As performers, we spend a lifetime practicing and improving our playing, which is the most important, without that we wouldn’t even get a chance to walk on stage. However, rarely do we learn the do’s and don’ts of what is acceptable etiquette when we are on stage and what is considered bad form. When we are on stage and all eyes are on us, we have to be mindful of our actions and the impression they leave on the audience. In modern society, where general etiquette seems to become more and more lax, there are still some guidelines that should be followed and taboos that should be avoided when it comes to working on stage.
Not to be superficial, but the way we look on stage matters. It is part of our performance and part of the whole package that the audience is presented. Make sure that you are wearing clothes that fit properly and are appropriate for stage. Of course comfort is important, but there is a clear line between being comfortable and looking like we don’t care. The audience has made an effort to come to our concert and it’s important that we make an effort to look appropriate. It’s a simple show of respect. Depending on the venue we play in, the dress code will vary. The more prestigious the venue, the higher the dress code requirement. Some guitarists prefer to wear a suit, others opt for a dress shirt and dress pants, and some still go for the tux. Which you choose will depend on the venue you play in and your personal style.
According to proper stage etiquette, the shoes that we wear on stage should never be worn on the street, to avoid any unsightly scuff marks. Guitarists who use a footstool, should be especially aware of this one, since our foot is placed on a pedestal for everyone to see. Last thing we want is for the audience to wonder how many miles that shoe has… And whatever you do, please don’t ever wear white socks… ever!
For girls, if you decide to wear a skirt or gown, make sure that the skirt is full length and wide enough to freely drop between your legs as you put your foot on the footstool. Not only does it make it more comfortable to place the guitar at the proper angle, but it looks more elegant on stage as well. Most of the time we are seated above the audience and people are looking at us from the bottom. If the skirt is not wide enough, it rides up to our knees, exposing our shins, which isn’t the most elegant look when it comes to stage presence.
And last thing about clothes – please iron or press them! You can have the nicest, most fancy suit, pants, shirt, etc… but if it’s covered in wrinkles, there is no use for it on stage!
Growing up, our mothers have probably taught us never to chew with our mouth open, put our keys on the table, brush our hair or groom our nails in public…. When it comes to the NY subway, non of that applies, but during a performance personal etiquette shows class and elegance. For guitarists, filing our nails is such a normal and regular process that we forget we are even doing it. However, it should not be done while we are seated on stage. Some of you might disagree, but if you really want to appear classy, you should save the nail filing and buffing for back stage. It’s better to walk off stage in between pieces, fix your nail and come back in a few seconds, rather than sit there and file away.
Speaking of guitar specific taboos – the grease collection! You know what I’m talking about! Some people do a little nose rub, others go all out… As a guitarist, I completely understand why we do it, there is something about the oil on our face that makes us play infinitely better. However, the stage is not the appropriate place for it. People in the audience have no idea what we’re doing and, frankly, most of them find it pretty gross. If your fingers tend to get dry, you can put some Vaseline on the heel of your guitar to moisten your finger tips. If you’re worried about the petroleum jelly absorbing through the delicate polish, you can place a small Kling-On plastic to protect the guitar. I actually prefer to put it on the tap plate below the strings. It’s easier to reach with the right hand without making any major gestures.
In short, violinist don’t rosin their bows on stage, we shouldn’t file our nails or grease our fingers either. When we look and behave elegantly on stage, on top of playing beautiful music, the audience is left with positive emotions that they can cherish for the rest of their evening, and probably even longer.
In next weeks post I’ll go into more detail about our stage presence; bowing, talking, movements, tuning, etc…