Orchestra Rehearsal Etiquette Reference Guide

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. It’s understandable if you feel a little nervous when performing with a new ensemble for the first time. 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.

“This is not meant to be a laundry list of “must-do’s”; we are simply trying to make sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome in a professional, community ensemble setting.” - Tanner Oglesby

Seating Process: rather than a set audition process, the SSO invites prospective members to sit in and play with the orchestra during open rehearsals, typically the first two of each semester. Open seats within each section of the orchestra are filled at the discretion of the conductor, concertmaster, section leader/principal, and when appropriate, SSO board members. If there are not currently open seats within a section, a sub list may be maintained. Email notifications are sent out regarding participation. Number of available seats, as well as instrumentation, will change depending on instrumentation and balance needs for specific programs throughout the year. Decisions are final.    

  • Arrive early.—We are fortunate to be able to use school band room facilities, but the band room must be set up before rehearsal and put away after rehearsal; many hands make light work! While it’s advisable to arrive at least 15 minutes early, or with enough time to both get your instrument out and warm up, it’s helpful to come even earlier to help with set up. If you are late (it happens), try to avoid taking your seat while the musicians are playing; if you can, wait for an appropriate break in the action to slip in. Please make sure to put up at least your stand and chair afterward.
  • Come prepared. This means several things:
           * 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.
           * Before you head to rehearsal, double-check that you have your music, instrument, bow, rosin, reeds, and any necessary accessories.
           * Bring a pencil. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, you probably won’t. Keep a couple of pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.
           * Make sure you are aware of what’s happening; check email and text messages for any last moment information or requests. To sign up, simply text @salsymorch to 81010. It does not cost anything unless you pay for texting by each text. You will receive confirmation if you have done it correctly.        
  • Music Responsibility. We attempt to provide digital downloads of music in PDF format so you may receive your music in a timely manner. If you are unable to print your own music, we will print music for you, but you must make the request at a time when it can be conveniently printed for you. We also ask that you not share music without outside sources, as the orchestra has paid for the ability to use the music and we honor copyrights. 
  • Be courteous to your colleagues. Position yourself so both you and your stand partner have enough arm and legroom and can see the music comfortably. Don’t be afraid to ask the people around or behind you if they can see the conductor or if you can move a little to give them more space.
  • Don’t tune loudly. Tune as softly as possible so the players around you can hear themselves.
  • Don’t chat. If you need to communicate something to your stand partner, do so inconspicuously and quietly. Save personal conversations for break time. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Approach your section leader during a break, or raise your hand with [appropriate] questions for the conductor for any clarifications.
  • Pass down bowings or comments from the section leader/principal. Don’t be the break in the chain. 
  • Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed. Also, don’t practice another orchestra member’s solo to demonstrate that you can play it better.
  • If at all possible, don’t miss any rehearsals leading up to a concert. You may miss no more than two regular rehearsals. Any more missed rehearsals must be approved by the conductor. The dress rehearsal and concert are mandatory for semester participation. 
  • If you must miss a rehearsal, tell us. Simply reply to the latest orchestra email if you are unable to attend a rehearsal so we may plan accordingly. 
  • TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. Not only should your attention be on what’s happening during rehearsal time, but it is bad etiquette to make or accept calls during rehearsal time. If you are on call, please keep your phone on silent and step out of the rehearsal area to take a phone call.
  • Stop when the conductor stops. If you keep playing, it’s a sign that you’re not paying attention. Also, don’t practice or chat while the conductor is talking. Personal practice and group rehearsal are two separate activities.
  • Don’t eat during rehearsal. Bottles of water with lids are okay. Please respect the facilities that are graciously provided for our use.
  • Don’t question the conductor or treat him/her with disrespect. Trust in their artistic direction. Don’t argue with the conductor or you’ll likely find yourself packing up and sent on your way. If there are any sincere questions or concerns, take care of it privately during break.
  • Don’t complain about where you sit. Even if you think you can play better than other members in your section, graciously accept your position. Just because you sit in the back doesn’t mean you’re not a valuable player; in fact, being in the group, to begin with, is a privilege in itself. But don’t hesitate to practice your tail off in preparation for the next seating arrangement. Seating is at the discretion of the concertmaster/section leader/principle and the conductor, and the balance and sound of the orchestra takes precedence over individual players.
  • Rehearsals, unless stated otherwise for recruitment purposes, are closed. Guests are allowed at the discretion of the conductor with advance notice, and must remain quiet and on the edges of the rehearsal area. Guests must at all times remain quiet and respect the musicians. 
  • Lastly, enjoy the music! Don’t take rehearsal so seriously that you lose your connection with the piece or with your instrument. Playing music in an ensemble is a real treat; don’t forget that you’re taking part in a meaningful cultural tradition that will edify your audience.