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The conducting is a guidance, coordination and design support for the performing musicians of the orchestra or choir or other music-making ensembles. It is mainly carried out by hand movements of the conductor and fulfills several functions: It coordinates the musicians at the beginning and at the end of the piece as well as keeping the beat , their assignments are also displayed and the conductor continuously influences the musical design.

Conducting is subject to certain historically developed rules and techniques. The beat is indicated by beat figures , the musical design (e.g. dynamics and articulation ) by less standardized forms of expression. Traditionally, the conductor's right hand holds the baton and performs the percussion figures. The gestural mediation of the musical design is mainly done by the left hand.

While the term conducting relates more to the process and the craft, the terms conducting and musical direction (or simply direction ) rather refer to the conducting of a complete performance. The musical direction can also mean the long-term direction of the ensemble, including the planning and rehearsal work.

Work process

Leonard Bernstein takes notes, 1955

Conductors familiarize themselves intensively with the piece and its structure before conducting. They know which instruments or voices (line- up ) the piece requires and, if necessary, ensure that the ensemble is supplemented accordingly. Based on the indications indicated in the piece ( tempo or metronome numbers , dynamics , articulation , instrumentation ), you may develop your own precise idea of ​​the character and content of the piece with the help of sound recordings . They memorize the use of the various instruments or voices, changes in time, changes in tempo and character and, if necessary, practice them gestural and mentally.

They trace the content of the piece, which can be seen through sources (e.g. letters or diary notes from the composer), comments or meaningful titles ( program music ) or texts in vocal compositions . They know the music-historical context of the piece, which helps to determine the specific style of the work, and if possible also other works by the composer and his relationships in this context. Ideally, after intensive study, you will know the score by heart and have developed a precise sound concept that is individual but also does justice to the intention of the composer and the composition itself.

They rehearse the piece with the ensemble until it corresponds to the conductor's ideas worked out in advance ( rehearsals ), and agree exactly on the implementation of certain, not explicitly specified passages in the score , the conductor's performance, the correct execution and the character and content of the composition. The conductor corrects the ensemble during rehearsals until the work can be performed as completely as possible. An auxiliary instrument for rehearsing vocal ensemble parts is usually a piano, which the conductor either plays himself or has a répétiteur play. The conductor is the decision maker and thus has a major impact on the interpretation of a piece. After all, he leads the ensemble in all planned performances of the piece (in the case of guest conductors in the repertoire music theater or in the opera in German-speaking countries, however, often only the premiere and a few follow-up performances; the remaining performances are then "post-conducted" by permanent bandmasters ).

If a conductor takes over an ensemble for a longer period of time, the sound of the ensemble and thus its artistic profile can change significantly, as the constant, continuous influence of the ensemble leader, his necessary precise ideas of sound and musical design, the ensemble in its musical Start to shape execution.

In the professional field, the conductor is not responsible for rehearsing the individual parts. Each member of the orchestra takes on this task for themselves. As a rule, choirs are rehearsed by their choirmaster , solo singers have a répétiteur at the theater or in opera schools .


Conducting is the art of conveying musical information to performing musicians in real time. While there are no absolute rules of correct conducting, and therefore a large number of different conducting techniques and styles exist, there is a basic understanding of the basic elements of musical expression (e.g. tempo , rhythm , articulation , dynamics ) and the ability to use them gesturally Effectively conveying to an ensemble is necessary in order to be able to conduct.


Generally, however, there is a specific beat figure for each time signature . This is usually struck with the right hand and a baton . The ability to convey nuances of expression and phrasing through variable gestures is also an advantage. On the one hand, these nuances should be incorporated into the punching figures of the right hand; on the other hand, the left hand is used to indicate and clarify this through various gestures, regardless of the punching pattern of the right hand.


The conductor usually stands straight in front of the ensemble, on both feet and clearly visible to all, with his back to the audience area. If the conductor is not visible to all ensemble members, a podium is used. A high conducting chair is one way of conducting long rehearsals while sitting. However, it is only rarely used in concerts (e.g. by Sergiu Celibidache or James Levine in their last years); more often in the orchestra pit of the opera . In general, the conductor should be able to make eye contact with all members of the ensemble immediately if necessary and have sufficient freedom of movement.

Stroke plane

A prerequisite for conducting is observing the striking level to which all striking figures are related. If the beat level is unclear, the conducting becomes imprecise and the signal is correspondingly unclear to the ensemble. The beat level can be chosen individually by the conductor within certain limits, and it can change temporarily within a piece, for example due to a change in the dynamics or the orchestration .

Beginning, end, termination

The signal at the beginning of a piece is a beat before the first sound of the music, the point in time when the musicians involved. This beat determines the tempo, dynamics and character of the beginning music. It is called a preparatory strike and should generally be in a congruent temporal relationship to the striking speed of the subsequent striking figure or meter .

The end of a piece is marked by a discount . The hands with the forearms can be closed in front of the body in a counterclockwise circular motion. Alternatively, the arms are swung outwards after a similar circular movement, the hand closed into a fist after a circular movement above or in front of the head or something similar. For quiet conclusions, only the fingers are brought together. The precise time of the end is decisive. In the case of pieces that fade out quietly into silence or disappear into silence in theoretically infinite repetition, a decrescendo is displayed until the conductor is motionless.

A break in the middle of the piece during a rehearsal or the demand for rest is signaled by a raised, outward-facing palm or - by now antiquated - repeated hitting of the baton on the music stand.


The tempo is indicated by rhythmically identical conducting gestures ( percussion figures ), usually with the right hand; If required, they can be choreographed as you learn the score , or they can be spontaneous. The striking figures are in the service of the flow of tempo to be regulated. At the same time, they face spontaneous gestures (mostly the left hand), which, however, must be understood by the ensemble in order to be effective. The latter is mainly used by professional conductors. A gradual change in tempo is indicated by slowing down or speeding up stroke figures; if there is a sudden change in tempo, the tempo of the stroke figure must also change at the same time.

"It is not done with the beat, but with the complete mastery of the beat, conducting begins, the art, all expression, every linguistic nuance and many other things in the movement."


Ernst von Schuch conducts

Dynamics - or showing the volume - can be done in different ways. Dynamics can be indicated by the size of the impact figures: the larger the gestures used, the louder the sound should be. The reverse is also true. Change in the dynamics and transitions from one to the other are shown in particular by the hand not to display the clock is used. An upward movement (usually with the palm up) signals a crescendo ; a downward motion (usually palm down) indicates a diminuendo . However, changing the volume can inadvertently also lead to a change in the tempo, since with larger gestures the hands that perform the punching figures also have to cover a larger distance and with smaller gestures a shorter, faster path for the hands to be covered in the same time. In this respect, the stroke figures also have to adapt to the respective dynamics by changing the size of the stroke figure. Mastering this is part of learning how to conduct.

There are also other individual gestures that relate to dynamics. A palm of the hand that is held open at the top and does not hold the baton and / or beats the meter can indicate a crescendo or forte just as a palm that is held open at the bottom can indicate a diminuendo or piano . Sudden changes in dynamics (forte or piano) are indicated with the corresponding simultaneously changing conducting gestures (large or small). A hand pointing forward in front of the upper body with the open palm can call for or remind us of a sudden piano. For particularly intense and loud applications, some conductors have to jump or move almost their entire upper body in order to clearly distinguish the size of the movement from the previous gestures; conversely, they kneel and / or bend over to indicate a subtle dynamic.

Individual gestures and various combinations of the aforementioned are varied and almost inexhaustible. Each conductor chooses an option that is authentic and appropriate to the piece.


When a new instrument , a different section of the orchestra or a different vocal group begins to play or sing, a cue is usually required for those involved. Technically, this corresponds to a prelude . A mission takes place in order to signal to the participants after some pause the correct time of the mission and, if it is a group, to ensure that it takes place in absolute agreement and togetherness. A start must be given with great precision so that all musicians involved can start together. The clear focus on the musician or on the vocal group and an unmistakable gesture are just as necessary as a short signal at the beginning. Eye contact should be maintained. In the case of several assignments in short succession, eye contact or a glance in the approximate direction of the musician is usually sufficient. Larger musical events can require much more visible inputs.


The conducting gesture or the stroke of a percussion figure is characteristic of the articulation. The movement ranges from short and sharp, highly concentrated movements for a staccato to soft and carried arcs for a legato . Many conductors change the tension of the hands and arms: tense muscles and rigid, fast movements can stand for “ marcato ” (sharp, jerked articulation), while relaxed hands and arms and their gentle, flowing movements express legato or espressivo . Some conductors use all of their body tension for correct articulation . Since the articulation can change within a bar and thus within a percussion figure, the art of conducting sometimes consists in being able to constantly combine these different types of movement.


The phrasing is also shown on the hands by merging smaller and larger and slower and faster movements. At best, the conductor's gesture will show where a phrase is aiming, so that this intention can be implemented by the performing musician. A fermata (held sound) is indicated by the fact that the conducting movements stop. An open palm held upwards helps hold the sound and shows its duration.


The intonation is regulated by the tuning of the instruments before the rehearsal or concert. In the symphony orchestra it is the concertmaster's job to initiate the attunement; As a rule, this is done by specifying the concert pitch "a", which is usually between 435 and 445  Hz and is specified in the symphony orchestra by the instrument of the oboe . In the case of a cappella choral works, the first note or chord is specified by the conductor using a tuning fork before the concert .

During rehearsals, the conductor should have control over the intonation of the ensemble. For a successful rehearsal and performance work it is necessary that the conductor has a good, unmistakable hearing with which he can recognize and correct inaccuracies. The more precise his hearing, the more minutely he can intervene in the sound image and the sound design. Within the piece, the conductor can correct the intonation of individual musicians or vocal groups using hand signals pointing up or down.


The conductor's facial expressions , his gestures and his posture or body tension can also clarify the desired expression of a piece. A prior understanding of the content is sometimes useful in order to prevent any exaggeration, on the other hand, clear gestural, body language or facial communication during the rehearsal often saves the interruption and verbal instruction.

Conducting small and large ensembles

Chamber orchestra, string quartet and choir

In small, chamber music ensembles, the role of conductor can be taken over by one of the ensemble members. In the case of chamber orchestras in particular, this is done by the concertmaster and, in the case of a string quartet, by the first violinist, known as the primary violinist, who give signals to the ensemble while they are playing. There can also be a conductor within the ensemble for a cappella listening. For this rather suggested form of conducting, the musician remains in his place and communicates non-verbally with his colleagues via eye contact and reduced gestures , which should not be perceived by the audience. Smaller orchestras were still led by keyboard instruments in the 18th century . Clearer gestures were also used.

The conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim cultivates this custom on the piano particularly well when he performs piano concertos . Lorin Maazel liked to play in directing the violin , most recently in the Vienna New Year's Concert 2005 (solo voice in the prelude to the Tales from the Vienna Woods by Johann Strauss ).

"It's often better not to conduct at all, then at least you don't bother."

Large ensembles and opera

When leading a medium-sized ( symphony orchestra ) or very large group of musicians (orchestra with choir), a baton is used, which is mainly used to make small movements of the hand visible over a greater distance. In this case, the conductor stands clearly visible in front of the ensemble with his back to the audience, usually on a pedestal . An exception are military music and pageants , in which the orchestra or the band is in motion and the conductor marches with them.

In opera , the conductor takes on a double role: he leads the singers and choirs on the stage and the orchestra in the orchestra pit . It must be visible to everyone in order to always coordinate the interaction between the two levels and to be able to influence the design of the performance. The opera conductor has his back to the wall of the orchestra pit and has the orchestra and the stage in front of him. The fact that the musicians are spatially in motion on the stage as a result of the direction makes communication between the conductor and them more difficult. In this case, the movements of the conductor are also temporarily transmitted from monitors on the side of the stage and / or supported by a second conductor who takes over the movements of the first conductor from a monitor and passes them on as faithfully as possible. In some opera houses, the prompter also takes on this role, for example at the Metropolitan Opera in New York or at the Royal Stockholm State Opera .


Although it is also possible to conduct an ensemble as an amateur or without training, conducting has been a university course of four-year duration since the 19th century and is offered by most music colleges . Church musicians and school musicians also receive basic training in ensemble management.

In the German-speaking countries, university conductors are traditionally largely trained in front of a piano (or several). The piano should replace the great logistical effort of an orchestra and imitate its playing. The conducting student thus mainly learns his technical craft in front of the pianos, which in most cases are played by fellow students and teachers. Consequently, good piano playing is sometimes a prerequisite for studying conducting. However, since the piano cannot be compared with the instruments of the orchestra in several respects (sound, sound reaction), there is inevitably a discrepancy between piano and orchestral conducting for the conducting student. For final exams ( pre-diploma or diploma ), efforts are therefore made to provide the students with an orchestra for this purpose. In other countries, especially in the USA, attempts are being made to make an instrumental ensemble available to the students more regularly, in front of which they can then receive their lessons.

On the way of the layman training of the music associations and choirs - for example in the Federation of German Music Associations, in the German Choir Association etc. - it is possible to acquire a qualification as a conductor. This route also takes several years. It consists of a series of consecutive courses (C1 – C3 etc.) up to a qualification that corresponds to the old B degree of a university course. Otherwise it would not be possible to supply the broad base of amateur and amateur orchestras with conductors.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: conduct  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
  • Lee Humphries: What to think about when you conduct (in four parts: 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 )

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Duden online: conducting and conducting