We can find a lot of information about concert etiquette directed towards an audience. There is also a lot of information online if you search on music + wedding + etiquette. But I’m not concerned about those things. I’m concerned about our etiquette on stage, and with our colleagues. If I’m including things here, it’s because I really have witnessed these particular grievances. I wish I could teach a university course in this, to be honest!

Rehearsal Etiquette

  • Do what a friend of mine calls your “idiot check” before you go to rehearsal; do you have reeds? Oboe? Music? Swab? Don’t be embarrassed by forgetting something silly!
  • Come prepared; study your music.
  • Arrive on time. Late is never okay.
  • If the principal player spaces out and doesn’t come in on a solo during rehearsal, don’t go jumping in (unless you both have an agreement that that’s okay to do).
  • If reed making is disruptive don’t do it! You can usually watch for the conductor’s reaction … some approve of reed making, some don’t.
  • If you have to sharpen a knife, use a tool that is quiet. Using a stone makes a rather annoying noise for those around you. I realize you might not have anything to play for a while, but your neighbors do, and distractions like that can drive a person crazy! 🙂
  • “Know” your conductor if possible (I don’t mean personally!) … some hate it if you read when you aren’t playing, even if it’s “only” a rehearsal. If that’s the case either stop reading or be so discreet no one knows anyway. If reading causes a late entrance on your part stop reading. Period.
  • The conductor is the boss. If she or he asks you to play something up an octave, do it. If you are told to change a note, do it. You have to do what the conductor says … musically speaking! If the conductor asks you to go out on a date … think twice (and three times). While I’m sort of joking about that, do be careful; some conductors take advantage of their powerful positions. Not all, certainly, but some do. Be wise.
  • No scents. Ever.

Performance Etiquette

  • Do the “idiot check”. Twice.
  • Arrive in plenty of time. If you are late because you hit traffic or couldn’t find parking it’s no one’s fault but your own. NEVER BE LATE.
  • Don’t wear anything that causes you to stand out more than anyone else on stage.
  • DO follow the dress code. A dress code applies to everyone. Even someone who thinks he or she can’t be seen.
  • No scents. Ever.
  • When the concertmaster walks out to tune the orchestra, stop playing. And don’t talk.
  • When the conductor walks out for the first time, the orchestra should stand. Normally the concertmaster and/or the cellist are in charge of starting this. The job really belongs to the concertmaster, but since a conductor often walks out from stage right the concertmaster often takes his or her signal from the principal cellist. The orchestra remains standing until the conductor seats them. After that first entrance, it is up to to the conductor to have the orchestra rise or not. In other words; with the first entrance of the concert, the orchestra shows respect by standing. After that the conductor may or may not acknowledge the orchestra and have them stand.
  • Don’t make reeds during performances unless there is a dire emergency. (Because you are all good musicians who come prepared there will never be a dire emergency!)
  • Don’t talk during performances.
  • If you are in the pit and you have a long tacet, reading is usually okay. However if you miss an entrance stop reading. Forever. Seeing (and not hearing!) a musician miss an entrance due to reading is inexcusable.
  • “Talk” includes counting measures of rest out loud. Don’t do it! I also recommend you don’t silently mouth the measures. I’ve seen folks do this and it really looks odd.
  • Don’t tap your foot. A toe is fine. A foot is noisy and can also be distracting.
  • Don’t grimace or shake your head or react in any other way when you make a mistake!
  • Swab quietly and try not to draw attention to what you are doing.
  • Don’t pack up your instrument(s) until the orchestra has finished playing. If you are done with an instrument after a particular work, you can pack up during applause as long as you have time and it’s not disruptive.
  • If you aren’t playing the entire concert walk on and off between works (unless you are instructed to do otherwise). Be discreet. If you don’t play the first work it’s best if you get to the concert early enough to get your music out there so you aren’t lugging a ton of stuff on to stage, but if you can’t do that, be sure you have your entrance planned and know how much you can carry without making a spectacle of yourself! The same goes for leaving a stage if you are finished before the concert is over.
  • Turn your phone off or at least put it on airplane mode. DO NOT TEXT DURING A PERFORMANCE! WHY do I even have to write that?

All-The-Time Etiquette

  • To repeat: rehearsals and performances should be scent-free zones. (Again: No scents. Ever.) This doesn’t mean we allow body odor though! So use that unscented deoderant, but refrain from colognes and perfumes.
  • If you are sitting second, never play the principal’s solos while warming up! It’s just not done. Even at the rehearsals.
  • Don’t play other instruments’ solos either. Rude (again).
  • When the concertmaster tunes the orchestra, stop playing and be quiet. (Unless, of course, you’re playing first — then tune the orchestra!)
  • Be quiet. (I can’t tell you how many times I hear orchestra members yakking … sometimes even during performances!)
  • Don’t conduct. Really. You may think you know more than the conductor. You may think you can do a better job. And that could even be true. But it’s rude. Don’t do it.
  • Don’t stare at one of your colleagues when you aren’t playing. Even if he or she has a solo. That way, if a mistake is made, you won’t be accused of staring “because I made a horrible mistake” … believe me I’ve heard folks accuse others of this.
  • In the same vein … DON’T ever look over at someone after he or she has made a mistake! That is so incredibly rude it’s inexcusable. We feel bad enough when we make mistakes. We don’t need to know you know! Don’t grimace, laugh, shake your head, or anything else either. In other words: DON’T REACT!
  • Don’t conduct from your seat. That’s not your job!
  • Don’t count out loud … and I would even suggest don’t mouth the numbers (I saw someone do this on the TV once … it looked ridiculous!)
  • Please tap toes, not feet. I’ve attended concerts where a number of feet are tapping away — and they aren’t even in unison! Go figure!

Hiring Etiquette

  • Return calls quickly; if you don’t call back, some contractors feel no need to wait and may hire someone else. They have deadlines, and tons of calls out. They can’t wait forever!
  • Because of the above, don’t pencil in a gig until you know it’s yours.
  • Write all the job info down and, if you are doing everything by phone, repeat back to the contractor what you’ve heard. This saves you, too, if the contractor misspoke!
  • Things to verify: dates, times, locations, clothing!. Don’t be caught looking like an idiot, wearing tails when tuxes were called for. (I even recommend then verifying everything with someone else in the group. Contractors make mistakes, just like the rest of us.)
  • Don’t be late to anything. Don’t be late to anything. Don’t be late to anything. Don’t be late to anything. Get it?
  • Thank the contractor for the gig if it’s the first you’ve gotten in a while. Email. Card. Whatever. They are powerful people, these contractors. And we need them. Very much.
  • Get your music. Practice. Be prepared. Please don’t say, “I didn’t practice this!” If you didn’t practice just keep it to yourself. If you are using that to excuse any mistakes just stop it. Now.

About Phones and iPads

When I first wrote this page I didn’t think much about cellphones and other electronic devices. Now they are everywhere. People use them constantly. We do so on stage and in the pit as well. I have opinions about whether they should be on at ALL, but I know colleagues will disagree with me. I prefer to put mine on airplane mode or off all together. I can’t leave the pit or stage in any case, so I may as well wait to hear any bad news until later so it doesn’t harm my performance. BUT if you disagree please just be discreet. Turn down the brightness. Don’t let the audience see that you are on your phone (they prefer to think you are immersed in the music). I use an iPad to read librettos sometimes, but I do try to keep it discreet even then (and only during rehearsals). Still, a sub once reported me to the personnel manager. She obviously thought even that was inappropriate. We all have our “rules” and while I disagreed with her (and especially how she handled it), I honored her request. We all have to think of others and be respectful.

General Thoughts

  • Regarding intonation: It is more important to be in tune with your colleagues than to be in tune with your tuner. If 60 people are playing A-442 and you are playing your perfect A-440, YOU are wrong. If you are the principal oboe player and you are frustrated about intonation, talk to the concertmaster and work something out.
  • If you don’t say anything negative about a colleague you will never be caught saying anything negative about a colleague. Think about it. Musicians are notorious gossipers … and I speak from experience, I’m sorry to say. I still fall into the bad habit of gossip. I’m ashamed of that.
  • Having a good attitude can get you through a lot of rough times.
  • Remember that while we strive to be “perfect” our true goal should be to make great music.


Show respect. Show respect to your conductor. Show respect to your colleagues. Show respect to you audience. Please.

And … finally … from a fellow oboist:
I have one etiquette suggestion, which is the result of recent experiences, and from those years when I was a contractor in New York City. If you accept a date, then do the date. Don’t send a substitute, if you get called for another or better date. The Contractor called you because he wanted you, not your sub.