Concertmaster Protocol

April 30, 2011 at 06:06 PM ·

I've been a concertmaster for a community orchestra for 12 years and still have some nagging questions about protocol.

  1. Order of tuning: winds, brass, strings - or - brass, winds, strings?
  2. After intermission: concertmaster is already on stage - or - walk out again, bow, then tune?

Thanks y'all....

Smiles! Diane

Replies (24)

April 30, 2011 at 09:24 PM ·

Generally you'd tune winds, brass, low strings, and then high strings. Some concertmaster's walk out after intermission as well, but I feel this is kind of milking the audience unnecessarily, so I think I'd rather be on stage when the second half starts. That's usually what I do.

April 30, 2011 at 11:55 PM ·

Simple. At the start of the concert, the sub-leader stands and nods to the oboe who gives an A. Unless there's a piano concerto in the first half, in which case the sub-leader gives the A on the piano. Everyone tunes. Then concertmaster comes on, then conductor. Second half - concertmaster comes on with the band and gets the A. It's not a school orchestra, so tune quickly and then be quiet. The instrument should be pretty close before you go on stage anyway. And anyone using "tuning time" to practice their concertos etc. is taken to one side afterwards and have the error of their ways pointed out to them. Forcibly!


May 1, 2011 at 12:16 AM ·

As the answers so far show, it may depend on whether you're in the US or England.

May 1, 2011 at 12:44 AM ·

Both community orchestras I'm in (in Indiana) tune brass, winds, low strings, high strings.

CM is on stage for second half, no second "entrance."

May 1, 2011 at 04:22 AM ·

 I walk out only for the first half (I feel it's a little much to walk out the second, although in another orchestra I play in the CM walks out for both).

We used to give 4 As for ww, brass, low and high strings, but I've modified it to just 3, the 3rd being for all strings. I felt that 4 was too much, and the process just seemed to go on too long. Personally I think everyone, at least the strings, should just tune to 440 backstage and just play a quick one for show.

May 1, 2011 at 04:48 AM ·

 In the HighSchool symphony orchestra (It's a very professional group) does some oddities... We have the concert master have the BASSOON give the A. One first for WW then brass then just BASS then the rest of the strings... weird.... but hey, we're in tune :)

May 1, 2011 at 07:28 AM ·

Our concertmaster walks out for both halves of the concert.  We get 3 A's --- brass, then woodwinds, then strings --- unless he decides the woodwinds don't need a separate A and just starts tuning his violin once the brass are done.  (As a flute player, I don't really mind --- it doesn't make much difference to us if the strings are tuning while we tune.  Don't know how the strings feel about not getting their own A, though.)

May 1, 2011 at 01:37 PM ·

That's odd, Bruce.  It would at least make a lot more sense for you guys to tune with other instruments that have air moving through them -- closer family ties and whatnot.

May 1, 2011 at 01:58 PM ·

It's not uncommon to have a quick (and I mean quick) retune for the orchestra after the opening overture, or perhaps after some long Bruckner or Mahler if general tuning has altered a little. It depends on hall temperature and humidity, and a large choir behind the orchestra can have its own micro-climate effect on those two parameters.

May 1, 2011 at 03:48 PM ·

In some sense this is helping me...

Jeremy - ah milking - I've been walking out 2nd half just to make the audience chit chat stop! Our next concert is Pops so I'm assuming more than usual audience chit chat.

Malcolm - Never heard of a sub-leader before. Is Bruce correct in thinking you are in England?

Tara, Jeremy and Scott seem to be on the same page. Scott - long time no see! Where are you?

Corey - I love the bassoon A. There seems to be an unspoken statement here about the oboe player!

Bruce/Nicole - hmmmmm - impatience???

Trevor - Retuning is something I've relied on over the years. I am queen of a Community Orchestra and sometimes I just have to ask folks to re-tune!

To be continued........... Maybe I'll post in a couple of weeks the outcome of our next concert.

Smiles! Diane

May 1, 2011 at 05:03 PM ·

I didn't realize there was such variation.  At performances by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra the oboe sounds the A and the high then low strings tune.  The oboe sounds a second A and the brass and woodwinds tune.  Until this thread started I always took for granted that the strings tune first.  Is it a regional thing?

May 1, 2011 at 05:56 PM ·

Interesting, Charlie.  I've never heard of an orchestra where the strings tune first (although of course I've heard of the VSO).

We do re-tune quickly if, for example, the second piece involves more players.  And of course if there's a piano concerto, everyone re-tunes to the piano.

May 1, 2011 at 11:01 PM ·

Diane, yes I am. Sub-leader is the one sitting next to the leader (concertmaster) on the front desk..

And watch out for keyboards!. I know one sub-leader who poised his finger above the "A", looked round to make sure everyone was ready, then missed the A! At a prom. concert in Birmingham, so quite a reaction. When the leader came on and took his bow, he complained that I got more applause than he did.


May 2, 2011 at 02:07 AM ·

 I agree with Jeremy and never come out for an applaud after intermission. Usually I feel like it is too much even the first time but do it when I am concert master just for traditions sake. I believe that winds first since the oboe is giving the A, followed by brass then lower strings and lastly violins.

I lived and worked 20 years in Swedish orchestras and can tell you that the etiquette is more or less the same. I have however never heard of an assistant, alternate, sub, associate, co, giving the cue for an A.

May 2, 2011 at 05:19 AM ·


What are you doing slumming around here? Doing a little "social-notworking" (trademark S. Cole 2011)? I sent you a PM


May 2, 2011 at 12:37 PM ·

 I'm also concertmaster of a community orchestra.  We do 4 A's, woodwinds, brass, lower strings, violins.  I stand on the podium and look at the oboist (who is also named Karen, so it's a team of Karens), and then I point at the section that the A is for. For a while we were doing 3 A's with all the winds and brass together, but the brass wanted their own A.  

I don't actually walk out either time.  We all stand when the conductor walks out, and in the case of the chorale that we perform with, when the choral conductor (who is different from the orchestral conductor) and soloists walk out.  

But your comment about walking out to stop the audience chit-chat has me thinking.  We had a concert yesterday and both at the beginning and after intermission it was kind of difficult to herd everyone together and signal that it was time to start.  My walking out might be a good signal to do just that.

May 2, 2011 at 12:56 PM ·


In most of the orchestras where I have been concertmaster over the years, we have taken only two A's, one for the winds and one for the strings.  The reason is simple, the less A's, the more likely that people will match together.

As for walking on stage, I have always walked on stage at the beginning of the concert only, standing up from my chair in the second half to tune.  Chatter in the audience has never been a problem as they usually quiet down as the lights in the hall go down.

In the end, I think that each ensemble is different.  Like always, I think that it's all about what works for where you are.


May 2, 2011 at 02:37 PM ·

All orchestras I have played in in the States start with "noodling" onstage, then when cued, they stop for the concertmaster/mistress to walk on, bow and then tune the orchestra.  We only got two A's, first one for the winds and brass and second one for the strings.  While in Kenya, I have seen it done differently.  Depending on the concert, sometimes the co-principle will tune the orchestra before the concertmaster/mistress comes out to bow and sit, and sometimes, depending on how finicky the concertmaster/mistress is being, we will get 2 or more A's.  Sometimes I have been in concerts where we have gone section by section!  It's difficult living in a warmer climate, however, as you need to tune frequently.  One concert, we tuned inbetween movements of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony because it got so bad ...  :-)  I prefer the concertmaster/mistress to tune because then they tune with the rest of the orchestra instead of backstage, and I also prefer the two A's only at the start of a concert and at intermission.  I wasn't too happy about us tuning inbetween movement's of Beethoven's 3rd!

May 3, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

Wow - a world tour of tuning traditions have unfolded here!

Our up-coming concert as I mentioned is Pops. In addition I've baited my students to come visit me at the foot of the stage for a "surprise" which will be a Hershey's Kiss. Staying on stage during intermission and remaining there to dispense all those kisses should be enough to prevent me from waltzing on stage to tune after intermission. The next challenge being managing my bladder!!!

All kidding aside - I'm blessed to be part of this orchestra. A small community orchestra with a super dynamic conductor. We have to perform 3 shows to satisfy demand. Funny - when I was playing professional gigs we'd barely fill the hall once.

May 3, 2011 at 08:59 PM ·

We do it exactly like Charlie described too.  The CM comes out, asks for an A (from the oboe) for the strings.  Then another for everyone else.  Then he sits down and the conductor comes out.

May 3, 2011 at 10:23 PM ·

I've done a lot of 'concertmaster-ing', to coin a verb! I feel that 2 A's are plenty: the winds and brass first, then the strings. I've played section violin in orchestras where 3 or 4 A's were given, and I didn't notice any improvement in the orchestra's intonation. And try getting even an otherwise good oboist to give the same A 4 times in a row! In the 2nd half I sometimes prefer just one tutti A. Also, in small chamber orchestra 1 A makes more sense.

As to the protocol of entering, what I like to do for the first half is walk out and if there is applause, I will briefly acknowledge it, and then turn to the orchestra, gesuture with my arm toward them and turn back to the audience as if to say "don't clap just for me; pllease join me in acknowledging the whole orchestra". The audience gets the gesture, and my colleagues appreciate it. For the 2nd half, I will also walk out separately as before, but barely acknowledge the applause, if there is any, and quickly get to a shorter tuning. I'd get the orchestra to stand for the conductor's entrance in the the 1st half, but not usually for the 2nd half. The idea is that we had our introductions at the start of the concert; now let's get back to work with the 2nd part of the show.


May 4, 2011 at 04:06 AM ·

Raphael - I love your etiquette. Makes perfect sense.

May 4, 2011 at 11:13 AM ·

Thanks, Diane!

May 15, 2011 at 03:33 PM ·

Reporting in about our concert!

We're doing a Pops concert and for our dress rehearsal we had a readers digest version of the concert and called it a childrens' concert. This community orchestra froze up! For a childrens' concert! Those kids are probably scared to play an instrument now!

So last night for our full concert (we have 2 more to go) I walked on stage, bowed to the audience, turned around and smiled my biggest smile to the orchestra. I flashed my eyes around while we were tuning and tried to make eye contact with as many players as I could - all the while smiling the smile. One by one I got smiles back. Sheesh people - lighten up! This is supposed to be fun!

After intermission I did not walk on. I was already in my seat. The lights went down and people were still warming up on stage and audience folks were still chatty. I decided to not do anything. Eventually the orchestra got quiet and then the audience got quiet and when I thought it was quiet enough I stood up and tuned. It all worked out fine. In my mind it took a long time for things to get quiet but in reality it probably only took a few seconds.

Who knows what today's matinee will bring...

Smiles! Diane

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