4 ways to manage conflicts with your musical director [4th of the #Eightfor8 series]

True professionalism means respecting authority even when you disagree

8fou8-2This installment of the #Eightfor8 series was first shared in the spring of 2016. It deals with the inevitable conflicts between musicians and the directors that lead our ensembles. The original post received several comments, and your feedback is welcome once again. What efforts do you make to handle disagreements in your band or group? Share them in our comment section below, or via our Facebook page.


As a musician, you naturally feel strongly about how your performances sound. After all, it’s how you express yourself. However, you’re not always the only one on the stage. Most of us perform in groups, and most bands and ensembles have a leader – an artist, producer, conductor or musical director (“MD”) – who has authority to determine how the music will ultimately be presented.

And that’s where the trouble begins. We as creatives are naturally opinionated, and because of that we sometimes have issues with authority. Either we don’t like the leader, or we don’t like the decisions the leader makes. If we’re not careful, disagreements over decisions can lead to musical and relational chaos.

What should you do when you don’t agree with your leader’s musical choices? 

Here are four keys:

Respect position over decision. While you may not agree with a decision, remember the responsibility for the performance ultimately falls on the leader. Even groups that work well together need a person that can bring an end to discussions and make a final call. Respect the role that person plays in your group, and allow them the space to fulfill it to the best of their ability. The depth of your professionalism can always be measured by your response to authority.

Put yourself in their shoes. Often in musical groups, leadership can change between projects and performances.  Before disagreeing with a decision, ask yourself; how would you feel if you were in charge? Perhaps you will have to make an unpopular choice when you are the decision maker. Give your current leader the same respect you would desire in that circumstance.

Earn your voice. Because music is a deeply collaborative process, the way you say something can be more important than what you say. If you voice your opinion respectfully and with a heart to help the group succeed, you’ll gain greater influence with your musical director even if they choose a different solution. When you give others respect, you will find that people will respect your opinions more.

Play it as if you wrote it.  Once a musical decision is made, commit to performing the music as asked. Don’t hedge or play halfheartedly because your preference wasn’t accepted. Perform as if the musical decision was your own. Your performance and your ensemble will be better when you do so.

You can’t be a leader if you aren’t first willing to follow one.

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