Solo Performance Etiquette

Below is a handout I put together when I started teaching college and realized I should probably be helping students a little with some of the nonmusical aspects of recitals that sometimes go unsaid. Almost everything on the list results from personal observation or personal experience. Some of the suggestions are, of course, just opinion; the important overlying ideas are communication, making the audience comfortable, and basic courtesy.


Will Kimball, Brigham Young University

1) The soloist enters the stage first, then the accompanist, then the page turner (if any). Walk purposefully and relatively quickly. Don’t mope onto the stage.

2) It is general practice to stand in or near the crook of the piano (providing good positioning for visual contact between soloist and accompanist and good visual symmetry for the audience). Acoustically, it is usually best for trombone and trumpet players to aim toward the rear right corner of the hall rather than facing straight on. To be sure which position and bell direction is best, experiment with acoustics in the hall during your sound check.

3) Acknowledge the applause when you enter. (This is an important concept: As a general rule, when you receive applause you need to acknowledge it, otherwise you’re being rude.) A slight bow or nod of the head is enough when you enter, if you prefer. You needn’t acknowledge the accompanist at this time.

4) It is generally preferable, in my opinion, to tune with the piano after you have warmed up but shortly before you get on stage to perform. If circumstances don’t allow this, go ahead and tune in front of the audience, but don’t take an inordinate amount of time doing it. As a soloist, it is uncomfortable tuning in front of an audience because you have to be both quick and accurate (nobody in the audience really enjoys listening to it, but if you don’t quite get to the pitch, everybody hears it, and you have a strike against you before even beginning your performance).

5) Make eye contact and/or nod to the accompanist when you’re ready to start (don’t expect the accompanist to just know when you want to start or to lead you).

6) Look professional and generally upbeat while performing. Don’t grimace if you make a mistake, scowl when you’re finished, roll your eyes, etc. If you watch professional performers, you will notice that they almost all have a very positive bearing when performing. Even if it’s an act, it’s more enjoyable to watch someone who has a positive bearing.

7) When you finish a piece, it’s usually helpful to the audience if you give them some sort of visual cue that you’re done, especially if the piece isn’t well known. Lowering your instrument and looking up to the audience will accomplish this. Do not wait for the applause before lowering your instrument at the end of a piece; the audience will think you’re not done if you keep your instrument up!

8) After the applause has begun, bow. Bowing is not arrogant at all, it’s simply saying “thanks for the applause.” Bow at the waist (not at the knees), look down at your shoes (not at the audience), and slowly count to two. After you bow, acknowledge the accompanist by extending your arm in his/her direction; the accompanist will then bow as you do this (don’t steal the accompanist’s credit by bowing again at this time). *One exception to the above sequence is when you play a sonata or other piece in which the parts are considered equal. In this case, when the piece ends and the applause begins, the pianist stands, the two of you make eye contact, then you bow together. **Also, there is now a feeling among some accompanists (or “collaborative pianists”) that all bows should be together (see #11, below). It never hurts to avoid an awkward situation by checking with your pianist beforehand.

9) Walk purposefully off the stage (again, don’t mope). At the very end of the whole performance, as you leave the stage, most audiences will extend the general courtesy of applauding until you’re off the stage. Instead of grubbing around at this point, trying to gather up all your stuff (mutes, instrument stand, water bottle, music, etc.), consider coming back for it afterwards (or sending the stage hand for it). As with the entrance, when you exit, your accompanist follows you, then the page turner (if any). The soloist always leads.

10) At the end of the whole recital, if applause dictates more bows, it’s usually just the soloist who should go back onto the stage and bow (i.e., don’t wait for the accompanist to go back onto the stage with you). However, depending on the nature of the performance and/or piece, the pianist may enjoy an extra curtain call with you (e.g., if you’ve worked particularly hard on a piece together). Just be sure to communicate so you’re not colliding or tripping over each other.

11) There is currently a direction in performance toward more equality than the traditional solo-accompanist etiquette reflects. For example, the pianist may wish to be referred to as a collaborative pianist instead of accompanist, and to take all bows together (instead of soloist, then pianist). Check with your pianist to see how he/she feels about this. The best course of action is to discuss it beforehand and find out what the pianist prefers instead of bumbling around during the performance.

12) One more little thing…This will seem silly, but there will be some audience members who will be distracted by the way brass players empty their spit. I know, it’s silly. However, I have actually personally seen excellent professional soloists stick their slide straight out toward the audience and let out a giant, horselike spray, while the piano player is executing some soft, delicate interlude. It can be distracting. Just consider downplaying it a little.

That’s it. The more you immerse yourself in the music and enjoy, the more the audience is likely to enjoy!


  1. Your performance etiquette checklist was the best I found on the web! And, coming from a Cougar… all the better! Go Cougars!!! I’m teaching “Choir Etiquette” and “Stage Presence” at a choir camp in St. George, Utah… This is very helpful! Thanks!!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your insight. I would love your permission to share this list with my Intro to Voice class this fall. Your words are so precise and informative – I feel it would be so beneficial for my class.

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