Musician Etiquette

Doing a quick search for “Musician Etiquette” will bring up dozens of hits like this one.  I’ve read through a bunch of them and they all share good common sense advice.  So, I thought I might as well post a set of etiquette ideas on this site as well.  Hopefully, you have heard these suggestions before, either through your band director or private teacher.  Hopefully, you haven’t learned some of these the hard way… on the job.  Most of the following bullet point suggestions (or, unwritten rules) refer to playing in an ensemble like an orchestra.  Remember that great players who are inconsiderate or adhere to too many of the following bullet points will get hired once.  Good players who are great people to be around will get hired consistently.

These are in no particular order.

  • Honor the first gig that gets in your date book.  Don’t get yourself known for being someone that will sub out at the last minute for a better paying gig.
  • Come to the service (rehearsal, concert, gig…) prepared.  Know your music.  Have a pencil.  Have the right horn(s), mute(s).  This means the very first rehearsal.
  • Know the dress code and abide by it.  Some orchestra concerts are in white tie tails, black tie tuxes, or long tie suites.  If the call is for black suit, blue or brown does NOT work.  Some dance band jobs are in tuxes – even if they happen before 6:00pm.  Never assume. Ask.
  • Arrive early enough to be completely ready to play at the downbeat.  Band leaders appreciate seeing you around 30 minutes prior to the downbeat.  They REALLY appreciate you offering to help load in and schlep gear.  I try to be 30-40 minutes early for orchestra services so I can get properly warmed up and in the right head space.  (this means checking through all my transpositions, mute changes, unison passages within the section, etc.)  (for my jazz gigs it means setting up my mic, monitor, stand light, set list, etc.)
  • Never do anything visually or aurally distracting, like tap your foot audibly, or move when you play, or conduct…
  • Always maintain your body and head position toward your conductor, ie. do not turn around to look at others playing.
  • Always help count rests and use very subtle cues to show rehearsal marks.  Even if you are not playing in a movement when others in your section are, you can become a hero if they look to you for a measure number and you have it!
  • Do not cross your legs when resting (or playing) in a concert.
  • Practice only your own parts.  Never play passages from someone else’s part.
  • Do not show off during your warm up.  Play only material pertinent to the service.  ie. do not play jazz licks while the rest of the Orchestra is warming up.  Do not play the opening to Pictures if you are there to play 2nd on a Haydn symphony.
  • Write cues in your part.
  • Do not turn pages during quiet moments in the music (unless absolutely necessary).
  • If you are new or subbing in a new section;
    • Do not tell people all the other gigs you play.
    • Do not tell people your resume, where you went to school, who you studied with… unless asked of course.
    • Err on the side of being too quiet, verbally.  You are there to play.  Try to keep any conversations about the music and only at appropriate times.
    • Do NOT compare or share your thoughts about anyone’s playing.
    • Do not pack up before the end of rehearsal.
    • Go ahead and be the first one to get there, but don’t be the first one to leave.
  • If you are in the section and NOT principal;
    • Try to move as little as possible when you play.  The principal can subtly move or breathe to help solidify the section.  Be conscious of ANYTHING you might do that would be in any way distracting to your principal.
    • Do not ask the conductor questions.  Ask your principal FIRST preferably at a break.  Principals are the ones that should speak to the conductor.
    • Do not tune before your principal when the tuning note is given.
    • Listen up your section for pitch.  It is the principal’s role to listen to the other principals for pitch and style and disseminate that information down their section.
    • Do not make musical suggestions to your principal.
    • If a musical suggestion is made to you, do it whether you agree with it or not.  The section needs to sound unified at all costs.
    • Be as still and calm as possible in general but especially while your section mate is playing a solo passage.  Your calmness can be contagious which can be a very helpful thing during stressful musical moments.

I am sure there are more suggestions out there that people have learned on the job.  Please feel free to share them in the comment section below.

One thought on “Musician Etiquette

  1. Teke Heinschel

    Thanks for hammering these home. If you learned from someone who wasn’t doing all of these things, or thry were never explained explicitly to you, it can be hard to have them as habit.

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