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Conducting advice, please

MandyH

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Does anyone on here conduct a band and could offer advice on how to prepare for conducting a piece?
My teacher has suggested that I might like to try conducting a straightforward piece (maybe 5 or 6 parts) in our Saxophone choir.

She hasn't yet given me the score as she needs to arrange it.

She has suggested reading the score in advance, making a note of important features etc. before actually getting out in front of the choir.

I don't have to do this, but figured that if I am going to take my teaching diploma, then this is also a good experience to have, so I want to give it a try.

You advice greatly appreciated.
 

Greg Strange

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Simple - just flap and wave your arms around alot...the more music stands and orchestra members that fall over and fly about the more successful you are...:rofl: (from personal experience as a 10 year old in a brass band:w00t:)

if that doesn't work try...

http://www.ca.classicconcerts.org.uk/learning/tips/1.html

There is a story the late, great George Duke told, that Frank Zappa learnt conducting from a book he borrowed from the LA Public Library...

Cheers,

Greg S.
 

Colin the Bear

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Most of the conducting input goes on at the rehearsals. The performance is just marking time.
 

jbtsax

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That's a tall order. To do justice to that question would require pages of comments. Let me see if I can summarize some of the things I learned over my career.

Know the score.
Study all the parts beforehand looking for difficult technical passages, challenging rhythms, places where sustained tones may create an intonation problem, places where repeats, endings, codas (the "roadmap") might trip up the players. Come up with suggestions for alternate fingerings, ways to count or "feel" a rhythm, suggestions on what to watch out for, etc. A good conductor never learns a piece along with the group.

Know the music
Analyse the music Know how the theme or melody is passed around. Decide which voice(s) need to come out in each section and which voice(s) are background. Determine if there is a climax in the work and how best to lead to and from that point in a musical fashion. Take into account the mood and style of the music for how to instruct the group to play the dynamics, accents, and other style markings. Look for harmonic "tension and release" that gives interest to the work and make sure that takes place in the performance.

Have a rehearsal plan
Create a warmup that ties into the piece you are going to conduct. One idea is to have the group play only the first note of each measure as a long tone as you conduct through the first phrase of the melody. This will create a "chorale" that will allow the players to hear the harmony and tonality of the piece they are about to play. If there is a tricky rhythm, you can have the group play up and down a scale tonguing that rhythm on each note. You can identify a spot the group may have trouble with and play through that section a few times at a slower tempo before starting to play the entire piece. Don't just aimlessly have the group play a section again and again. Define clearly what needs correcting in that section and make that the goal. For example: "Lets start at letter B again, and this time really play the dynamics the way they are written".

Be professional in front of the group
If the conductor is business-like and focused, the group will be too. Keep your instructions to a minimum. Give instructions or suggestions clearly and succinctly. Convey what you want to happen in the music with gestures and expressions as much as possible. Always be positive, but depending upon the abilities of the players, don't accept less than what you know to be their best efforts. Smiles and humor used judiciously are appropriate too to help motivate and make a point, but be careful not to over do this or you may lose the group's focus on the music.

Good luck. I hope you enjoy this experience. Be careful, it can become habit forming.
 

kevgermany

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You need to learn the stick movements as well. I remember asking my old choir master about this, and his answer was practice.

If you can find them, there are some videos around of Leonard Bernstein coaching conducting students. They'll teach you a lot.

For me what's important in a conductor, apart from the leadership aspects, is musical interpretation. Going in with a clear and realistic mental image of how it should sound and getting that across in the performance.
 

jbtsax

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Of course smaller ensembles do not require a conductor per se, but someone to lead the rehearsals. When directing larger ensembles, I agree with Kev that baton technique becomes important for a number of reasons. I was trained in the school of minimalism where "less is more". In my experience, groups watch much more closely when the baton strokes are small and nuanced, rather than big sweeping and flapping movements which may provide some comic relief to the audience, but are musically quite unnecessary. In this style, loud playing requires a larger pattern, and soft playing a smaller one, but the pattern rarely exceeds the width of the conductor's shoulders. Please, please don't bend down to get the group to play soft. It looks like you are about to "moon" the audience. :)

I was taught to keep the baton at the conductor's eye level at all times. You see lots of directors conducting their belly button with the baton well below the top of the music stand well out of sight of the players. The left hand should be used sparingly to add emphasis. If used too much, it completely looses its effectiveness. Facial expressions such as smiles, frowns, raised eyebrows, grimaces, etc. can communicate a lot non verbally. If a player makes a wrong note, a glance and a grimace let's them know you heard it, and a smile afterward means, "it's ok, you'll get it next time". A smile and a nod right after a well played solo in a piece means more to the player than all the verbal praise in the world afterward.

It is important to maintain eye contact with the group at all times. Almost all inexperienced conductors bury their head in the score way too much at first. That's why it is important to know the score inside and out. When I was a student teacher, my mentor told the students in the band to silently scoot their chairs forward every time I kept my head down looking at the score while I was conducting. By the end of the song, the entire band had moved several feet and the flute section was practically in my lap, and I didn't have a clue. My teacher got his point across and we all had a good laugh.

The best advice I could give is to get a full length mirror and some scores of pieces on recordings. Conduct the piece as it is being played, giving cues, cutoffs, accents, dynamics, facial expressions, etc. watching yourself in a mirror. Another variation of this is to videotape yourself conducting the recording. It is really scary at first, but that is the feedback you need at first. Videotaping a rehearsal is excellent to see if you are clear and concise or if you are talking too much to the group.
 

kevgermany

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Minimalist conducting - who was it that used a cocktail stick instead of a baton?
 

Tenor Viol

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Singing in various sized choirs and several orchestral ensembles of various sizes, here are a few of my observations (I occasionally conduct sub-sets of my choirs for weddings etc. as well).

  • Keep the beat simple and clear. Musicians and singers will need to pick up what you're doing with peripheral vision whilst they're reading the music
  • Avoid parallel/mirror hand movements - you see people who wave both hands in this way, this causes confusion
  • Work out how you are going to give important cues or deal with awkward spots (e.g. fermata, time signature change, tempo change, hemiola or crotchet triplets etc)
  • Look for 'signposts' in the score, e.g. where all parts come together, major cadence, change etc.
Have fun!
 

MandyH

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Thanks all, as always some really useful information.
I possibly didn't make it clear that this would be rehearsals of a piece new to the sax choir, eventually taking it public. So this would be a start to finish exercise.
Also, my teacher (the usual conductor) said that she missed playing her sax and looked forward to playing while I conducted!
 

MandyH

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yes, I received that too.
After the last Coursera course that I did, I swore never again!
but I might sign up and watch the videos etc even if I don't do any exercises / tests!
 

MandyH

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@MandyH

In my Inbox this morning:

https://www.coursera.org/course/music-ensembles

Fundamentals of rehearsing music ensembles - hope it's helps
I have signed up....I have done the first 2 weeks....I now own a baton! :eek:
But I'm not convinced I'm improving - the tutor's conducting is a little artistic, not the very definite that I am used to.
I am trying to emulate him, but think I need to watch more videos of other people conducting.,,,,suggestion gratefully received. :cool:
 

MandyH

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I have completed the course! I'm not sure it has benefitted my conducting, but it has certainly given me food for thought regarding how to lead a rehearsal.
I am pleased I did it. The video lectures were far more informative and useful than the Jazz Impro course we did last year.
It was a much better organised course too.
My sax teacher has plans for me to conduct - we will be sorting the score study over the summer break.
 

Jeanette

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I have completed the course! I'm not sure it has benefitted my conducting, but it has certainly given me food for thought regarding how to lead a rehearsal.
I am pleased I did it. The video lectures were far more informative and useful than the Jazz Impro course we did last year.
It was a much better organised course too.
My sax teacher has plans for me to conduct - we will be sorting the score study over the summer break.


Good luck Mandy, at least it has given you something to think about :)

Jx
 

kevgermany

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Looking forward to hearing how it goes. Good luck!
 

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