The Unspoken Rules of Rehearsal Etiquette, Adult-ier Adult Version

As I have transitioned into an “adult-ier adult,” (you feel young and inexperienced sometimes but society looks at you as an adult…think 20s to early 30s) I have experienced being in many bands, combos, chamber ensembles, and large groups. Each situation is different and the personalities vary, but there are unspoken rules to getting through the gigs without becoming “THAT GUY.”

Small Ensembles/chamber groups/combos

  1. If you are the youngest in the group, and you don’t know anyone very well, clam it. Seriously. Don’t ask to do the trio again “to fix tuning issues.” Don’t point out mistakes, yours or (especially) others. Let the group leader take care of everything during rehearsal. Before and after the rehearsal, of course be social, but no one wants to hear the new guy’s opinion unless s/he’s the principal of a symphony or a headliner.
  2. If you make a mistake, recover as best you can and keep going. Don’t ask the group to stop for you to fix your mistake–you fix it at home.
  3. If there are pitch issues and the group is discussing pitches, try to generalize and say things like, “I think we’re running a little high.” Not “you are flat, you are sharp, you are sharp…” and so on. (You’d think that would be obvious, but it’s happened).
  4. If the group leader calls you out for something, just fix it. Don’t argue, because chances are you’re playing it wrong. If the group leader was wrong, it’ll come about and you will have shown that you were a team player.
  5. Be sensitive to the styles being played around you, and match. If the style seems to change wildly, do your best to match and ask about it after rehearsal.
  6. Your phone. I really shouldn’t have to say it, but you really CAN get through an hour without checking it.
  7. Be humble.

With those rules being said, eventually if you keep playing with the group you guys will get to know each other, mellow out, and probably become way too candid and hear raunchy jokes, humorous self-deprecation, ridiculous stories, etc. Those groups are the best. Until you’re there, though, see the above!

Large ensembles/community bands/university bands, etc

  1. Learn your music before you get there. There are too many recordings on YouTube showing you what it sounds like for you to fall into holes, play out of style, etc. The people around you will know and remember when someone asks them for a recommendation. If you can’t play your music, you’re not going to get recommendations.
  2. When another section is getting harped on, don’t look at them. Seriously, no rubber-necking. They’re embarrassed enough.
  3. As said above, don’t tell other people they’ve made a mistake unless you are principal and they happen to make the same mistake 3+ times in a row. Then maybe mention it in a super nice way. If you’re young, see number 1.
  4. Pay attention when the director is speaking. Having now been a band director, I can attest that my hearing and other senses became incredible: I knew exactly who was chit-chatting and always thought, “Rude!” Don’t be that guy. Did I mention recommendations?
  5. No badmouthing anyone–it WILL get back to them eventually.

Things to keep in mind when playing gigs as an adult:

Your preparedness and attitude–that’s your business card. Your punctuality, etiquette, “got-it-togetherness”–it matters. The professional music world is small. Everyone knows everyone via some version of the “six degrees of separation” thing. People will not recommend you for new gigs if you are flaky, tardy, or disorganized. Remember that it’s not just about playing the music, you have to have interpersonal skills to keep marketing yourself. And when all that is taken care of…you also have to play that music well!

Until next time,




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