Introduction to Conducting

Conducting is more than waving your arms in front of the band. The conductor has two primary responsibilities:

  1. To start the ensemble, to establish a clear, uniform tempo, and keep it throughout the performance.
  2. To help the musical quality of the piece (expression, dynamics, cues).

There are many different conducting styles. The one presented below is a very basic style, suitable for beginning conductors. It is recommended that beginners start at the beginning of this page and look at the practice tips as they continue.

The Starting Position

The starting position is important because it not only sets the correct conducting posture, it sets the focal point as well. The focal point is where the heels of your hands rest when in the starting position.

The starting position (side).

Fig. 1

Your upper arms should be away from your body. They should be slightly in front. Your forearms should be parallel to the ground. Your palms should show a little bit and your fingers should be up.

The starting position (front)

Fig. 2

Your upper arms should be slightly away from your sides, elbows out, but not too far. (If you feel like you are doing the little birdie dance, you are out too far). Your hands should come in and should line up with your arm pits.

Conducting a Down Beat

Swinging up for a downbeat.

Moving your arms from the shoulder, bring your hands straight up, so that your wrists are at about eye level. All of the palms of your hands should show. Your elbow should not change position much, if at all. This is the preparation position to conduct the down beat. To conduct the down beat simply bring your hands back to the starting position. Quickly flick your fingers down to hit the focal point. This little flicking motion determines the actual beat.
(Practice techniques)

Basic down pattern.

This is the basic down pattern simplified.

The solid line is the down beat.

The dotted line is the rebound.

5 Rules for Conducting

These rules should be kept in mind when conducting. They are very important for clear and consistent conducting.

  1. All beats are down beats.
  2. All beats strike the focal point.
  3. All beats rebound.
  4. All rebounds are equal in all ways to the down beat.
  5. The size of the rebound depends on the speed of the music.

A good conductor is mindful of the rebound. If the rebound is too large, the conductor must rush to get back to the focal point. If the rebound is too small, the conductor may be forced to pause to get back in tempo, confusing the beat and the musicians. Rebounds, and thus downbeats, determine the speed of the music. Smaller downbeats are used for faster music, larger downbeats are used for slower music. The reason for this is because in fast music you don't have time to move your hands too far, and in slow music you do. To try otherwise is a waste of energy.