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Humanities LibreTexts

2.6: Conducting

  • Page ID
    72358
  • Introduction

    Abstract mural of a conductor painted on a city building

    Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance, such as a concert, by way of visible gestures with the hands, arms, face and head. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats (meter), and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble.Communication is non-verbal during a performance, however in rehearsal frequent interruptions allow the conductor to give verbal directions as to how the music should be played or sung.

    Conductors act as guides to the orchestras and/or choirs they conduct. They choose the works to be performed and study their scores to which they may make certain adjustments, work out their interpretation, and relay their vision to the performers. They may also attend to organizational matters, such as scheduling rehearsals. Orchestras,choirs, concert bands and other sizable musical ensembles such as big bands are usually led by conductors.

    Please watch the following short video about conducting with simple meters. Remember that, in simple meters, each beat can be divided into two equal parts.

    Thumbnail for the embedded element "#3-Simple Meters: Conducting Tip with Michelle Willis"

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    The Movements of Conducting

    Duple Meter

    Examples of duple meter are 2/4, 2/2, or fast 6/8 time.  A conductor would sweep out a J-shaped arc to conduct duple meter:

    J-shaped arc used to depict duple meter by a conductor

    Triple Meter

    Examples of triple meter are 3/4 or 3/2.  A conductor would sweep out a triangular arc to conduct triple meters.

    Triangular arc swept out by conductor to depict triple meter

    Quadruple Meter

    Example of quadruple meter are 4/4, 4/2, or 4/8.  A conductor would sweep out an upside-down T shape to conduct quadruple meter.

    upside-down T shaped arc swept out by conductor to depict quadruple meter.

    Watch the following video. Does Gustavo Dudamel (the conductor) always draw the 4/4 pattern?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRNyAytW0w8

    Slow, 6/8 Time

    When conducting 6/8 time, the conductor will sweep out an upside-down T , bouncing along the bottom to each beat.

    Listen: Do-It-Yourself Conducting

    Listen to and conduct the samples in this link

    Syncopation

    In music, syncopation involves a variety of rhythms which are in some way unexpected which make part or all of a tune or piece of music off-beat. More simply, syncopation is a general term for “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm”: a “placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.”

    Listen: Syncopation

    In this example you will hear syncopation—notes that are played “off the beat.”

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