Orchestra etiquette and rules

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
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  • Check with your stand partner that you’re both sitting comfortably to see the music.
  • Write any additional bowings/fingerings into the pages immediately and if something is unclear don’t 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, etc.
  • If you have a question, ask the section leader, don’t raise your hand to pose questions to the conductor.  If the leader of your section can’t 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 you.
  • Be respectful of other people’s space.
  • Don´t talk or whisper if the conductor is talking or rehearsing other sections and you´re not playing.
  • Play with confidence and don’t be ashamed of messing up, keep your cool and know what’s going on.
  • Observe dynamics, especially extreme soft dynamics such as pp, otherwise you might stick out and destroy the effect for the whole section.
  • It’s 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 isn’t wrong very often.
  • No matter how tempted you may be to take your finger and “thump” on an instrument in the percussion section, don’t.  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 section’s turn to tune.
  • When you are done tuning sit quietly until all others are done tuning.
  • Don’t 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.
  • Don’t 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 ready.
  • Don’t stare at wind players who make mistakes, heads whipping around while they play can be annoying.
  • Don’t 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 beats.
  • 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.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask questions.
  • Don’t 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 savior.
  • Don’t 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 people’s 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 it’s 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 can’t play your part learn how to air-bow (i.e., look like you are playing when you’re 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 it’s known in my local orchestral community… If you can’t 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.
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