on

the inside plays the bottom.

When there are more than two parts the section leader decides, but usually 1st

line 1st desk, 2nd line 2nd desk, 3rd line 3rd desk and so on. If only 3 lines
than 4th desk 1st line.
Watch the section leader for bowings, length of notes, style of bowing, entrances,

If you have a question, ask the section leader, dont raise your hand to pose

questions to the conductor. If the leader of your section cant answer your question
he or she should pose the question.
Arrive in plenty of time, at least 15 minutes before rehearsals.
Learn your material thoroughly.
Be sure you can clearly see the conductor.
Count carefully.
Listen not just to your own part but to everything else that is going on around

Be respectful of other peoples space.
Dont talk or whisper if the conductor is talking or rehearsing other sections and
youre not playing.

Play with confidence and dont be ashamed of messing up, keep your cool and

know whats going on.

Observe dynamics, especially extreme soft dynamics such as pp, otherwise you

might stick out and destroy the effect for the whole section.
Its better to follow your section, even if your leader is wrong, than to strike out

on your own if he or she has entered at the wrong spot. Hopefully you have a good
leader who isnt wrong very often.
No matter how tempted you may be to take your finger and thump on an

instrument in the percussion section, dont. In fact, refrain from walking through
the percussion set up at all.
The concertmaster is considered in charge after the conductor and the section

leaders are his/her deputies.

Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth shut.
When the oboe plays 440 Hz at the beginning of rehearsal or after break, stop

what you are doing and be silent.

Tune only when it is your sections turn to tune.
When you are done tuning sit quietly until all others are done tuning.
Dont practice while others are tuning.
Tune quietly and not loudly.
Respect others so that everyone can hear their instrument and the tuning note

being given.
Begin by tuning your A until everyone has done so then proceed to tune the rest

of your instrument.
Dont practice concertos, cadenzas, solos, and caprices loudly before rehearsal

so that everyone can hear how great you are. Many will hate you immediately.
Look over your part and practice softly instead of showing off or do some quiet

warm-ups. Play scales, arpeggios, your part, or whatever you need to play to feel
Dont stare at wind players who make mistakes, heads whipping around while

they play can be annoying.

Dont text or surf your iPhone (or any other electronic mobile device) when the

conductor is working with another section. Instead, pay attention to what s/he is
telling the other section.
Bring cough drops in case you or someone else has a coughing attack.
If you must choose between getting all the notes or getting the beats, choose the

If you have to completely fake a section, get the bowings in sync with your section

at the very least.

It is better to skip a note/ measure than to play a solo during a rest.
Know which notes and exposed sections exist for your part and learn them to the

best of your ability.

Dont be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions.
Dont be the loudest player in the group unless asked for.
Arrogance wins no friends. A pleasant attitude makes for a player that others

want to have around.

For outdoors clip well your pages because if their is a slight breeze they can fall

off the stand. Be able to turn them fast and efficiently.

Bring sunglasses if ever you do outside summer concerts they could be your

Dont scrape your chair across the floor while the orchestra is playing. If possible

position your chair correctly before the rehearsal begins.

Do not wear perfume, or at least limit the amount. Some people are allergic.
Make sure your case is properly stored.
Do not handle other peoples instruments unless they ask you.
Do not tap your foot in time.
Play with both your feet on the floor and absolutely not crossed.
Make sure that your violin/viola is not directly in the line of sight of your partner.

They need to see the notes.

Once everyone is seated you may be asked to move to the left or right so that the
stands behind you can see the conductor. If you must reposition yourself, check with
those musicians.

Last but not least, smile and have fun

For women

Be careful what kind of skirts you choose (if ever its needed) since one is more
comfortable sitting with legs appart to play.

The following, while it may be good advice, are not my recommendations:

Enjoy the jokester of the group, the one making wry observations about
everything happening around you and causing everyone to start giggling
uncontrollably. There always seems to be one.

If you cant play your part learn how to air-bow (i.e., look like you are playing

when youre not when the going is too tough) because one person playing wrong is
still heard under 10 playing right.
Learn the art of fakeando as its known in my local orchestral community If
you cant play every note, at least play the one note on the start of every beat. Some
professional orchestral musicians even fake things from time to time.

39 Orchestral Etiquette Tips Every Musician Ought to


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 badthere are a lot of things that are not within your
-The repertoire youre 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 dont know any better.
Theres 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
arent some things that youre 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 cant help yourself,
at least tap your heel, and not your toe-it seems counterintuitive, but its less
8. Do not turn around and look at the people behind you, or the winds and
brass while they are playing. Its 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 persons part or excerpts from different music,
and especially not your concerto!

13. Avoid silent practicing by tapping, plucking, playing sul-tasto, or air

bowing. Its noisy, annoying to your colleagues, and lets everyone know you
didnt 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 its clearer to demonstrate,
thats ok, but be cautious about hijacking everyones 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
23. If the conductor says: Thats it, unless you have anything youd like to go
over again?
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 dont 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
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
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
28. If you dont have a mute, make one with a dollar bill or a paper clip.
29. Be aware and sensitive to other peoples line of sight to the conductor.
Hats are generally discouraged, and be reasonable with up-dos, pony-tails, or
buns, if they are obstructing someones 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
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 wont offend them or someone they respect.