Concert Etiquette Guide for the Beginner and Expert
by Gail Miller Armondino, Ph.D. for Notes to Go
Feeling out of place? Not sure when to clap? Sense a sneeze coming
on? The following tips for novices and regular subscribers alike will
satisfy even the strictest minders of manners.
What do I wear?
Chances are, when you come to the hall, the performers will be in
formal attire (unless you are attending a rehearsal). As an audience
member, however, tails, top hats, evening gowns, etc., are all
optional. Many concertgoers will tend to dress up a bit, but they’d
probably say that they’re most comfortable attending a concert that
way. So, don whatever you think would make you comfortable in the
setting of a concert hall; a good guide might be your personal dress
code for work or dinner with friends.
Cellular Telephones and Pagers
Take a break from the outside world! Please turn off your cellular
telephones, pagers, and all other audible electronic devices, before
the concert begins.
How will I find my seat?
Even the most experienced audience member may need help with seat
locations. We promise you won’t need a map or a compass. Any usher will
be more than happy to guide you.
If you arrive after a performance has begun, the ushers will do
their best to seat you during an appropriate pause in the program.
However, late seating is not always available at all performances.
Please try to be on time.
How will I know when the concert is about to begin?
When you first take your seat, you will notice that several of the
musicians may already be on stage. Don’t worry; you’re not late. The
musicians are warming up and reviewing their music before the concert
begins. Just prior to the start of the concert, when all of the members
of the orchestra are seated, the lights will dim, and the concertmaster
will stand and signal to the first oboe
player to play the note A. The rest of the orchestra will then tune
their instruments to match the oboe. If there is a piano on stage, it
will be used to give the pitch from which the orchestra will tune. The
next thing that will happen is that the conductor will enter the stage.
He or she will bow to the applauding audience, turn around and begin
Is it time to clap yet?
Most artists appreciate applause at any time during a performance.
Until the late 19th century and even into the 20th century, it was
customary for audiences to applaud at the end of every section of a
given piece, and some movements were even given an immediate encore if
the applause was great enough. Modern audiences, however, tend to wait
until the end of an entire work to clap. Why? Holding applause between
movements is considered to be respectful to the performers’
concentration and mindful of musical continuity.
A good rule of thumb is to count the number of movements for an
entire work—usually indicated by different tempo (speed) markings—and
then applaud after the final movement. Some composers are tricky,
however, and do not insert a pause between movements. Beethoven, for
example, goes from the third to the final movement of his 5th Symphony
without any pause. Perhaps he wanted to be sure there would be no
applause at that moment. This annotated page of a concert program
[insert image] may provide further assistance.
The conductor should let you know, and usually does, when a piece is
over. He or she will put his or her arms down and turn to face the
audience. The conductor will also shake the hands of the concertmaster
and the soloist if there is one. If you’re still in doubt, you can
always wait until someone else begins to clap and then join in!
Neither eating nor drinking is permitted inside the auditoriums. If
you are hungry, please have a snack before the concert or during
intermission. If you feel the onset of a cold or allergies, please use
a cough drop to ensure that the concert experience is as pleasurable as
possible for you—and those around you. Kindly note the next important
step: unwrap them ahead of time.
If you cannot suppress a cough, it is perfectly acceptable,
extraordinarily polite even, to excuse yourself from the Hall until you
After the Concert
As the applause starts to die down, the performers will put their
instruments away, and leave the stage. The house lights will be turned
on. At this point the concert is over, and it is time to go home.
Please exit the hall with the same courtesy you exhibited throughout