10 Performance Etiquette Tips For Musicians

By Zachariah Friesen

1. Dress Appropriately

Generally if you are on a stage and the audience is in a seat, their eye level view is of your shoes and socks. White sox or tennis shoes during a concert are a floggable offense to any conductor. It looks bad and distracts from the performance. Whatever the concert dress code is, follow it. If you can’t dress together how are you expected to play together? If you can’t follow rules, how can you follow music?

2. The Warm Up
It’s bad form to practice things you’re about to perform on stage right before the concert. And really, if you’re practicing it on stage 30 seconds before the concert starts your fate is already sealed. Practicing it on stage before the concert could give the audience the impression you aren’t prepared. And when that passage comes along in the music, everyone who heard you vigorously working on it before the concert is going to pay special attention to how you do on it in the performance. Thus pulling their ears from the sound of the ensemble to YOU.

3. Talking
Does this even need to be brought up?
If you’re talking, you’re distracting from the performance. Don’t talk during the performance. Ever. This excludes the following statements:
“Larry your head is bleeding. “
“Wrong piece!” (whisper)
“Pennsylvania 6-5-O-O-O!”

4. Singing
Now by the time the concert comes, everyone should know the music pretty well. Often times for younger bands (and some community bands) people like to sing-a-long during rehearsals. This is fine (arguably). For the concert however, no singing, humming or whistling. It’s great to get into the music but during the concert, stick with the orchestration the composer came up with please.

5. Toe tapping fun
Tapping your foot in rehearsals or practice sessions is very welcome. Tapping your foot during a performance distracts from the performance. When no one else’s foot is tapping and yours is, that spells a distraction. And as I said, the audience eye level is right at your feet so that hoedown happening with your foot is practically a spectacle to them. Especially since dress shoes tend to make more noise when hitting the ground than your average tennis shoes. Keeping the beat is very important so if you have to tap, tap your big toe inside your shoe instead of your foot.

6. Shuffling your music
The rule is to wait until the applause is done and then get the next piece up unless your director has a “planned-surreptitious-switch” to the next piece. Acknowledge and appreciate the applause while it’s happening. Not everyone gets applause. Fiddling with something else while people are applauding tells them that you could care less if they applaud or not.

7. Loud page turns
Turn the page as quickly and quietly as possible. Nothing sets the mood quite like a rip-roaring page turn for a soft oboe solo with light orchestration: be respectful, be aware.

8. Reactions
Keep the reactions to a minimum. High-Fives in the trombone section after a difficult passage have no place in the concert hall during a performance. If you miss a note or an entrance, nothing draws attention to your mistake like a raised eyebrow, a stomp in disgrace, a “woops” or worse: an expletive. Keep it to yourself. Chances are the “Whodunnit?” crowd has no idea who the culprit is, let’s keep it that way, don’t help them solve the case.

8a. Reactions to others
When your friend has a big solo that they’ve been working on and their run-throughs in rehearsal haven’t been the smoothest, don’t watch them.  Turning your head to stare at them while they play is bad etiquette, distracting to the audience and putting more pressure on the soloist. I send all my concentration and focus their way with positive thoughts and extreme confidence in them. I am a big believer in this and it has served my fellow ensemble members and I quite well.

Likewise when it sounds like the trumpet player or French horn player put their instrument through a wood chipper behind you, the worst thing you can do is look at them. They know they messed it up and turning your head towards them in disgust is not going to bring back any fracks or chips that are now in the musical world to stay. Keep your reactions, to your playing and the playing of others, to yourself.

9. Face the audience
Just like your right to face your accuser, the audience has the right to see the face of the people they are applauding. No matter where you sit in the ensemble, face the audience when you stand while receiving applause.

10. Bowing etiquette
A bow is a simple thing and a nice gesture to your audience that you appreciate and acknowledge their applause. Don’t linger and don’t give yourself whiplash. Bow at a medium speed and while down say “Charlie Brown” and then back up you go at the same speed. When bowing with others, a leader should be designated to lead the bow. Use your peripheral vision to stay with the other members of your group. Nothing ruins a great display of ensemble playing, blending and togetherness like a failure to bow all at the same time.

Zachariah Friesen is the online merchandiser at Sheet Music Plus. He is also a freelance trombone player and private lessons teacher in the bay area. 

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