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Liz Lambson

Orchestra Rehearsal Etiquette

December 4, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Photo by Jorge Franganillo

Whether you’re in an orchestra for the first time or you’re an experienced orchestral performer, you’ll soon notice that there are some unwritten “rules” pertaining to your involvement and behavior during rehearsal. Conductors even have their own style and set of expectations for the musicians under their direction.

It’s understandable if you feel a little nervous when performing with a new ensemble for the first time. Too bad no one will hand you a copy of Rehearsal Etiquette for Dummies. So if you’re wondering what to do and how to act in rehearsal, here are a few tips to keep you in the know.


1) Come having thoroughly practiced your music. Nothing is more frustrating to conductors than to waste time rehearsing passages that the orchestra members didn’t practice ahead of time.

2) Before you head to rehearsal, double check that you have your music, instrument, bow, rosin, reeds, and any necessary accessories. Be sure to note whether or not you need to bring your own stand to rehearsal or you’ll be scrambling without one. You might consider keeping a wire stand in your car (like a spare tire) just in case!

From Christina C.
Posted on December 5, 2012 at 5:15 PM
for fingerings, the unspoken rule is usually that the outside player puts theirs above the line & inside player puts them below.

Great list!

From Sue Buttram
Posted on December 5, 2012 at 6:10 PM
The "unspoken rule" about fingerings above and below - I've never heard that before (and I've been playing in orchestras for 50 years). What a great tip!
From Ophelia Larson
Posted on December 5, 2012 at 8:50 PM
I'm new to orchestral playing...any insight on proficient page turning for the inside player? I've had to sit next to the concertmaster for a few rehearsals and I felt totally unsure of my timing on page turns - is there a more correct way to do this? For example if there are multiple bars of rest, or a particularly fast passage. I apologize if this is ridiculously obvious!
From Amber Rogers
Posted on December 5, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Generally if there are a ton of rests I will write (lightly) on the next page how many I have to count. If they're in sections and there are multiple time or key changes I will stay on the page a bit longer and on the next page section accordingly when I write in the info.

Laurie has a brilliant clip on youtube about how to turn pages quickly.


From Jack Shepard
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Excellent list!

I would add "Don't leave your instrument on your chair" ...for more than one reason:

We take a short break midway through rehearsal and when we have different seating assignments for different pieces, you end up with players who can not take their new seat if the previous player left their instrument there. I also think it's very risky to leave your instrument on a chair as it can easily be knocked off or worse.

From Katherine Moller
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 2:06 AM
Great article! I couldn't agree more with so many of the items!
From elise stanley
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Terrific - this is my first year with an orchestra and I've had to learn these first hand. One little extra tip is to pre-tune your violin to an electric tuner (440). You may have to make small adjustments to the oboe but they are that - its embarassing to be the last one tuning!

From Christina C.
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 2:14 PM
If you're going to tune with a tuner before the group, it doesn't hurt to ask the oboe what they're tuning to. It could be something other than 440, especially if there's any kind of keyboard in the group.
From Sara McDowell
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 3:49 PM
During breaks, *do not* walk through the percussion set up, ever. Go around.
From Mary Ellen Goree
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 4:05 PM
If you're a section string player, please don't raise your hand to ask the conductor a question. That's a breach of etiquette. Pass your question up to your section leader, who will either answer the question or ask the conductor her(him)self.
From Sverker Lennartsson
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 5:49 PM
And most importantly, that will summarize all the advices given:

leave any individuality you have at home. Please, recite Jante's laws before each rehearsal and before going to bed.

1. You're not to think you are anything special.
2. You're not to think you are as good as us.
3. You're not to think you are smarter than us.
4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than us.
5. You're not to think you know more than us.
6. You're not to think you are more important than us.
7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
8. You're not to laugh at us.
9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

The same survival laws for orchestra as in high school or Stalin's USSR are applicable and must be followed with great detail. Good luck, comrades! :)

From Jide Taiwo
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 6:49 PM
This is great stuff. I'll like to share this with my orchestra band mates
From Jide Taiwo
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 6:46 PM
This is great stuff. I'll like to share this with my orchestra band mates
From Luis Morataya
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 7:20 PM
I really like the hint about arrogance! What has to deal Tchaikovsky violin concerto in a Vivaldi musica rehearsal??
From Nate Robinson
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 7:49 PM
Thou shalt not laugh that much at the viola solos, even if they're played in the wrong key. If one is provoked to laugh however, it is very important to learn how to master the fine art of the 'hidden laugh.'
From Dominic Zappia
Posted on December 7, 2012 at 1:41 AM
Great list!

It's funny that I read this yesterday ---especially the part about remembering your music---and today I forgot it so I could not practice during lunch break! LOL

From Liz Lambson
Posted on December 7, 2012 at 5:21 PM
Wonderful comments! Thank you for the additional contributions. Great stuff.

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Liz Lambson is from Kennedy Violins in Vancouver, Washington. Biography

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