Conducting the Pit With a Baton/Your Hands

October 29, 2010

I conduct with my hands, for a few reasons:

1) When I conduct with a baton, I am forever throwing it at people accidentally. I can’t handle the stress.

2) I use my hands to make big cutoffs everyone can see. A baton would hinder that.

I know that there’s a baton technique that would allow me to hold on to the baton, (I just fail at it) and that cutoffs are equally effective with the baton. (I’m just not very good at them) For me, though, I find my hands are the best indicators.

Don’t raise your arms until you’re about ready to start. It’s like the boy who cried wolf; if you raise your arms and people have to wait for the downbeat for a minute, they won’t be so ready the next time. When you do raise your arms, look around and make eye contact with everyone individually. Then give a clear upbeat on the cue line.

Keep one eye on the vocal score (or the full score, if you have that luxury) and cue the passagework as it comes. A little breath before the entrance will really help groups of winds or brass or strings come in together. Remember all those cueing lessons from your conducting class? Well brush them up, because you need them. Don’t just beat time mindlessly; beat it with the character of the piece, try to get the entrances clean and the group cutoffs exact. See how much you can make happen just by being clear in your pattern, without any verbal instruction. You’ll be amazed.

If people aren’t following, do the following exercise:

Run a piece with an extremely erratic tempo. Slow down and speed up at random. Do it a couple of times until they follow, then do it again normally. Also, if you’re cueing singers on the stage, you should be big, so they can see you without looking directly at you. But if you’re only cueing your players, a very small, clean beat will usually make people look more closely than your biggest, swoopingest, most indistinct beat. (which is what we all instinctually do when nobody’s following)

The hand sign for repeat that section is an index finger up with your left, like you’re motioning ONE, as your right hand keeps beating. If you have more than one repeat, (a specific number), add another finger for each time through: (ONE… two.. three… four… five… six… seven… eight… TWO… two… three… etc.) The sign for go on is the left fist up somewhere during the repeated section and a strong upbeat out of the repeat.

And this is important: If you don’t give people anything, they will stop watching you. If you never mouth the words, never give any entrances or cutoffs, never look at the actors or your players, and are buried in the score, people will not look at you, because there’s nothing to look at. Give people something back for looking in your direction.


One comment

  1. Wow, this is really helpful! I like the exercise and the repeat hand signals. I didn’t get that in conducting class.

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