Section Etiquette & Professionalism

Professional etiquette is one of those subjects that, to a certain extent, people just pick up along the way. Below are a few bits of advice from my own experience that might help jump-start the process and save some grief. Most of the suggestions are “no-brainers”; however, sometimes there are things that are irritating or frustrating to others that haven’t even occurred to us. Also, I am not trying to say I am the superlative example myself; in fact, many of these suggestions come as a result of learning from my own mistakes! The basic ideas are simple courtesy and care for our craft. 


Section Etiquette & Professionalism

•Avoid playing, even in warm-up, another player’s solo or part.

•Avoid grimacing or rolling your eyes, no matter who makes a mistake (including yourself). Audiences notice these cues!

•Avoid doing anything that would be distracting or make another person uncomfortable while they’re playing and you’re not (talking loudly, moving around, gaping at them, playing their part softly, etc.).

•Make sure your part is prepared! Develop the reputation of being a consummate professional—someone who is reliable, someone who is pleasant to work with, and someone who will come in and consistently lay down the part.

•Play whatever you need to play in order to feel comfortable and warmed up; however, be warned that “show off” warm-ups (the flashiest concerto you know, the fastest technical exercise you can play, etc.) tend to bother some people.

•Don’t brag about how little you’ve practiced something—whether it’s an audition, competition, gig, or whatever. It’s not that cute. It’s not impressive.

•Count the rests. Don’t get into the habit of relying on someone else (or even a conductor’s cue, which can be unpredictable). On the other hand, don’t be a snob—be helpful if someone else loses his/her place while counting.

•Be a professional. For rehearsals and performances, don’t just be on time—be early. Many successful musicians plan a time “buffer” of an extra 30 minutes to get to the gig (especially if it’s out of town), just in case they forget their music, get a flat tire, forget a mute, can’t find the place, or whatever. Being late for just 1 or 2 gigs, even if it wasn’t really your fault, is noticed.

•Don’t be cocky. Few people will put up with an egotist for very long, even in music. If you want to brag about yourself and drop names, tell it to your mother or your former teacher; let everybody else find out for themselves. It’s much more impressive that way.

•Shuffling your feet or clapping lightly on your leg is a nice courtesy when someone within the section or group plays something well, but avoid doing it in sarcasm when someone messes up.

•Be willing to compromise, particularly when it comes to intonation. It’s your job to be in tune and make quick adjustments. There’s no such thing as “Everybody else is out of tune except me.” It doesn’t matter if you have perfect pitch or your tuner is showing you’re right on A440. The correct pitch center is where the section or group is at the time. Don’t try to be a hero. Adjust!

•When it comes to asking a conductor questions during rehearsal, there really is such thing as a dumb question. Consult with your section leader first and consider whether it might be more appropriate to handle the question as a section or check the conductor’s score during a break.

•In general, in professional situations, keep your playing suggestions to yourself (unless someone solicits them or you are the section leader). If other players really want your opinion, they’ll ask. 

•React respectfully to applause. The audience is trying to show appreciation when they applaud. Don’t ignore it, talk through it, or play through it. Acknowledge it politely.

•As you interact with people from the audience after the performance, accept compliments gracefully—Don’t say, “No, it was really bad…that’s the worst I’ve played…” In the words of Wynton Marsalis, “Never deny a compliment after a performance. Say thank you!”