How to Follow National Anthem Etiquette

How to follow National Anthem Etiquette – What to do when someone is singing the Star Spangled Banner

Do you know how to follow National Anthem etiquette? What are you really supposed to do while someone is singing the Star Spangled Banner? Many people don’t follow flag etiquette procedure – Make sure you don’t fall in that bucket!

The United States Flag Code is a set of guidelines that lays forth proper American Flag etiquette for just about every scenario you can think of, including how to act during the singing of the National Anthem. Specifically we’ll look at Title 36 of the US Flag Code, Section 301.

Military During National Anthem

Proper conduct during a rendition of the National Anthem, when the US flag is displayed:

  • Everyone present, except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the American flag with the right hand placed over the heart.
  • Those not in uniform should always remove their headdress (or anything on their head, such as a hat) and hold it at their left shoulder, with their right hand still over their heart.
  • Men and women in uniform should give the military salute at the very beginning of the anthem and hold the position until the very end.

But what about if the National Anthem is being played but the US flag isn’t being displayed? If this is the case, then everyone should face toward the music and still follow the guidelines listed above, as if a flag were flying.

One of the most common places the National Anthem is sung is at sporting events – football, baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer games, etc. All the above rules apply while listening to the Star Spangled Banner as those various games. However, there are several other events where it’s critical to follow National Anthem Etiquette.

How familiar are you with the lyrics to the National Anthem, also known as the Star Spangled Banner? Here is a refresher on National Anthem Lyrics and some history behind the historic song.

Resource: Senate.gov

Share This:

Collins Flags

We offer a variety of U.S. flags and poles to suit most every need. We proudly buy our U.S. flags only from American manufacturers who meet or exceed our demand for high-quality construction. Click for to see our large selection of U.S. Flags.

108 Replies to “How to Follow National Anthem Etiquette

  1. Those not in uniform should always remove their headdress (or anything on their head, such as a hat) and hold it at their left shoulder, with their right hand still over their heart. Does this apply to women with hats on also, or just men?

    1. “Everyone present, except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the American flag with the right hand placed over the heart.”

      “Everyone present” pretty much means women as well as men, to me anyway. But what do I know? I’m just a girl… But this girl HAS to wonder: What could make you think it wouldn’t Include women?

      1. Because the Flag Code does not say “everyone present,” it specifically states “men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress.” As this was written in 1923, women’s hats would typically be held in place with multiple pins and the removal of such would have left many a coiffure in disarray. Yes, it’s outdated, but as it stands, there is not an enumerated protocol for women. Custom usually follows that easy to remove coverings (ballcaps, etc.) are removed, while decorative headdresses (scarves, headbands, etc.) which hold the hair in place are not. Again though, there’s no rule about it whatsoever.

        1. Correct, the rules for men and women ARE different this article is not the end all be all on this subject. Being a man who wore the uniform, I had to understand this. I have been in the color guard.

        2. 36 U.S. Code § 301 – National anthem
          Current through Pub. L. 114-38. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)US Code
          Notesprev | next
          (a)Designation.—
          The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
          (b)Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—
          (1) when the flag is displayed—
          (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
          (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
          (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
          (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.
          Reread (C) because all other persons is interpreted as ” everyone present “…!

      2. Well, when I learned, women did NOT need to remove hats. Women were ok to wear hats in church while men shouldn’t. Of course, this was before feminism. Back then women (when these rules were written) wore lots of fancy hats that would have been difficult to remove and impossible to replace.

      3. It Means EVERYONE. Even children if they are old enough to understand the directions. Our 4 year old even knows it is a symbol of pride in our country and the soldiers that fought and continue to fight for our freedom. Stand Proud of your country and respect the Flag…One Nation Under GOD .

  2. Two flags are present during the National Anthem being played at a football game. One is on a flag pole and the other is being presented by the color guard. Which should you face during the playing of the national anthem?

    1. Face the one that the color guard is presenting. That’s the one that’s being given the attention.

  3. Are military personnel in uniform allowed to sing the National Anthem?
    There is no mention either way in 36 U.S. Code or in the Army’s Salutes & Honors regulation (AR 600-25). I’m trying to apply logic based on two other items that are in AR 600-25:
    1. Army personnel in uniform are not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; however,
    2. Army personnel in uniform are expected to sing the Army Song.

    Based on the latter, I find it hard to imagine that it is against the law, custom, protocol, etc. to sing the National Anthem in uniform. A few decades ago all Americans used to sing the National Anthem at events, not just have someone to do it for them.

      1. As a retired Veteran, when in uniform, at attention, if say no. Attention is a position of no movement, even the mouth.

        1. I am confused. I saw a person in a military uniform standing still during the national anthem He did not salute, which surprised me because that is what I was expecting. I don’t mean to criticize this person, I just want to understand. Thank you!

  4. What does one do when the National Anthem is being played as a special during the offertory at a Church Service? We believe you should stand and face the flag but others think sitting is just fine.

      1. what if a business on a boardwalk full of beachgoers plays the anthem every hour? do the people on the beach have to stand at attention too?

  5. my question is should soldier in the United States Military be told not to sing the national anthem in uniform. and why yes, why no?

      1. In uniform, you don’t speak unless you are asked a question. If it is more than “Yes, Sir.” , “No, Sir” or “I don’t know, Sir”, the soldier is brought to “At ease”. For more information, see Army Field Manual FM 22-5.

  6. At major US sporting events or even lesser ceremonies where another country is involved, isn’t it true that the US national anthem is always sung before the anthem of the other country? What is the protocol?

  7. This is just an academic question because I was reading about a national anthem controversy in India. In US what if an individual choses not to stand during national anthem. This could be for any reason such as silent protest etc. Are there any legal ramifications for not standing during national anthem. (We are not discussing etiquette’s here)

    1. The law defines the parameters, but there is no judicial ramifications or penalties stated for not following the law.

  8. At high school basketball games, the flag is automatically rolled down and up now by a (slow) electronic motor. Should we wait for the entire flag to be displayed before starting the national anthem? And should we wait for the entire song to finish before beginning the roll back up? Then, are we supposed to stand in silence while the flag is being rolled all the way back up until it is out of sight? Lastly, I will mention that there is an American flag on the wall that is always visible. Thank you!

    1. While we found no etiquette pertaining to this specific question, we feel that it is most respectful to wait until the entire flag is rolled down before starting the national anthem. As for the rolling up of the flag, we will let you use your own judgement on that. If it is a slower process, we think sitting after would be perfectly OK. Thank you for your question!

  9. Singers of our National Anthem should show respect as they sing it. Proper etiquette would be best shown by not over embellishing their singing. It is not a popular song, it is our country’s National Anthem. A proper tempo should be set. It is not a funeral dirge. It should be sung with positive feelings, it has a happy ending. All too often popular recording “starts” at athletic events put on a disgraceful performance. Whoever selects these vocalists should require an audition, and standards should be established to give the anthem its proper respect. One of the best renditions that I have heard lately was done by Lady Gaga at Super Bowl 50.

  10. I will be honored as the veteran of the day at a Mn Twins spring training game in March in Fort Myers. I will be wearing a Vietnam Veterans cap. Do I salute the already raised flag with my cap on during the anthem or do I put my cap on my left shoulder with hand over heart

    1. The Flag Code was amended in regards to veterans to say:
      “members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform.”
      My interpretation to this is that if you choose to salute as a civilian, you would remove the cap and hold it over your left shoulder. Should you choose to offer a military salute, you would follow applicable military protocol as to whether an official cover should be removed. Hope that helps.

  11. When a civilian individual is singing the national anthem along with a few other women in the “club”, should she place her hand over her heart while singing? I never heard of this until recently. I feels awkward to me. Did someone just make this up as a show of extra patriotism?

  12. Should a civilian person who is singing the national anthem be expected to place his/her hand over the heart while singing?

  13. When mounted horseback at an event, what is proper ediquette during the Presentation of The Colors and the playing of the National Anthem,
    Remain mounted and sit at attention or dismount holding the horse with the left hand and rendering proper salute with the right hand?

  14. When the National Anthem is performed in a concert and the arrangement is very long and dramatic (john Williams 2004 arrangement) should the audience stand?

  15. During a recent NHL playoff game the US Marine in dress uniform, standing next to the anthem dinger, put his hand over his heart rather than salute.

    I have never seen this before. Any reason you can think of why he wouldn’t salute?

    1. Marines do not salute indoors unless wearing a cover. You only wear a cover indoors if you are doing honor guard, you are under arms or you are working in the kitchen of the chow hall.

  16. During a recent rehearsal for a graduation ceremony, a singer was practicing the National Anthem. There were a few people in attendance, and others making last minute arrangements for the big day. Are these individuals supposed to stop what they are doing, and salute even though it’s a practice? There was no U.S. flag present. It was brought out later.

    I’m sure the singer practiced the National Anthem more than a few times that day, too.

    Thanks for your help!

  17. What about a case where a foreigner has the national anthem practiced ? For example, a non-US spectator watching a (for example NBA) game where at its beginning the national anthem is played, how should he behave in this situation, regarding the fact that he isn’t American ?

  18. As a child, many years ago, we sang the National Anthem, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, AND had a prayer before school began every day. We were not required to place our hand over our heart during the singing of the National Anthem. Because of my childhood learning, I do not, to this day, place my hand over my heart when singing it at a public event. I do stand with respect. Am I being unpatriotic to my country because I don’t feel like I am. When did this act of protocol change? And, is this something that is “required” when we sing the Anthem?

    1. It has never officially be required. Protocol is more of a suggestion rather than rule. We always advise to do what you feel most comfortable while also staying respectful.

  19. Why is there no law that can prohibits a performer or musical group (ie.- a rock singer or rock band)
    from preforming in public the National Anthem, with any disgraceful ad-libbing in singing or the
    playing with a distorted rock beat with off-beat vibratos that distorts horribly from the time-respected
    original musical score of our National Anthem” The Anthem should be sung and played with the same respect that is given the the displaying and handling of our National Flag. The U.S. government has a set of rules for displaying our flag. The government should ALSO have rules for the singing and playing of
    our Anthem.

  20. My boyfriend was reprimanded last night by the commander at the local American Legion for playing the national anthem on the jukebox for the holiday weekend he told him it was disrespectful because it was not played by a band there any truth to this just asking

    1. Disrepectful because it was a recording instead of a band? I don’t think so. I have heard it many times, including on military bases, played from a recording instead of a live band.

  21. If a firefighter in turnout gear is holding the flage during the national anthem does he/ she need to romover their hat?

      1. I would respectfully disagree. If one is carrying the flag, one is Color Guard. Color Guard does not alter uniform, nor salute, while carrying the Colors. They guard the Colors. If the firefighters’ Color Guard uniform is turnout gear, with hat, so be it. Military Color Guard does not remove their cover. Further, members of the Color Guard that are not carrying the U.S. Flag, salute by dipping the flags (such as unit or department) that they are carrying. The U.S. Flag is never dipped, unless necessary to pass under low overheads, in which case, it may also be momentarily gathered so that, when lowered, it doesn’t touch the floor or ground. Sorry, got a bit off topic 😉

  22. When did the requirement of placing your right hand over your heart begin? When I was growing up, I placed my hand over my heart, at attention, and pledged the flag. While the National Anthem played, I stand at attention and Sing. Over the years, maybe in the past 20 or so, I have seen more and more place their hand over their heart during the National Anthem. Now it seems as if everyone does it. I don’t have a disagreement with it. I just am not aware that there was a written code for it, or when it changed? Or, has it always been that way? I thought it was just a matter of the population adjusting to a trend and not it’s common practice. Thanks.

    1. On June 22, 1942 Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included.

      This from the National Flag Code:

      Title 36 United States Code:
      § 301. National Anthem.
      (a) Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as
      the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
      (b) Conduct During Playing. — During a rendition of the national anthem —
      (1) when the flag is displayed —
      (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag
      with the right hand over the heart;
      (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and
      hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
      (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the
      anthem and maintain that position until the last note.
      (2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music
      and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

      You can find the complete flag code here: https://www.collinsflags.com/flagCodeExample.pdf

      I hope this answers your questions!

  23. I was happy to see Jean’s comment about not being taught as a child to put the hand over the heart during the national anthem because I wasn’t either (and this was during WWII, on a naval base). I saw criticism of our wonderful gymnast Gabby Douglas for not holding hand over heart, and I thought, perhaps she was taught by someone of my generation. I’m wondering when the change came about–during the McCarthy years, perhaps?

    1. On June 22, 1942 Congress passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct during Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery were included. The reason why some people aren’t taught to place their hand over their heart and some people aren’t is not something we are sure of. Interesting to think about!

  24. Latest internet scandal is Gabby Douglas not placing her hand over her heart like her 4 teammates. She stated she was standing at attention (not any standing at attention I ever saw).

    Was she in the wrong?

    1. Title 36 of the United States Flag Code, Section 301 states that the proper conduct during a rendition of the National Anthem when the US Flag is displayed is as follows:

      ◾Everyone present, except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the American flag with the right hand placed over the heart.
      ◾Those not in uniform should always remove their headdress (or anything on their head, such as a hat) and hold it at their left shoulder, with their right hand still over their heart.
      ◾Men and women in uniform should give the military salute at the very beginning of the anthem and hold the position until the very end.

      In short, Gabby Douglas did not use proper conduct because her right hand wasn’t placed over her heart. Although Gabby didn’t use the proper etiquette, we believe that she was not trying to offend anyone. She went to Twitter to clarify the issue and said this in one of her tweets. “In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always try to stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone.”

    2. I was raised in a military family and taught to stand at attention-no hand over heart. What grates on me is watching athletes standing “at ease”, hand over heart, shifting from foot to foot, staring at the ground, and chewing gum. Not my idea of respectful, even with hand on heart.

  25. WHOLE lotta people busy using this issue to beat that young lady up (Gabby Douglas) would probably better be served minding their own attitudes. This kind of freedom is exactly what this country is about – not forcing people to become clones. THAT has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with people’s own issues.

  26. And you all miss the biggest “rule”…
    They state that everyone “SHOULD” NOT “MUST”…
    There is no law requiring, just a moral “implied mandate” that does not exist.
    I’m a CONSTITUTIONALIST so show me where anyone if freaking required to do any of that…including military (other than while serving active duty as is mandated by their superior – direct/implied order)
    And even then, they are not mandaded (just not smart to do which your superior involved)

    Now enough of this brainwashing bull…

  27. When I was a kid I was taught to always sing when the national anthem was being played. How in the heck are we supposed to sing along when the singer “makes it their own?” They change the melody and add so many runs, you simply cannot sing with them. I don’t have a problem with them doing that with other songs but I don’t think they should do it with any patriotic song. Very frustrating.

  28. What a about a high school marching band? Are the supposed to have their hats off while playing the national anthem at a sporting event if they are in full uniform?

  29. I have often wondered the same thing. I work a lot of sporting events and see the rehearsals prior to the event. Does the protocol for the anthem apply? If not, why?

    “During a recent rehearsal for a graduation ceremony, a singer was practicing the National Anthem. There were a few people in attendance, and others making last minute arrangements for the big day. Are these individuals supposed to stop what they are doing, and salute even though it’s a practice? There was no U.S. flag present. It was brought out later.

    I’m sure the singer practiced the National Anthem more than a few times that day, too.

    Thanks for your help!”

  30. I have a question about the interpretation of 36 U.S. Code § 301 (b) (1) (B) “members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and”

    I’m retired military, hence a veteran, in civilian clothes, wearing a hat, at a baseball game. The National Anthem is begun. I face the flag, stand at attention and render a hand salute, with the tips of fingers to the brim of the hat, “in the manner provided for individuals in uniform”. Appropriate?

  31. Our Family is at odds at this moment, my question is: when watching sporting event,in your own home, what is proper protocol when Our National Anthem is played? Stand or not?

    1. Individuals should do what they feel is respectful when in the privacy of their own homes. There are no etiquette rules for the privacy of your own home. We hope this helps resolve your question!

    1. Interesting question. We don’t believe that it would be against etiquette for the performer since they are already doing the gracious act of singing the National Anthem for everyone else, however we do not believe there is specific etiquette for that.

  32. I have two questions about national anthem etiquette / law. First, what rules apply to the members of a civilian band playing the National anthem? Clearly they cannot assume the hand-over-heart stance and play at the same time, nor can they remove their hats because they can’t hold a hat while playing. The answer seems obvious, except that recently at a football game a veteran standing behind me became irate when the band members left their hats on. Second, though neither my wife nor I is a veteran we both feel it is disrespectful not to stand during the anthem. The problem is, my wife became disabled 10 years ago, and she still insists on standing during the anthem, which I deeply respect. But I have to help keep her steady (rather place my hand over my heart), and hold her right hand because her left side is paralyzed. We have gotten some dirty looks, but we are doing our best to stand and be respectful. This has made me wonder, too, about disabled veterans. The rules are clearly written for able-bodied people.

    1. Key word in the Flag Code being “should”. Also, it would seem acceptable for your wife to sit at attention and place her hand over heart instead, like many others who are unable to stand without assistance do. It would free your hand and for you to stand at attention. Most people with common sense would be able to deduce it is difficult for your wife to stand.

  33. What is the proper protocol, when working on a military base and colors are played (over the loud speaker) while you are attending a meeting in a conference room.

    1. I assume when you mention “colors” that you are referring to the Star Spangled Banner being played. This is information that we found in flag etiquette.
      This would be the link to our website of the complete flag etiquette. https://www.collinsflags.com/etiquette.cfmional Anthem.
      (a) Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
      (b) Conduct During Playing. — During a rendition of the national anthem —
      (1) when the flag is displayed —
      (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
      (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
      (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note.
      (2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

      We hope this helps.

  34. During a concert, is it protocol to perform the SSB first? I’m having a disagreement with our director who wants to use it as our encore, and a few of us who said it needs to be first…..

    What would be correct protocol

    1. This is the only information we found concerning the national anthem and the flag. The entire flag code is found on this link: https://www.collinsflags.com/flagCodeExample.pdf

      Title 36 United States Code:
      § 301. National Anthem.
      (a) Designation. — The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
      (b) Conduct During Playing. — During a rendition of the national anthem —
      (1) when the flag is displayed —
      (A) all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart;
      (B) men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold the headdress at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
      (C) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note.
      (2) When the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

  35. At a recent school graduation, the person performing the National Anthem was placed behind the graduates. The Color Guard was at the front. Should not the singer have faced the audience as well, just as the Color Guard?

    1. We found no information in the Federal Flag Code regarding this question. Personally, we sympathise a little bit with the singer of the National Anthem. They are already providing us with a really cool service by singing the National Anthem, and so if their eyes drift off occasionally then we certainly wouldn’t fault them. We imagine it would be challenging enough to perform in front of a group of people without having to worry about where your body and eyes should be. A lot of this would also be based on where the singer was in relation to the audience and the flag, and we would imagine that each situation is likely different. With no official information in the flag code, it comes down to perspective. Very interesting question! What are your thoughts?

  36. What about when you watch it on TV? I still stand because it is about our country and flag, not about if people can see me do it. What is proper?

    1. There is no written etiquette on this. We recommend doing what you feel most comfortable doing in this case. In our opinion, the most respectful thing to do would be to honor the national anthem as if you were there. Again, there is no written etiquette on following the National Anthem on television so it is entirely up to you. Great question!

  37. The band does not have to stand…and have never had to stand. Even the US marine band did not stand in the 1960s. This is petty nonsense, that serves no useful purpose…..and my dad was D-Day, day 1, 4th inf., 22nd, red beach. He would said BS……stop arguing and listening to the draft dodger in the White House.

    1. I’m a band director and have a difficulty resolving this as per proper stage etiquette. Our band sits while we play the anthem, but then standing to say the pledge is really distracting to the audience and awkward with instruments. Is it OK to remain seated–if we sit at attention, like in stage “stoneface/blankface”?

  38. In today’s state, what if any is the penalty for not standing and kneeling in place of and not placing your hand over your heart?

    1. Not standing for the National Anthem has no penalty associated. It is purely a matter of etiquette. If an individual chooses to kneel for the National Anthem opposed to standing, then that is their choice and their right to do so. Following proper etiquette is a sign of respect, but it is not required by law and there is no penalty associated. We hope this helps to answer your question!

  39. OK I know that when in the milatary u stop what u r doing if possible and salute the flag r in its direction. U stop ur vehicle and get out and salute it. That I understand when in the milatary, What about when u r just ur everday citizen. Should u do the same thing if possible and what about when u hear it being played on tv r the radio.

    1. Dwight, we would never recommend creating a safety hazard (such as stopping your car in an unsafe manner) , but if you feel compelled to stop and pay reverence to Old Glory or our Anthem when you hear it on the radio, or at any other appropriate time it is a great way to show respect and honor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *