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Career Path to Becoming a Concertmaster

The Concertmaster plays an integral role in any orchestra. Achieving the level of Concertmaster (also called 1st Violinist or Section Leader, depending on the orchestra) requires exceptional talent and dedication, but it is also a public role. It requires that you work well with conductors have good leadership skills and that you’re comfortable serving as the public face of the orchestra when called upon.

While you’ll receive solos and enjoy a level of public celebrity within the orchestra and its community, the job also demands tireless work as you review concert scores, lead portions of auditions and rehearsals, and determine the violin bowings for the first violin section.

If becoming a Concertmaster is one of your career goals as a violinist, you have your work cut out for you – but it will be well worth it.

Do You Have What it Takes?

Great Concertmasters have certain personality traits, beyond musicianship, that help them excel in their role. These include things like:

  • Self-confidence without arrogance
  • The ability to work with conductors (who can be difficult at times)
  • Good people skills to facilitate positive and inspired interaction with the first violins and other orchestra members
  • Having a solid work ethic
  • Excellent problem-solving skills (you’ll be called upon to resolve technical, artistic, and even personal problems that arise within rehearsals)

In cases when there is an unfamiliar or intimidating guest conductor, or where the regular conductor isn’t as well-liked by the group, you’ll find the orchestra player’s eyes on you, looking for supportive guidance and leadership.

We recommend reading, First Violin: Characteristics of a Great Concertmaster, for more information on what it takes to succeed at the job.

Get a Degree From a Respected Music Program

It’s rare to find a professional Concertmaster who doesn’t hold at least a four-year degree in music from a respected music school, and many have graduate degrees in music or performance, and/or Performance certificates. 

Top-down, or Bottom-Up?

Most Concertmasters arrive at their position from one of two directions. Either they are career soloists who have decided to “settle down” and enjoy a more stable, and home-centered lifestyle. Or, they are career professional orchestra members who have worked their way up through the ranks.

Ironically, most Concertmasters don’t start out wanting to be a Concertmaster. Rather, they aim to be as proficient on the violin as possible, and achieving the position of Concertmaster becomes a natural unfolding of that process.

Audition for Solos

As a 1st Violinist, you’re expected to be familiar with – and comfortable playing – the major violin solo repertoire, as well as the standard chamber repertoire. Playing solos are the sweet spot because you are the automatic soloist in your orchestra. It is from that soloing experience – and music competition wins – that you’ll build your resume and a name for yourself, while continually growing your acumen and reputation.

Audition for Competitions

Similarly, your facetime and accolades from successful competition results also illuminate the career path towards Concertmaster. Does this mean you have to win the competitions? Not at all, although some notable achievements are to your benefit. In fact, we’ve posted an article, How Losing Competitions Can Make You a Better Musician. With time and practice, you’ll learn how to select the best string musician competitions for your potential placement and wins.

Become a Music Teacher

Concertmasters are typically found teaching music in their off time, whether that be as professors of music at a college or in their own music school. This teacher/mento experience is important because it helps to develop the same varied leadership, communication, and teaching styles that lead to future success as a Concertmaster.

Join a Local Orchestra

If you’re a younger string player, it’s a good idea to join your local/community orchestra and land a spot there. This will give you the experience and exposure necessary to grow your way into more well-known and prestigious orchestras, from which you can begin working your way to the top.

According to the website, careersinmusic.com, the average salary for a Concertmaster ranges from $116,468 to $615,00+. However, it’s a highly-competitive position, so the more you do now to excel as a violinist, and learn all you can about the inner-workings of orchestras and orchestral culture, the more the pathway to Concertmaster will open for you.

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