Music Teacher Tip #44 - Conducting 101

Music Teacher Tip #44:

Conducting 101:

Train students to your gesture every rehearsal. Step 1 in a lesson plan is “Focus.” If you vary your gesture every rehearsal, students will focus better and will learn to follow you. You can do this using any standard warmup exercise.

Begin by varying tempos, then dynamics, then articulations. Once students show proficiency with one, try another. Ultimately, you should be able to make multiple changes with them following them all.

If you need to establish a tempo prior to an entrance, use only your right hand. Your left hand should be stationary until the prep/breath for the entrance. Avoid verbally counting them in. Let your gesture speak for itself.

If students know the piece, they don’t need you to establish a tempo; just bring them in with a clear gesture.

Strive for a clean ictus. Tapping a table in your beat pattern is a great way to practice this. Be sure to have a flexible wrist. Tension there will inhibit a clean ictus and can contribute to a constricted sound.

When conducting a gesture of syncopation, your left hand should remain stationary in preparation for the entrance. Let’s say you want students to enter on the “and” of 2 for example. In that case you would conduct a normal beat pattern with your right hand. Meanwhile, your left hand should wait until beat 2 to only move downward. There must be no upward movement in the left hand or your gesture of syncopation will not be clear.

If no one has an entrance or a changing note on a particular beat, but they are sustaining, that beat does not need an ictus from your right hand. This is called “melding.” In this case, your left hand should show the sustain gesture at the same time. The best way to do this is palm up.

It is best if dynamic gestures expand and contract horizontally rather than vertically - especially for younger singers. If your left hand were to ascend to show a crescendo for example, many young singers will actually make their pitch slide up thinking that your gesture indicates a change in pitch! 😱

Keep your eyes on your ensemble as much as possible, but definitely give them your eyes on all entrances, releases, and other important moments.

Avoid mirroring unless there is a specific reason for doing so.

Reasons for doing so include when you need to get their attention for a tempo change, a dynamic change, an articulation change, etc. Save mirroring for when it matters. To use both hands all the time is like WRITING IN ALL CAPS.

Whether you are a choral conductor, a band conductor, or an orchestral conductor, it is perfectly fine to use a baton or not use a baton. If you forgo the baton, don’t do weird stuff with your hands. Keep a natural, relaxed shape and maintain it consistently.

Some may dispute me on this, but it is not necessary to do anything other than tap your beat plane when you want a consonant to be articulated. (The only exception to this is if you need to show a closing, but sustained “n” or “m”. It can be appropriate to close the fingers to show this followed by a tap of the ictus for the release.)

No pointing or otherwise gesturing with your fingers. It’s just distracting.

Let your face reflect the mood of the music you’re conducting.

Avoid singing along.

Don’t forget to make art!

Sure, there are more advanced conducting techniques than these that are acceptable, but remember, this is Conducting 101, not graduate or advanced conducting. 😁

Happy teaching! ❤️🎶

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