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Do you have good instrument etiquette? - Mar 2004


The courtesy & consideration with which people handle others’ instruments has a significant influence on the number of adjustments & repairs that the instrument will need. Mishandling can get expensive. We realize that the word, “etiquette,” seem s a little silly, but it is descriptive. We offer the following quiz to help you determine if you (and those around you) are adding to care & maintenance costs for your instruments. 


1. You’re at a gathering where people play music. Someone who brought a ‘needed’ instrument has left the room; you or others in the group can play the instrument. Should you 

A) Ask the host of the gathering for permission to play the instrument 

B) Carefully take up the instrument & begin playing it because you know how to handle the instrument as well as its owner

C) Ask someone who knows the owner for permission to play the instrument 

D) Ask someone who knows the owner to play the instrument 

E) Assume that, since the owner gave you permission to play the instrument on an earlier tune, you may play it now

F) Let the instrument untouched unless you have personally received permission from the instrument owner to play the instrument for that tune or have received expressed blanket permission to use the instrument when you like 

2. You’re at the same gathering in the same situation. Someone else picks up & plays the instrument. Should you 

A) Mind your own business & say nothing 

B) Determine if the host has noticed the event and, if not, bring it to his/her attention

C) Politely ask the person if he/she has permission to play 

C.1) If the person has no permission, do you 

a) Politely suggest that the person stop 

b) Directly ask the person to stop 

3. You’re at the same gathering in the same situation. However, YOU are the person who has left the room. You return to find someone you do not know playing your instrument. Should you 

A) Prevent the problem by taking the instrument with you, casing it, or asking a trusted person to care for it 

B) Let the person play to the end of the tune & ask him/her to return your instrument 

C) Immediately ask the person to return the instrument 

D) Ask the host of the gathering to ask the person to return your instrument 

E) Let the person play as long as he/she wants 

F) Any of the above 

G) Verify that the instrument is undamaged when you get it back 


What Can I Do?

Each person has different feelings about sharing instruments. No one should ever assume carte blanche permission to play anyone else’s instrument. Ultimately, the instrument owner must observe the behavior of those around him/her, & take appropriate precautions against mishandling and damage. Hosts have responsibility to remind players not to handle other’s property without permission. Players in the group who observe inconsiderate assumptions should refer problems to the host or owner­ the people with authority to ask someone to put down an instrument. If we were not the hosts, our answers to the questions would be:


1) F, let the instrument untouched

2) B or C, bring the situation to the attention of the host or politely ask the person if he/she has permission

2C.1) a, politely suggest that the person stop

3) F & G, it's your instrument to share as you will,  our specific actions would be determined case-by-case, but it's a good idea to make sure there is no damage when you get the instrument back. 

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