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Know Before You Go

Musical Must-Do's

A field guide to concert performances

Before the Concert

Before any music fills your ears...

  • Check Your Movements. Read your program to find out whether the concert’s music will have multiple movements (parts). (Concertos usually have three, and sonatas have three or four.)

During the Concert

Ready to start tapping your toes to the beat? Here's what to keep in mind once the show  begins...

  • Place Settings. Most orchestras are arranged in a fan-shape. The strings are always in the front, sitting in successive rows, with first and second violins on the left. Then sit the violas, cellos, with double basses (usually) on the right. Deeper in the back are the woodwinds (flutes, clarinets, oboes, English horns, bassoons, and contra-bassoons) and the brasses (French horns, trumpets, trombones, and tuba). The percussion instruments (timpani, side and bass drums, and cymbals) are located in the rear.

  • Tune Up. After the orchestra is seated, the first violinist, or “concertmaster,” bows to applause, and takes his/her seat. This person then asks the principal oboist to sound an “A” to which the entire orchestra tunes. Once tuned, the conductor and/or soloist walks onstage and the audience applauds.

  • Think Before You Clap. In orchestra performances, you should clap when the conductor appears onstage and at the end of each musical number, not after each movement. But be careful. Sometimes it sounds like a piece is over, but it’s really just the silence between movements. Hint: Check out the conductor; he or she will lower their hands at the end of a piece. Or, follow along in your program to see how the music is listed. Better yet, wait and follow the crowd when to clap.

    Let’s practice. Say you’re listening to a piano soloist performing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Number 14, the “Moonlight Sonata.” 

    You’ll hear:

    The slow first movement
    (Silence.  Don’t clap.)
    The faster second movement
    (Silence.  Don’t clap.)
    The incredibly fast third movement
    (Clap here!)

    Another clapping clue: When it’s time to applaud, the conductor might step down from the podium and bow. He or she may direct soloists to the front of the stage so that they can receive special recognition and applause as well. 

    Orchestra members might tap their stands instead of clapping.

  • Stand in Support. If you love a performance, you can rise when you clap, and give the orchestra a standing ovation. And don’t be surprised if the audience yells out “Bravo” or “Brava” for a job “well done.”

  • There’s More? Sometimes, if the audience shows enough enthusiasm at the end of the concert, the orchestra will perform an encore. This means they will perform a musical number that’s not on the program—but it has to be one that they’ve rehearsed, so don’t yell out any requests!

  • Jazz Concerts

    But wait! That's not all!

    Jazz concerts are sometimes different from symphonic and orchestral, and are usually more casual. The big difference you should keep in what to do during the show.  

    • Clap-Happy. You’ll probably find that jazz audiences clap or even call out their support for the musicians quite often. Feel free to clap at the end of instrumental solos, songs, sets, and performances. (“Sets” are groups of musical numbers; the band may take a momentary break between individual pieces and longer breaks between sets.) While the audience at a jazz concert is far less formal than at a classical music performance, you still need to be respectful of the musicians and other audience members.

    Credits

    Writers

    Marina Ruben
    Original Writer

    Editors & Producers

    Lisa Resnick
    Content Editor

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