I get this question every once-in-a-while. Do I bow or not at the beginning and the end of my performance – or just the end?
Answer: It depends.
If your audience is applauding as you enter the performing area (ie; stage), then yes, you do bow. It is your courteous acknowledgement of their applause.
If your audience is not applauding when you enter, you do not need to bow. (unless your teacher told you to)
I have noticed (in my concert-going days) that many pianists stand and bow before they sit to perform. You may have seen this and wonder what is standard protocol for a flute player. Since we flutists are already standing, we have already acknowledged that the audience is there because we are facing them. So, you can bow or not.
You should, however, always bow after the performance as a thank you to your audience for listening.
Wait, we’re not finished yet. There are other things to consider when deciding if you should bow or not before or after a performance.
Think of this; Applause is not appropriate in some settings, just as a bow is not.
Let me give you some examples:
For example, many churches like to keep the reverence of the meeting and do not applaud. In these circumstances, do not bow. It would be out of place for sure, and you may get some sideways glances from the Bishop/Pastor.
When you’re not sure, but you feel you shouldn’t bow then think of this: I like to smile at my audience, then at my accompanist, and then back at the audience. Then I make my exit quietly and quickly in order to help the meeting keep its reverence.
Basically, if you audience is not clapping (applauding) then you should not bow.
Your audience’s applause is their ‘thank-you for entertaining us’. Your bow is the ‘thank-you to the audience for their attention during your performance’.
I hope this article clears this up.