Swing into Summer 2016 – part 2

mirelleConducting for direction and expression

As players of music, we are very much focused on the placement of notes as they happen.  However, as conductors we can never show anything at the time it happens, we have to say “here it comes” and be ahead of the time.  This allows musicians to have that small moment to prepare for changes of dynamic, tempo, style, articulation, etc.

Train the ensemble to maintain the pulse themselves without using your right hand at all.  Draw attention to the left hand.

Shape the music with your hands.  The shape should always be relevant to the meaning and expression of the music.  Conducting isn’t about dictating beat patterns.

“The music always dictates what we do, not the beat pattern.”

Conduct both actively and passively.  Students should be aware and responsive to both.

When projecting change or expression, conductors shouldn’t be too subtle.

Prof. McWilliams made the analogy of a theatrical performer’s makeup.  When viewed close up, the makeup is really exaggerated, however the overall purpose is for projecting meaning out to others at a distance.

Before a bigger cue, make the preceding beats less active to provide more contrast for a powerful effect.

Use your experience and musicianship from playing an instrument in your conducting.  Be as expressive with your conducting as you would if you were performing this piece on your instrument.

“When we want to ebb and flow, we push into their space, they push back with sound.
When we recede, they recede.”


The size of the baton should be in proportion to the size of the conductor.  I.e. No longer than the distance from the inside of the elbow to the fingers.

Trace the tip of the baton through the air.  Musicians needs clarity and clearness of direction.  If the baton movement is “noisy”, the meaning of the music is hindered.

Where necessary, use a wrist click to indicate where the ictus is, even when conducting in a legato style.
Keep the wrist unlocked.  If the wrist is locked, it becomes hard to show subtlety.

Facial Expressions


“I’m going to be your face.”

Use facial gestures need to express meaning.  Facial expressions should complement and match the meaning of the music.

“Someone added a little extra Tabasco into the mix.”

Exercise: Watch a video of your conducting with the sound off and see if you can tell where you are without the music on.  The message from your hands, face and body should be clear and consistent.

Eye Contact

Prof. McWilliams analogy of Water polo conducting
Coming up for a breath, then heads down until the next breath…
Maintain eye contact with the musician during a line of melody, even though it may feel uncomfortable.


The size and sostenuto of the gesture is determined by the speed of the motion. Use drag and resistance to show heaviness and drama.


Showing resistance: the tempo is the same, but the distance moved by the baton through the air is less.

“More resistance is like painting with really gooey paint.  Less resistance is like painting with water.”


“It’s all about the rebound”

Staccato style – sense of a stopping motion with the baton.
Legato style – The baton should flow through the air, always moving, mimicking the movement of a bow.
Activity: All the players are going to sizzle (sss, sss, sss, sss…)  Try conducting strong beats and then legato.

Three types of releases: Closed, Resonant and Accented.

To be continued in Swing into Summer 2016 Part 3…

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