Basic Conducting Technique
- What it Means to Be a Choir Director
- Why Technique Matters
- Proper Arm and Hand Position
- Proper Stand Position
- Basic Patterns
- Preparatory Beats
- Phrasing and Articulation
The basic conducting patterns are categorized by either duple or triple meter, with several possible time signatures for each.
Charts and diagrams of the patterns abound, but many are less than ideal for the fact that they do not illustrate the paths of the rebounds out of each ictus (the precise point at which the beat occurs). Having a clear understanding of the path of the rebound is critical, as what occurs between the beats communicates just as much or even more than the actual beats themselves. For example, a flat, horizontal, smooth gesture demonstrates a very different character than one that is buoyant and angular. This is how the choir is able to read and subsequently deliver the desired character of the piece.
Because it is the strongest beat of the measure, beat one is always shown by a descending vertical line. It should be centered in front of your body, rather than off to the side, dropping as though following the button line of your shirt. This gesture demonstrates the greatest feeling of "weight," showing that beat one is stronger than all subsequent beats. Beats shown via more diagonal or horizontal movement, such as beat two in a 3/4 or 4/4 pattern, are by comparison decidedly weaker in feeling and "weight."
Beats of secondary importance in terms of "weight" are usually shown by moving across the body; for example, beat three in a 4/4 pattern: 1 2 3 4. You can sense that beat one is the strongest, while three also instinctively receives greater stress than two or four, though not as much as beat one. Moving across the front of the body, from one side to the other, is also a strong gesture, second only to the vertical drop.
As you become a more advanced conductor, sometimes you will leave the pattern to better demonstrate what is happening musically and textually. You are ultimately serving the music, and not the pattern, after all. For example, under certain circumstances you may want to give a vertically descending gesture even if it does not occur on beat one, in order to strongly emphasize a particular note or word. Conversely, there may be times when you do not want to emphasize a primary or secondary beat, because it accentuates a less important word, for example. In this case you could de-emphasize or even altogether change the gesture for that part of the pattern.
While gestures may be given in many different characters – energetic, gentle, worshipful, joyous, etc. – those pictured in the diagram above represent a basic, non espressivo character. The points at which the path of the pattern changes direction are deliberately rounded rather than sharply angled so as not to disrupt the flow or consistency of speed as you move through the gesture. (Note that if you conduct with sharp angles, a slight hesitation or slowing of speed occurs as you change direction.) Consistency of speed is critical to developing a clean, clear, and predictable gesture. Its clarity and predictability, of course, are what enable an ensemble to successfully follow your lead, so in the beginning stages of your study, practice a non-espressivo pattern at several different tempi (60, 90, and 120 are good tempi to experiment with), maintaining absolute consistency of speed, even as you round corners to change direction. You might also attempt to do this with a quarter on the back of your hand as a means of gauging how smooth and steady your pattern is.