What is Proper Stage Etiquette?

What is Proper Stage Etiquette?

There is so much to know about being a musician that sometimes the little things are not addressed. Some of those “little things” are etiquette issues. As teachers, we can only do so much in lessons and ensemble rehearsals. So I’ve have decided to start a list. I would like to start an open dialogue about etiquette issues and create a comprehensive list that can be turned into a PDF that we can all share with our students. I welcome any feedback and contributions.

My previous blog post, Ten Things I Wish I Knew Going into my First Ensemble Rehearsal addressed rehearsal/concert etiquette. I got a lot of good feedback from people who left comments in the chatter section. Today, I would like to talk about Stage/Performance Etiquette. Have you ever gone to a performance and remember more about the poor stage etiquette than the performance? Me too! These suggestions may seem obvious, but I am writing this post because I have witnessed performances this semester that have demonstrated poor stage etiquette.

So, let’s start at the very beginning (“a very good place to start”):

Entering the Stage

When you first walk onto the stage, SMILE and acknowledge the audience. Walk with a purpose and get to your set-up without looking around or trying to see if your mom is in the audience. The person with the longest distance to go should enter first. If the applause continues until you get to your instrument, take a bow, otherwise you can acknowledge the audience with a head nod. Look like you are excited to play and SMILE. The audience has taken time out of their schedule to come see you and it is your role to be positive about your performance. Look like you are having fun even if you are nervous. If you look uncomfortable, the audience will feel/be uncomfortable too.

During the Performance

Do not talk during the performance, even if you have a lot of rests. Sit there and enjoy the music and be ready to play when it is your turn. Remember, once you are on stage, the audience can see everything you are doing. If you make a mistake, KEEP GOING. You are going to make mistakes and it is your responsibility to perform through your mistakes as if nothing unusual happened.


When you bow, bend at your waist and don’t look at the audience–you are not greeting someone. My percussion teacher at USC used to tell us to bow and say “I can see my shoes.” The bow should last for a count of 2 (aka 2 quarter notes at 60 BPM). Don’t be quick. Enjoy the moment. People are clapping for YOU!! Take a bow (or two) and then exit the stage. If people continue to clap, go back out and take another bow.


This may be a personal issue I have, but I think it is important to avoid moving equipment during the show. I know this is not always possible, but less movement is always better. Try and program/set-up the first half and the second half of the concert with as little instrument movement as possible. For my percussion ensemble concerts, I draw out diagrams and we rehearse the set-up during the dress rehearsal. I also take two short pauses during my percussion ensemble concerts so that we can set-up 2-3 pieces per set. Going to a concert and seeing stage hands and performers move equipment should be minimized whenever possible.


Wear something that is professional but not distracting. The audience is there to see your performance, not what you are (or are not) wearing. Your outfit should not be flashier than your performance. (As a side note, I always recommend my students to do a run-through of their recital in the outfit they intend to wear for the performance. Performing in dress shoes generally means you have to adjust the height of the marimba and long sleeves will get in the way of your mallets).

Stage Hands

If you are going to use stage hands (which I would highly suggest!!) to help you move equipment, make sure they dress in all black. Before the concert, make sure you go over the set-up diagram and talk to them about how and when they should move the equipment. A note for stage hands: make sure you move with a purpose and don’t interact with the audience. Your job is to help move equipment in between pieces.

Stage Clutter

There should be nothing on the stage other than what you need to perform the concert. No backpacks, stick bags, instrument covers, jackets, empty Diet Coke cans, etc.

After the Concert

DO NOT BE NEGATIVE and tell your audience members everything that went wrong. During the reception, be sure to say hello to all of the people who came to your recital and thank them for being there to support you. Don’t talk about the mistakes you made. Engage with your audience and be positive. Finally, don’t go home and watch your video right after your recital. Wait at least a week and when you do watch it, learn from it and don’t beat yourself up for every little mistake.

Am I forgetting something? Are there any more things you tell your students about stage etiquette or something you have observed that you think everyone needs to know? Leave a comment in the Chattr Section and let me know.

End Note: I have to thank Barbara Matthews, a CSULB Theater Faculty Member, who gave a presentation on this topic for my inspiration to write this article. As I sat and watched her presentation, I thought this would be a good topic to address on the blog. Thank you Barbara!


Originally posted on DrumChattr.com on November 5, 2010.

The photo in this post is used under the Creative Commons License: Attribution – NonCommercial – No Derivs 2.0 by kj.vogelius on Flickr.com.

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