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Alternate Career Titles:

Section Leader, 1st Violinist

Career Overview: Leads an entire section of the orchestra, performs solos, tunes their section of the orchestra.

Career Salary Range: $95,000 to $517,000+


Become a Concertmaster

Career Description

The Concertmaster/Concertmistress leads the entire string section of the orchestra during rehearsals and concerts. For example, the individual will cue an Oboe Player with a glance, who then gives the “A” note, signaling for the rest of the Section Players to then tune themselves before the Conductor takes the stage. This procedure happens very fast, taking only 15–20 seconds.

To begin as a Concertmaster/Concertmistress, one usually starts as a Section Player. From there, if he or she is in the second violin section, the individual can choose to either become the Principle Player in the second violin section or move into the first section as a First Section Player. If a Player moves into the first section as a Section Player, he or she then might work to become the Concertmaster or Concertmistress.

To succeed, this person must have leadership qualities, but coordination and leadership of the section must be subtle and not obvious to the audience. Additionally, it is important for the individual to know all the solo literature in the orchestral repertoire. The Concertmaster/Concertmistress is also responsible for overseeing string section rehearsals. The individual may also be involved in preliminary auditions for new Section Members. Really this position is all-encompassing.

A Concertmaster/Concertmistress is directly responsible to the Music Director, and to attain this position, one must be an extremely accomplished musician. The Concertmaster/Concertmistress is always a Violinist.

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Depending on whether the orchestra is major, metropolitan, or suburban, the individual will earn specific salaries. Other factors include the number of weeks the orchestra is in session and the bargaining power of the individual. With that said, minimum earnings are negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), which is a local union for orchestra members. Additionally, the Concertmaster/Concertmistress might also be a member of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) if they also perform as a Soloist.

In some orchestras, the Concertmaster/Concertmistress receives anything from 10% to 35% over the Section Members’ salaries, and in other cases, he or she might negotiate their own contract directly with the orchestra management. All things considered, in a major orchestra, the Concertmaster/Concertmistress may earn anything between $95,000 and $517,000 plus annually. On the other hand, in smaller orchestras the individual will earn considerably less. However, additional income may be earned by teaching, participating in recording sessions, or going on the lecture circuit.


Prospects are limited in terms of positions with major orchestras. The same can be said for other types of orchestras too. When vacant positions are located, competition is fierce.


Due to the difficulty of actually getting into this position, one might not want to leave! Competition is fierce.

Education and Training

To become a Concertmaster/Concertmistress, one needs extensive training, which may be obtained through study at a conservatory or college, or even with Private Teachers.

Experience, Skills, and Personality

It is useful to gain experience in many different orchestras, while playing at every opportunity possible. The individual must be an accomplished, talented Violinist, and should demonstrate leadership skills.

Unions and Associations

Options include the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) or the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA). Also, there are a number of associations that individuals may belong to, including the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL) and the National Orchestra Association (NOA).

Suggestions for Getting Started

  • Audition for a job as a Concertmaster/Concertmistress in your college orchestra.
  • Learn the orchestra’s repertoire inside and out.
  • Take as many lessons as possible, and practice repeatedly.
  • Take part in seminars and internships.
  • Check The International Musician Magazine along with other orchestral newsletters, magazines, and publications.