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Alternate Career Titles:

 Classical Musician, Section Player

Career Overview: Plays an instrument in the orchestra.

Career Salary Range: $28,000 to $143,000

Section Member

Become a Section Member

Career Description

Each orchestra is comprised of different instrumental sections such as strings, etc. To become a Section Member, one must have above average skills in regards to his or her instrument, and must enjoy performing on stage. Additionally, he or she must know the orchestral repertoire, inside and out.

With all of that said, being able to play an instrument well is not enough, as you must like and know how to play with a group of other Musicians. The Musician must recognize cues as to where the correct bowings or phrasing should be and more. In terms of work circumstances, the Section Member is under contract to perform a specific number of concerts during a given time period. Any additional concerts above the agreed upon amount will usually result in additional salary.

Also, the Section Member must be available and willing to travel, as orchestras often tour other cities and countries. Those who work full-time in major orchestras as Section Member will generally receive vacation time of at least four weeks while the orchestra is on break. Section Members can earn additional income by teaching privately. Additionally, if the individual is a noted member of the orchestra, he or she may also be asked to go on the lecture circuit as a Guest Speaker.

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Section Member salaries depend on a number of things including orchestra type, location, the number of weeks in the orchestra season and the seniority of the orchestra member. Regardless, minimum earnings are negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) local union. All things considered, Section Members working in a major orchestra may earn between $28,000 to $143,000. It is important to point out that major orchestras run from 30 to 52 weeks per year.

In addition to income, Section Members receive vacation pay and other perks and benefits. However, those working in smaller orchestras will usually earn considerably less than those playing in major orchestras, both in terms of salary and benefits. Those who work part-time are paid on a per-service basis, usually for each concert performed. As mentioned, Section Members can earn additional income by teaching.


As one could imagine, Section Member positions are limited, as there are more qualified individuals than openings. With that said, this does not mean that you cannot reach success. You will face better options in smaller, less prestigious orchestras. Regardless of the orchestra one is auditioning for, it is important to note that auditions usually take place behind a screen to ensure there is not any potential for racial or sexual discrimination in selecting members.


Once an individual obtains a position as a Section Member, they can look to advance to the position of the Section Leader. They can also look to advance their career by landing a gig with a more prestigious orchestra.

Education and Training

Section Members should have extensive musical training through a college or conservatory program, or even through private study.

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Experience, Skills, and Personality

Performance experience is extremely helpful to an aspiring Section Member. This includes something like performing in youth or college orchestras. Audition experience is also helpful. Perseverance and a deep commitment to the music are also necessary as jobs are not always the easiest to come by.

Unions and Associations

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is an option for Section Members, which is the union that negotiates things like minimum wages for Musicians, the number of rehearsals and so on.

Suggestions for Getting Started

  • You must submit applications and audition for Section Member positions.
  • Try to take part in as many different orchestral groups as you can.
  • Engage in training programs held by the National Orchestral Association.
  • Try to take part in seminars and internships offered by orchestras, colleges, and associations.
  • Check music-oriented journals and newsletters like The International Musician.
  • Check for positions that are listed in music-oriented journals and newsletters like The International Musician.

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