Practice Techniques

These are some easy practice techniques which help with conducting form. Included are also some tips, tricks, hints and interesting points of note to help the beginning conductor.

Downbeats

To refine arm movement and make sure you are correctly hitting the focal point, tape some paper to a wall. Hold a pen in each hand and stand before the wall. Move your arms as if you were conducting the down beat. Try to keep the strokes in relatively the same place and all hitting the focal point.

To find your focal point, stand in front of a table with a height approximately where your focal point would be. Mark Xs on the table where your finger tips should hit. Conduct in front of the table and try to tap the Xs briefly every down beat. (Substitute the table with a friend's open palms if your can't find a good table).

*Helpful Hint* Think of the focal point as a hot-plate. It's hot so you only want to touch it briefly. Flick the focal point quickly, avoid slapping it.

To get the flicking motion down, get a big rubber band and loop it around your middle finger. Pull the band back to your elbow and conduct down beats with one hand. Feel the rubber band pulling your finger back as you flick downwards. Try to remember this feeling and copy it without the rubber band.

To check whether your hands move in towards your chest, stand in front of a mirror in the starting position. Have someone mark on the mirror (with post-it notes or tape) the edge of your chest starting from under your arm pits. Next conduct downbeats in front of the marked mirror, trying to keep your hands from crossing the marked line.

*Helpful hint* When conducting, think 'down'. Often one can begin to emphasize up as the beat. Severe emphasis on the up beat turns into hitches, or little accents at the top of the patterns. Thinking 'down' helps to eliminate this. Raise your arms, but focus on them dropping to the focal point.

Conducting two

*Helpful Hint* At the end of beat one, the hands and arms should remain in front of the body, not way out to the sides on a plane with the body.

Be mindful that on the swing up, the hands stay out and do not come back in. (Quick check: at the end of beat one, if your hands are anywhere closer to your body than your elbows are, your hands came in.)

Be mindful of spreading your hands too far apart in the 'out' part of the pattern. If your throw your hands way out, you will rush to bring them in again, and the beat will not be consistent.

*Interesting note* Most marches are conducted in two. Why? Well, you have two feet right? Some songs in four can be conducted in two. Since four can be divided into two, marching bands can play songs in four even though normal band members have two feet.

Conducting three

A further step-by-step explanation:

Down: bring arms down, hit focal point, go back up.
Out: bring arms down hit focal point, go out.
Up: bring arms down and in, hit focal point, go straight up.

*Tip* the 'Star Spangled Banner', the national anthem of the United States, is conducted in three, NOT in four, a common mistake.

*Interesting note* Waltzes are also conducted in three.

Conducting four

Down: bring arms down, hit focal point, go back up.
Down: bring arms down, hit focal point, go back up.
Out: bring arms down hit focal point, go out.
Up: bring arms down and in, hit focal point, go straight up.

This is a great teaching pattern since much music is in four and since it can be broken down into the three, two and one patterns very easily. The basic four pattern works with a variety of patterns, making it the best pattern for conducting a tempo change or for recovery when the band falls apart.

Fast tempo

Remember, the fast tempo pattern is the same but much smaller to accommodate the lack of time. Keep the upper arm relatively still; the elbow replaces the shoulder as a pivot point, so try to eliminate extra motion in the shoulder and upper arms to conserve energy and keep a consistent beat. Conduct with the forearms. Any extra movements in the arms must be with the hands to keep the beat clear.

Conducting with small relaxed patterns conserves energy and prevents much frustration.

Remember: The key to conducting a tempo change is the rebound.

Slow pattern

In a slow pattern, most of the arm movement is from the shoulder. Make sure you have a straight, even rebound on beat one, to maintain tempo consistency. Slow patterns are bigger than fast tempo patterns.