Musician Handbook

The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra is a creative environment where young musicians from across Los Angeles County come together to rehearse symphonic music under the leadership of Founder and Artistic Director, Russell Steinberg, and are mentored by our team of coaches, comprising some of the finest musicians in the city. LAYO presents young musicians with the opportunity to study established masterworks and premiere new music. Additionally, the orchestra offers a variety of unique enrichment experiences including working with guest artists and Chamber Music performance opportunities.

For young musicians ages 8-18 and with intermediate and advanced proficiency, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra is open, by audition, to students of symphonic instruments who have had at least two years of private instruction, regardless of school affiliation.

Students are permitted two (2) excused absences from rehearsals each semester, and no excused absences are permitted for the dress rehearsal or performances.

Be on time. LAYO abides by the philosophy: If you are early, you’re on time and if you are on time, you are late. All students are expected to be seated and ready to begin when rehearsal begins.

In preparation for each rehearsal:

  • Always check your e-mail during the week and just before coming to rehearsal — this is our best way to tell you things you need to know.
  • Call us if you will be late or are sick — the phone number to call is at the bottom of the Orchestra Manager’s weekly email. This is very important, as it affects what Dr. Steinberg chooses to work on in the rehearsal.
  • To every rehearsal bring:
    • a music stand marked with your name. You can use masking tape to provide a writing surface on the stand.
    • a pencil, and always have it with you!
    • your own music, even if you have a stand partner. Each of you should be marking your music in sectionals so that you will be prepared to practice at home. Check your music binder before you leave home to insure that you’ve got all your music.
    • a refillable water bottle

How to prepare sheet music for practice and rehearsals

Before each semester starts, you should have received copies of the music from us. During rehearsals, Russell, Jorge, and your coaches have things to tell you about the music. We want you to spend time writing those things (in pencil, please, so it can be changed!) onto your music during the rehearsal, so that you’ll remember it. Please punch holes in your music and put it in a binder.

The way pages are placed in the binder is important. Before punching those holes, lay out the first two pages on the table, next to each other the way they would be in the binder. Look at end of the page on the right – are there rests there so that the page can be turned successfully while continuing to play the piece?

If so, the holes should probably be punched on the right side of the first page, the left side of the second, and so on.

If not, look at the end of the page on the left. If there are rests there, then probably the first page should have its holes punched on the left, the second page on the right, and so on.

Before punching the holes, look at the rest of the piece and make sure you’ll be able to turn pages successfully. Sometimes there just is no way to make those page turns (that’s why you have a stand partner; the player sitting on the inside always turns the pages.) Do your best. Your coach will check to make sure you’ve got it right, and it can be fixed if necessary.

Most importantly, you need to practice, and practice regularly. Take the music to your teacher for help. Try to do the things that your coach has suggested, and find other places in the music where the same advice might be applicable.

The elements of each rehearsal


For most of you, half of each rehearsal is devoted to sectionals. During this time you will work on the orchestra music with a professional coach who specializes in your instrument type. This is where you concentrate on just your section’s part. It is important to listen to your coach’s suggestions on playing techniques for your instrument. Study their example for the tone quality, rhythm, articulation and intonation for which you should strive. Our professional coaches are one of the things that make our youth orchestra so special — take advantage of it! They welcome your questions about the music and about being a musician. Always treat your coaches with dignity and respect, which you should extend to your fellow ensemblists as well.

Break Time:

Get a snack, usually provided in the parking lot between buildings, make friends, use the restroom and move to your next location.

Full-Orchestra Rehearsal:

The other half of the rehearsal is with the full orchestra. Here you will be rehearsing with your conductor, either Russell Steinberg or Jorge Padron. During this part of the rehearsal you should be listening to how your part fits in with the rest of the orchestra. It is during this time that the conductors will provide their interpretations of the music — the dynamics, tempo and articulation that make our presentation unique.

The Order of Each Rehearsal

  • 1:15 – Expected arrival time for a 1:30 rehearsal. Musicians arrive, go either to the tutti rehearsal or their sectional room, unpack their instruments and set up their music and pencil. Tune and then warm up by playing some passages practiced at home
  • 1:25 – In the tutti rehearsal, the concertmaster tunes the orchestra by sections: brass, then woodwinds, then strings.
  • 1:30 -The conductor or coach makes announcements, names the first piece to be played, and rehearsal begins.
  • 3:05 – Break time
  • 3:25 – The orchestras switch places (tutti to sectionals and sectionals to tutti) and the rehearsal continues
  • 5:00 – End of rehearsal. Be sure to bring all your things home as we are not on site to retrieve anything left behind.

Remember – if you are “on time”, you are late. For a 1:30 rehearsal, we expect musicians to arrive at 1:15 to set up, tune, warm-up and be ready for the beginning of rehearsal.

Concert Dress: All students will need to wear all black (long pants, skirts, or dresses, ¾ sleeve shirts, no open-toed shoes)

What to bring: Please remember to bring your instrument, extra reeds, rosin and strings, and cellists and bassists must always bring an end-pin stop. 

BRING YOUR MUSIC, even if you usually use the music of your stand partner.

For Parents and Guests:

Family members and guests should be asked to arrive in time to park and find their seats. Latecomers will not be admitted until a suitable break in the performance.

In keeping with the classical tradition, applause should be held until the end of a multi-movement piece. You might advise members of your party who may not be familiar with classical concert etiquette of this curious custom.

What they are:

These are short auditions, occurring several weeks into the season, in which your coach hears everyone in the section play excerpts from one or two of the compositions the orchestra is preparing for the concert. Your coach will let you know exactly which segments will appear in the audition so that you can spend extra time preparing them. Students are then seated within the section according to the needs of the orchestra.

What we look for:

We like to see that you have been practicing your part and listening during rehearsal. We look for musicality in your playing, with good intonation and accurate rhythm. In the case of string section leaders, leadership qualities are considered as important as technique. In a section leader we want someone who sets a good example with his professional attitude in rehearsals. A section leader must also follow the conductor carefully so that the section he leads will contribute its best to the orchestral synthesis.

How to prepare:

Pay special attention to the pieces selected for the seating auditions — they are usually the most difficult on the program. Listen carefully during rehearsals and sectionals for Dr. Steinberg’s instructions and for comments from your coaches, and mark your part. Take the music to your teacher for help. Practice difficult parts of the piece slowly, carefully and in small sections. Don’t be nervous!

An orchestra has its own language and rituals, just like sports. Basically, everything is about coordinating up to a hundred people to all play together! It helps to get familiar with a few of the terms and procedures. Here are some important terms you’ll hear:

  • Articulation: The way players attack a note. This is a big part of rehearsing. Common articulation terms are staccato (short), legato (smooth), and accent, but there are many more.
  • Cue: The conductor’s signal — usually with the left hand — given to a musician to let them know that it is their turn to play.
  • Downbeat: One of the most important signals a conductor gives is drawing the baton straight down. That tells the musicians when a new measure of music begins. It takes students practice to follow the downbeat precisely.
  • Dynamics: The loudness of the music. Much of why music is exciting to hear is because it changes its loudness. But not always uniformly! Often we want one section of instruments to play louder than another, given a kind of three-dimensional quality to music. You’ll hear Italian words spoken for dynamics: forte (loud), piano (soft), mezzo (medium), crescendo (get louder) and decrescendo (get softer).
  • Ictus: This is one of Russell’s favorite words. It’s that point in a conductor’s stroke where the baton seems to bounce off of an invisible barrier, and it marks the exact start of a given beat in the measure, such as the upbeat or downbeat. The location of the other ictus strokes in a measure depends on the meter of the work.
  • Meter: The indication, given at the start of a work (or at any point of change during the course of the work), of the number of beats in each bar. Depending on the tempo, the conductor may indicate a different number of beats than you might guess from that marking, and he might say something like “I’m going to take this section in 2,” so that you know to look for two conducting strokes in each measure.
  • Tempo: The speed of the music, given by the pace of the conductor’s beats. Getting everyone to play at precisely the same speed is tricky and very important to practice with the orchestra. Some Italian words you may hear for tempo are: allegro (fast), adagio (slow), andante (medium walking speed), presto (very fast) and largo (very slow).
  • Upbeat: The final beat in a bar, where the conductor draws the baton up.

Why are there two orchestras instead of one?

For some of our concert pieces all the students play together in one large orchestra, but because of our wide range of ages (8 to 18) and skill levels (2 to 14 years of study) we have found the musical and social experience for all our performers to be better if we divide into two groups. Each group plays challenging repertoire of high quality, and each group has equal time with the conductor and with the coaches. The musical difference is that the Ruth Borun Concert Orchestra plays music that is arranged to include a wider range of instruments and skill levels. The Symphony Orchestra plays the same standard repertoire that professional orchestras perform. 

Why does LAYO fundraise in addition to tuition?

LAYO only thrives due to the support of our amazing families and donors. While tuition covers a lot of our expenses, we still need to fundraise in order to offset expenses like venue rentals, professional coaches, marketing and posters, printing of music and much more. We are so grateful to our families for their support and welcome your help in a multitude of ways.

Why does the orchestra play two (or more!) performances of the same music? And the second concert is in Pasadena and on a week night – that’s so difficult for us!

Performing really focuses the attention of the performers. Just as attending all of the rehearsals is critical in building a good performance, a first performance provides an incredible springboard for the next one. We are fortunate to have our second performances at Ambassador Auditorium, a wonderful performing space. Most performers will never get the opportunity to play in a place this good, and we get to do it twice a year!

What should I do if another student is bothering my child?

Kids constantly surprise us when they act like kids, and we do want to help all of our young musicians grow into responsible and considerate adults. No child here should feel that acting in a rude fashion is acceptable, or that no help is available if another child is acting inappropriately. Please let us know if there is a problem, and in a timely fashion so that we can remedy things before feelings are irrevocably hurt! The Executive Director is the one to call for any issue like this one.

Whom should I contact about other things?

  • Elise, our Orchestra Manager is the one to contact about lost music, or if your child is sick and needs to miss a rehearsal. Find her in the theater just before rehearsals or send a message through “Contact Us”.
  • Russell, our Founder and Artistic Director should be contacted about repertoire, seating placement, or about a decision to leave the orchestra.
  • Your child’s section coach should be approached at rehearsals with technical questions specific to the music your child is playing.
  • Joyce, our Executive Director, about anything else. If you have questions or ideas, if you want to place an ad in the concert program or buy concert tickets, if you want to volunteer with the orchestra or if you want to make a donation.

Should I have insurance for my child’s instrument?

We recommend that you do so, especially for fragile instruments like the strings. We need for you to encourage your child to keep track of their instrument and to make sure that it is put somewhere outside of the line of traffic. Especially at the Colburn School there is very little room for instruments and lots of kids acting like kids (good kids, but still kids.)

One source for insurance is the Musical Instrument Insurance Agency, (800) 421-1283.

The orchestra phone number is (310) 571-LAYO.

 You can email the staff using this form, or send mail to:

4924 Balboa Blvd, #409, Encino, CA 91316