Conducting Clarity


The Director’s conducting skill does not have to necessarily follow traditional beat patterns but it is critical that the Director gives clear indications as to what and when the members are to do things such as precise starts, when to change Tone Syllables (e.g: when to put the “M” on “time”) or where the cut-off is, etc.  But here are the basic beat patterns for the most common key signatures for 2 beats to a measure, 3 beats to a measure, 4 beats to a measure and for 6/8.

The patterns should be done with both hands. BUT they are done “in mirror image”.  Let me explain. Try this!  Put both of your hands on a table or your lap.  Notice that both your thumbs are on the inside and the little fingers are on the outside.  We are built from “In to Out” NOT from “Right to Left”. So think of the patterns in terms of In and Out NOT Right and Left.  Thus in the 2/4 pattern, the “1” curves Out and the “2” curves In.  You will find when you do the pattern with both hand that this is quite natural. But think in terms of “In and Out” since that’s the way we’re built.

If you don’t know the patterns, practice tracing them until you feel comfortable with them  The 6/8 pattern is not essential as it is only used if the tempo is slow.  Most of the time 6/8 meter uses the 2 beat pattern with the dotted quarter as the beat.  The 2 beat pattern is used for all meters such as 2/4. and 2/2 (Cut Time) and fast 6/8.  The 3 pattern is used for 3/4 3/8 and 3/2.  et cetera.


You can conduct with Both Hands as we described in the previous paragraph  OR do the Beat Pattern with one hand and Dynamic Cues with the other hand?  Probably using separate hands for the Beat Pattern and the Dynamic Cues is clearer, but many Directors feel more comfortable doing the Patterns with both hands together (in mirror image as we said above). 

How High and Big should your Pattern be?  It depends - but I believe the top movement of the pattern should cut thru the Director’s line of vision with the group being conducting.  Thus if the group is standing higher than the Director, the Pattern should be high. If the Director is below the group then the directing should be lower.  The reason for this is so the view of the Pattern and the Director’s Facial Expressions are at one place rather than the chorus members having to look up to see his face and down to seen the Beat.  Give them one point to look at rather than two.    A great deal of mood directing is done with his face.  Frequently Directors direct too low.  The exception to this rule, is if the Director is part of the Visual effect of the whole group.  In which case, he may direct very largely for the visual effect.  Otherwise, for general use, keep the Pattern up toward your facial expressions.

Additionally, you must be very sure there is a consistent difference in Size or Height to indicate Loud and Soft.


Before the Down Beat  on “1”, there must always be a Preparatory Beat which uses the last beat pattern of the measure.  So in 2/4, start with the 2 part first and then go into the full 1 - 2 pattern.  Similarly in 3/4 , start with the 3 part and then go into the full 1 -2 - 3 pattern.  This Preparatory Beat is essential so that the members all have a split second to breath and prepare to be ready to come in on the Down Beat.  As you do the Preparatory Beat, INHALE yourself as that is what the singers must do also.  Further, the Preparatory Beat should have sorts of an up-lift feeling to it so it is distinguished from the Down Beat of “1”.  Still further, each beat of the patterns should have a Point to it to make it definite.  We call the Point the “ictus”. There should be a bit of a bounce to every ictus though it may be very slight if smooth singing is wanted.  The bounce should be more definite when a march-ey sound is wanted.

The Prep. Beat should be in the Tempo and Mood that is wanted in the singing.  This is a common error Directors make.  They give too fast a Prep. Beat which is out of context from the way they want the Tempo and Mood to go.  I suppose this is because the Director is so concerned that the members come in at the right time.


When the song starts on a “Pick-Up” beat, the Prep. Beat should be the previous beat.   So in 4/4 with a one beat Pick-Up, you start at ictus 2 and move Out to ictus 3 for the Prep. Beat.  Be sure you inhale when moving from ictus 2 to 3.  If you have a 2 beat Pick-up, start at ictus 1 and move Out to ictus 2. (Be sure to inhale at the right time.)


When working on the Rhythmic aspects, consider these 3 parts: 

    a. Rhythmic Accuracy,

    b. The Attacks (How a note is started) &

    c. The Releases (How the note is ended).

Rhythmic Accuracy is obvious and of course should be accurate EXCEPT if changes are desired to better communicate the message of the song.  Barbershoppers frequently change the rhythm from what is written.  Specifically in a ballad, the notes may be written as even quarter notes which if sung that way, make it choppy and not expressive.  Multi-syllable words are a particular problem as the syllables are seldom said evenly even though they may be written in even notes.  Sing the rhythm freely in the same manner you might say them naturally.

The Attack is often related to the Clarity of the Director’s Conducting.  But also the Attack can be either harsh or soft depending on the way the initial Tone Syllable of a word is sung.  For instance, a lengthy “L” on the word “Love” can give much more feeling than if the “L” of “Love” is very short.  Thus for that “L” in “Love” the Attack should be softer.  (This all of course relates to “Interpretation”.)

Most commonly the Release needs serious attention, particularly at the ends of phrases.  Ending word sounds often get chopped off because singers are anxious to get a breath.  Great care must be taken to finish all the ending sounds.  The singers may be running out of breath and so tend to cut phrases short.  Not good!  Also frequently Singable Consonants such as “m”, “n”, “l” and “ng” need to be given solid length.  Most Directors give this by closing their fingers on the sound but it should then be followed by a full Cut-off.

Especially in 4/4 if the Tempo is quite fast, it is better to use the 2 Beat Pattern as the 4 Beat Pattern tends to slow the Tempo down and makes it more punchy rather than flowing.  But when there is a tricky start, it is usually better to start with a fast 4 Beat Pattern until the Tempo is established and then change to a 2 Beat Pattern.


The areas of Interpretation that need to be covered are:

  1. a. The Message & General Mood

  2. b. Section Mood Changes

  3. c. Interpretative Details

  4.         1. Dynamics

  5.         2. Word Emphasis

  6.         3. Phrasing

The way you conduct should reflect the Interpretive details a great deal - especially reflecting the Mood(s).  Obviously Dynamic Cues are important and should be worked out carefully in the plan for the song.  Contrasts are important as “Without contrast there is no communication”.  This statement applies to everything in life.  (If we only used one sound it would be meaningless.)

Word emphasis is most critical.  Not only in terms of Dynamics but also how we shape key words.  Little swells on a key word or particular emphasis on the first sound of a word make quite a difference in the emotional effect.. 

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