Presented by Sarah Jackson, L.A. Phil Picc./Flutist
At the 1996 Courtney Summer Music Camp.
(original author unknown)
There are so many
things to learn when one decides to play an instrument.
Lessons are filled with attention to high range, low
range, breathing, tonguing, tone and intonation. One
aspect of playing is ensemble manners, how one interacts
with one's musical colleagues. There are certain
"unwritten rules" that most players come to
know through experience, and players who don't follow the
"rules" may find themselves being invited to
join fewer and fewer ensembles.
The result that I've seen personally is that some
outstanding young players who were destined for major
careers never realized their potential, some even giving
up, feeling bitter at their lack of success. It was not
that these players were not "good enough", but
rather that they alienated their colleagues by
unprofessional behaviour. The tragedy is that they were
probably unaware of the negative impression that they
were making until it was too late.
As with all manners, ensemble "rules" are based
on consideration and common sense. The way one interacts
productively differs to some extent with the nature of
the ensemble, but certain rules apply to ensembles of all
sizes and types.
1) Come to rehearsals with your music prepared. If you
don't know your part, you are not ready to rehearse. A
rehearsal set up to 'read new music' is an obvious
exception. Most rehearsals are really concerts in
Note: if your parts are particularly difficult ask for
help in your private lessons, and/or find a recording of
the work, if possible, and be familiar with the entire
2) Always arrive early enough so that you are warmed up
and ready to play at the starting time of the rehearsal.
Someone who walks in at 2 pm for a 2 pm. Rehearsal can be
a major source of irritation for those players who were
considerate enough to have come earlier, warmed up and
3) Bring a pencil to rehearsals. No player can remember
everything that is discussed, and time will be wasted at
the next rehearsal repeating things for the players who
did not mark their parts.
4) Never miss rehearsals (or concerts!) except for very
extreme emergencies. A player who is frequently ill will
be avoided because they will be considered undependable.
5) Always be conscious of your personal hygiene. It is
difficult to perform when a stand partner's garlic breath
or gym-odour interferes with your breathing. Conversely,
perfume or scent can cause allergic reactions for other
players, so avoid it.
6) Once you have agreed to play a concert with the
necessary rehearsals, it is unwise to cancel that
commitment, even if something more important or more
rewarding is offered to you. Would you be anxious to play
in a group where people only honoured their commitment if
nothing better came along?
7) Think twice about criticising your colleagues to
others by revealing the mistakes they may have made in
rehearsals or concerts. Music making is a very intimate
time of sharing and the players must be able to trust one
another in order to achieve the best results. By knocking
one member of the group, you are tarnishing the
reputation of the entire ensemble.
Certain guidelines apply especially to SMALL CHAMBER
ENSEMBLES, that is, groups without a conductor such as
brass quintets, wind quintets, and string quartets.
1) The success of a fine chamber group depends on the
good ideas of all the members but each member must strike
a balance between saying and suggesting too little or too
much. No one will have their ideas agreed with or
followed all of the time. The collective judgement must
prevail, and players whose ideas have been rejected must
not feel rejected themselves. This can become a very
destructive tension in the group, and takes
open-mindedness in order for peace to reign.
2) When suggesting a change to another player, try to
convey respect along with the suggestion or criticism you
are making. For example:
"We seem to be not too well in tune at letter 'F'. I
may be high, or maybe you are low.
Can we check it?" rather than:
"You are flat. Can you bring the pitch up?"
The longer a group plays together, the freer the
communication can become. This is especially true if the
members respect each other, and they are secure in their
self image and rapport with the group. With some of my
colleagues, I can be very blunt and accept blunt
criticism. With others, I need to be more careful, and
more diplomatic. We must all try to be sensitive to the
degree of frankness that will be welcomed by others.
Other guidelines apply more to large ensembles such as
ORCHESTRAS AND BANDS:
1) Always try to match the style and intonation of the
principal player. It is not appropriate to make
suggestions to the principal player unless you are very
close and are sure that your comments will be welcomed.
Better to be silent than sorry. This applies to all
members of the section. The principal player is usually
the only one to suggest things to the section and this
should not happen too often if the other players are
listening and matching his or her style.
2) Before or after rehearsals do not play passages from
parts other than the one you are playing yourself. No one
will want to have you around if you play flawlessly the
solo that is giving them problems. Pracising the other
parts at home will help you grow, but don't alienate your
colleagues by doing it in public.
3) When someone in the section or sitting near you has a
solo, freeze! Don't make any sudden movements which might
startle or distract the player. Even emptying your
instrument (or other adjustments) must be done slowly if
it is absolutely necessary to do it at the time.
4) Don't stare at a player, or turn around to look at
them when they are playing. Rehearsals are not the time
to examine your neighbour's technique.
5) If you are in a section that has a lot of bars tacet,
give a small hand or finger acknowledgement of all
rehearsal letters, numbers, or double bars. This allows
all the players in the section to double-check that they
have the correct count. If you are unsure of the count,
don't make a motion, but wait to see one from the other
players. With all players counting carefully, no section
should ever get lost. The motions should be small enough
that they cannot be seen by the audience.
6) If you have a question about your part and you are not
the principal player, direct your question to the
principal, not to the conductor.
7) If someone in the section makes a mistake, do not
immediately look at the culprit. In a performance, do not
let your manner indicate that an error has occurred,
either by a colleague or by yourself. It serves no
purpose to call attention to an error the audience may
not have noticed.
Finally, there are customs of behaviour that apply to an
ensemble player's relationship to THE CONDUCTOR.
1) Always speak to the conductor in a respectful manner,
whether or not you think that respect is deserved. You
must at least respect the conductor's position and
alienating the conductor is never in a player's interest.
Many players seem to view the conductor as the
"enemy" this is quite natural since we are all
creative musicians with individual and valid ideas, and
it is easy to resent someone who tells us what to do
according to their personal ideas. In solo and chamber
playing, there is more freedom of expression, but a
player in a large ensemble must be able to adjust to the
necessary dominance of a conductor or he/she will waste
time being frustrated. Large ensemble repertoire includes
much of the greatest music ever written, so try to
develop a positive relationship with your conductors and
your own life will be more enjoyable.
2) Do not take up rehearsal time by asking questions that
only apply to you and/or could wait until the break or
after the rehearsal. Most conductors are more relaxed
when approached privately rather than in the midst of a
3) Stop playing immediately when the conductor stops the
ensemble. Continuing is rude and wastes time.
4) When a conductor makes a suggestion to you or your
section, acknowledge that you understand by a nod of the
head or some facial response (preferably not a grimace.)
5) If a conductor usually cues your entrances, look up to
acknowledge that cue. Many conductors seem to enjoy eye
contact from their players.
These "rules" may seem obvious or even petty,
but they are too frequently ignored, and following them
can help groups to function smoothly and allow the music
to become the major issue. If our energies are not
diverted by difficulties in working together, we can
bring full attention to the joy of creative music making.
________________end original document
There are some ensemble manners listed off the ASU flute
page -- [404 Not Found]
And specifically for
flutists, there are some great words of advice printed in
Jeanne Baxtresser's Book of "Orchestral Excerpts for
Flute", in the introductory pages. (see pg. vi ).
This is a great book of excerpts, and her advice is very
Back to Jen's homepage