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

Take a break from the outside world! Please turn off your cellular telephones 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.

Late Seating

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 the concert.

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 feel better.

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 the concert.