The Complete Audience Etiquette Handbook

Audience Oath
Basic Concert Etiquette
Appropriate Dress
Timing and Arrival
Silence and Talking
Eating and Candy
When to Applause
Leaving Early
Electronic Devices
Your Child's Performance
Bringing Children

Audience Oath:

I will remember that music is an ephemeral soundscape superimposed on a background of silence, and that its existence is fragile.

I will not speak while music is being performed, except to request an ambulance.

If I arrive after the music has begun, I will stand in the back of the hall until the piece has ended.

I will not shuffle my program or squirm. If I am bored, I will leave unobtrusively to spend my time in more amenable pursuits.

If I possess anything that beeps, I will leave it at home with my candies.

I will not clap unless I am absolutely sure that the piece is over.

Basic Concert Etiquette

Although you may be unfamiliar with proper concert behavior, relax! For the most part, the practice of good concert etiquette is nothing more than an exercise in common courtesy. In an article entitled "Behavior Among Music Lovers," the well-known syndicated columnist Miss Manners commented on inexcusable, voluntary actions by some concert-goers, which can ruin other people's enjoyment of the performance. These undesirable actions include:

1) Eating
2) Whispering or talking of any kind
3) Conducting in ones lap
4) Necking
5) Tapping
6) Humming/singing
7) Wearing obstructing hats

The following list of suggestions will help you avoid embarrassment and derive greater pleasure from the concert experience:

Dress: Although the dress code for "classical" concerts has become more relaxed over time, it is most appropriate to not wear jeans, shorts or running shoes. Men's dress code can range from a suit and tie to dress pants with a collared shirt. Women's dress code can range from a dress or skirt and blouse to dress pants and a blouse. Dress up and make an evening of it!

Timing: Arrive before the posted concert time. This will give you time to locate a good seat and look over the program in advance. If for some reason you do arrive late, please wait at the back of the hall until an appropriate break in the musical program (the end of a movement or work when the audience applauses). Do not disturb other listeners by attempting to seat yourself while the music is being performed. The ushers should keep people outside until a break.

Silence: Hold your musical (and non-musical) comments until the musicians have left the stage (which will happen at breaks between sections of the program, intermission, or the end of the concert). Whispering and unsolicited laughter truly disturb those around you and can certainly be heard for several rows in a quiet hall. The concert has officially begun when the lights dim and that is when to stop talking. You may not resume talking until the lights come back up or during applause. When there are silent gaps in the performance, it is for a silent effect, not for talking. Be extra cautious of tapping or humming as many of us are unaware when we do it.

Unwrapping anything, especially candies and cough drops: It's okay to suck on candy or chew gum during a concert, especially if it prevents you from coughing. However, the sound of unwrapping such items can be just as distracting as coughing itself, so make sure to do all of your unwrapping before the music begins.

Shushing: Although it is annoying when other audience members are talking or whispering during a performance, it is equally as distracting to hear someone "shush" them. Sit tight and hope they finish what they have to say quickly.

Applause: Know when and where to applaud. Unless it is the final movement of a work, or the last song of a set, you should be sure NOT to applaud. You can tell this by looking at the printed concert program. Multi-movement works are indicated by several successive tempo indications underneath the title of a work; titles of individual songs are put in quotation marks, and then put in order of presentation:

Symphony No.40 in G Minor, K.550 W.A. Mozart
Molto allegro
Allegro assai

3 Songs Franz Schubert
"Der Wanderer"

For example, if you were present at the Mozart/Schubert concert shown above, you would notice the audience applauding only at the conclusion of the four-movement Mozart symphony (after the "Allegro assai" movement) and after the last song of the Schubert set ("Der Wanderer"). This allows the performer(s) to keep the interpretive focus of the music intact until the entire work (or set of pieces) is completed. If you are unsure when to clap, it is best to wait for the applause to start before you take part. Try not to be the first to jump up and clap yelling "bravo" (or "brava" for those who consider "bravo" déclassé). Let the concert end with dignity.

Leaving Early: Concerts usually last between one and two hours. Be prepared to stay for the entire performance. Leaving early is not only rude but it is insulting to the performers who have worked for many weeks/months to prepare this music.

Electronic Devices: I cannot imagine people enter concerts thinking it is acceptable for a device to go off randomly. So we must assume the noise is in error. Most of the devices that go off are owned by people who thought they had them turned off. Double check your cell phones, pagers and watches.

Your Child's Performance: The rules don't change just because your child is the third angel from the left or even if she is "Clara" in Nutcracker. If you are at your child's performance and you must video, use the eye piece and not the LCD screen. Stay calmly in your seat or sit at the back wall of the hall for taping (with all the other polite parents). Please don't yell or say "there he is!" every time he comes on stage. Also, hold negative comments on the performance or performers until you are in your car. It is very likely a parent or cousin of the person you are speaking of is right in front of you.

Bringing Children to Concerts: Some children, like pagers, may "go off" unexpectedly. This is a difficult thing to ignore and is disruptive to performers and the audience. If you bring your kids to any concert, then make them behave or remove them. Do not wait until they are *really* loud. We all know children making noise will never calm down and stop on their own. The standard is totally quiet, not "some noise". We would rather have a small disturbance of you removing a child (from the rear aisle seats your reserved for this condition) than a whole concert of wrestling with them an trying to get them to be quiet. If they can't keep quiet then they are not ready for real concerts.

Photography: Photography is thankfully prohibited at most concerts. But some arenas or kids concerts do allow it. Check ahead of time to be sure before you bring your camera or it may be confiscated. If you are filming your child, please be aware of others who may be there for the music or for another child. See "Your Child's Performance", above. Note that your LCD camera screen may be lighting the ten people behind you. If cameras are allowed, prepare for getting the best photos with the least disturbance. Bring a quiet camera and shoot just as the applause begins. The performers will usually hold a pose for a moment at the end of a piece as the applause begins. This photo op moment will allow you to enjoy the concert while getting great shots. Buy fast film like 400 speed or greater. Set the camera to keep the FLASH OFF. This not only will cause less disturbance but the make better pictures. A camera's flash is only good for about 20 feet or say, 8 rows. So keeping the flash on will only highlight the people in front of you and distract from the stage action. Turning the flash off will usually set the camera for a longer exposure and get a better shot in a darkened arena. Never take photos during quiet parts of a performance.

Sickness: If you are ill, you should not be going out. It is not good for you or the people around you. If you get ill during a concert, leave as quietly as you can. Do not return unless you are better and then only at intermission. If you cannot keep from coughing or sniffling then please stay home.

Perfumes and Colognes: Wear as little as possible.

Do these rules apply to you? Yes. And they apply in all performance situations from arena rock concerts to movie theaters to outdoor events.

Credits: Miss Manners, Western Michigan U., David Carlisle, Peter Smith.

Additional References: The party rant version. My favorite no-no in this one is "no having sex next to anyone just enjoying the show . . ." Overly complex but detailed.

 Copyrght: Peter Smith 2005, Return to