Choral Conducting Techniques

A music conductor is a person who directs ensembles and/or a group of singers or choir/chorus, communicating to the performers by movement of his/her hands or a baton to unifying the efforts of a number of musicians simultaneously engaged in musical performance. He/she establishes a clear, uniform tempo, and keep it throughout the performance. He/she also helps the musical quality of the piece (expression, dynamics, cues).

It worth noting that the primary duties of the conductor are to interpret the score created by a composer in a manner which is reflective of those specific indications within that score, set the tempo, ensure correct entries by various members of the ensemble, and to "shape" the phrasing where appropriate. Thus conducting is more than waving your arms in front of the choir (group of singer) or ensemble.

To convey their ideas and interpretation, a conductor communicates with their musicians primarily through hand gestures, typically though not invariably with the aid of a baton, and may use other gestures or signals, such as eye contact with relevant performers. A conductor's directions will almost invariably be supplemented or reinforced by verbal instructions or suggestions to their musicians in rehearsal prior to a performance.

Every conductor breathes new life into each piece with their own interpretations. Small movements of either hand could inform the musicians or the audience about the intensity and persistence of a single note. Conductors have their own refined sense of each work, which they express through the complex language of gestures. However, there are many different conducting styles. While there are some common gestures that you will see from the majority of conductors, most great conductors have their own unique style. The musical characteristic and suitable conducting technique presented below are very basic styles, suitable for beginning conductors.

Loud (forte or f)
Use a large beat pattern, holding arms away from the body. Hold the left palm up, or let the left arm mirror the beat pattern for emphasis.

Soft (piano or p)
Use a small beat pattern, with arms close to the body. Hold left palm down.

Fast (allegro)
Use a quick beat pattern, with sharp motions and crisp bounces on the beats.

Slow (andante)
Use a slow beat pattern, with graceful motions and soft bounces on the beats.

Modulation (key change)
Motion “up” with your index finger.

For repeats
Cycle your hands around each other like a wheel turning.

Getting louder (crescendo or cresc.)
Use a beat pattern increasing in size. Hold the left palm up and push it upward, moving the arms away from the body.

Getting softer (diminuendo or dim.) 
Use a beat pattern increasing in size. Hold the left palm up and push it upward, moving the arms away from the body.

Speeding up (accelerando or accel.)
Make the beat pattern faster, with motions becoming crisper and the beat more pronounced.

Slowing down (ritardando or rit.)
Make the beat pattern slower, with motions becoming more graceful and the beat less pronounced.

Solemn, reverent, or legato
Use a smooth, rounded beat pattern with soft bounces on the beat.

Bright, joyful, or staccato
Use an animated, angular beat pattern, with sharp bounces on the beat.

Part of the choir sustains a note while the other part sings other notes
Hold your left hand, palm up, in the direction of the group that is sustaining. Continue the beat pattern with your right hand.

*One vocal line is more important than the others
Use the left hand to signal palm up to the important vocal group, palm down to the other groups.

One part of the choir sings while the other is silent
Face the group that is to sing.

Part of the choir cuts off while the other part continues to sing
Before the cutoff, look at the group that is to cut off. Give the cutoff signal with the left hand (the right hand continues the beat pattern), and then face the group that is to continue singing.

Unison vs. Harmony
If the choir has been singing in unison and it’s time to switch to 3-part harmony, hold out three fingers on your hands, with the fingers pointing toward the choir, and extend your hands out to the sides a little bit.

If one section of the choir isn’t singing loud enough
Point to that section, then point to your ear.

The silent part of the choir joins the singing part
First look at the singers who are to begin singing; then do a preparatory beat with your left hand and bring them in. Mirror the beat pattern with your left hand for a measure or more.

The conductor’s fundamental goal is to bring a written score to life, through study, personality and musical formation. But he or she makes music’s meaning clear through body motion.

However, remembered that the art of conducting is more than just semaphore. It is a two-step between body and soul, between physical gesture and musical personality. The greatest technician can produce flabby performances. The most inscrutable stick waver can produce transcendence.

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