Mr. Fred J. Allen

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Conductor's Checklist:
A Review for the Public School Teacher

A Refresher Course for Those Who Teach

Why worry about "conducting" in public school?
What does the preparatory beat show?
Changing tempo
Changing dynamics
Changing style
Subdivision made easy
Mixed meter made easy
Cueing:  when and how?
Three ways to conduct a fermata

Why worry about “conducting” in public school? 

Although “teaching” occupies a greater portion of the time spent in public school rehearsals, teachers who conduct clearly and expressively can save valuable time.  A prepared conductor-teacher exudes more confidence on the podium, not only in performance, but also in rehearsals.

What does the preparatory beat show? 

Tempo:  Count a full measure in your head before you begin.  Breathe with the students as you give the preparatory beat.  Teach students to breathe rhythmically.

Dynamic level:  Show with entire body!  Include the eyes and posture as well as the general size of the pattern.

Style:  Legato is horizontal, staccato and marcato patterns are vertical.

Changing tempo  Slower = larger, faster = smaller 

Slowing down:  “Bind” the energy in the rebound to show the slowing tempo.  Simply slow down and the group will have to follow because there has not been a new ictus shown.

Speeding up:  THIS TAKES COURAGE, CONDUCTOR!  You must leave the comfort of your ictus point being at the same time as the sound.  You have to lead the group, literally, placing your ictus a little before the beat they are currently playing.

Changing dynamics

Pattern size should change.
Use left hand, but show resistance in the gesture.
Use facial expression to enhance what the hands are doing.

Changing style

Legato, tenuto and long marcato (>)  are more horizontal and rounder in rebound, and the rebound does not move as quickly from the ictus point. (Energy captured in tip of baton.)

Staccato and short marcato (^ ) are vertical in rebound, rebound is a quick motion. (Energy released from tip of baton.)


Subdivision made easy 

All subdivisions (duple or triple) move in the opposite direction of the next “big” beat.  Subdivisions should be placed near the primary beat and are smaller than it.

If a ritardando makes you feel you need to subdivide, do so first in your head, then in your hand, then in your baton.

Some excellent conductors show a modified subdivision as they make the change.  In this case, the right hand begins to show the subdivision within the rebound without actually beating another small ictus yet. (much easier to show than to describe!)

Mixed meter made easy 

7/8 measures are virtually always a 3 pattern, with one floated beat.

5/8 measures are virtually always a 2 pattern, with one floated beat.

These elongated beats should be visible in the conducting pattern as three connected but distinct, motions: ictus—rebound—change of direction leading to next ictus.

Cueing:  when and how 

When:  Solos important melodies, people who have rested a long time, critical percussion events, sections which worry you!

How:  Left 2/3 of ensemble—left hand invitation plus eye contact.
          Right 1/2 of ensemble—right hand invitation plus eye contact.
          Head nod or seriously strong eye contact.

Eye contact in all cases—at least a measure prior to the event and through the completion of the entrance!

Three ways to conduct a fermata 

Caesura:  Hold the fermata, cut off.  Remain still for longer than one beat of the following music to destroy sense of time.  Needs new prep.

Breath mark:  Hold the fermata. The cut off is actually a preparatory gesture in the time of the music which follows.

Hold across—no break:  Hold fermata, subsuming the preparatory beat within the gesture.  The change of direction, without losing the energy, actually shows the new time.

Above all, remember this:  conducting well should make teaching easier, not harder!


The Texas School Music Project is a source for ideas and information concerning pedagogical practices in the music classroom or rehearsal hall.
The TSMP is a service provided to all music specialists by the faculty of the School of Music at Stephen F. Austin State University.

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