CCSF MUS27A Symposium musician with his seven-stringed lyre beside the fluted column of a building, ca. 460 b.c.  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology (c) Instructor: Larry Ferrara  
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Music Appreciation
Week 11




A conductor must stand in front of an orchestra or other large body of musicians to coordinate and direct a musical performance. He or she must provide a steady and musical pulse (with the right hand) as well as choose and hold an appropriate tempo.. Also they must visually illustrate dynamics, expression markings and cue musicians when their entrance is required (with the left hand), provide the imagination and inspiration for the players, secure an artistic interpretation, one that attempts to re-create the music as it existed in the composer’s mind and at the same time in the mind of the conductor. Finally they must balance the parts and be responsible for each instruments accurate delivery, intonation., articulation, clarity and in the end lead an organization of musicians to a unified execution of music.

The leading of an orchestra or other large body of musician is done by using visible gestures which include the use and maintenance of certain beat patterns, employing body motion and physical signals that tell the musicians what to do. They usually have a thin tapered stick or baton, they see and listen very carefully to all that is going around them and then visibly react to it.

The conductor must prepare the orchestra or other large body of musicians during rehearsals. They must read all the parts of the musical score simultaneously and have a knowledge of harmony, counterpoint, orchestration and a familiarity with all styles and practices from the past. The conductor must have some acquaintance with the playing techniques of all the instruments of the orchestra. Conducting is one of the most difficult and most rewarding of all musical activities.

Photo of a Conductor

The conductor is someone who directs and coordinates any large ensemble such as an orchestra, chorus, opera or musical.


There are many responsibilities of a conductor some are listed below:

  Keep all the musicians together by establishing and maintaining
a steady musical beat and an appropriate tempo.

 Form an interpretation by conveying to the musicians what the composer
is trying to say.

 Cue the musicians by glancing or pointing in their direction when
it's their turn to play.

 Catch any mistakes in pitch, rhythm, or dynamics and correct them respectfully.

 Balance the parts so important melodies are heard easily.

 Provide inspiration, enthusiasm and musical imagination to the players.

Photo of a Conductor


The above responsibilities are achieved by the following techniques:

  Beat time with a baton. (Choral conductors use their hands).

 Communicate where the phrasing, dynamics and articulations go by visually
illustrating them with the left hand.

 Study and learn many measures and pages of a musical score.

 Rehearse many musicians so the parts are balanced and correctly delivered.

 Isolate and work on any tricky spots that may be causing difficulty.

 Know something about all the instruments so he or she can intelligently make
suggestions about how the musical parts should be rendered.

 Use eye contact, leadership and body gestures that will communicate a musical
and meaningful performance.

Concert  Mitraille, illustration by J.-J. Grandvilles.

Concert Mitraille, illustration by J.-J. Grandvilles.


Before the performance, the conductor:

  Plans the upcoming season: chooses music, soloists etc.

 Develops and then portrays to the ensemble an artistic vision of each work
to be performed for the season.

 Portrays his or her vision to the ensemble.


During the performance (and in rehearsal), the conductor must synchronize and implement the following:



 Rubato or variations within tempo (eg. fermatas: pauses, flexible beat, etc.)

 Articulation: (staccato, legato, etc.)

 Ornamentation (stylistic embellishment when appropriate)

 Queuing of the entrances in different parts for soloists and ensemble.

 Cut-offs and endings to phrases and when to end a phrase.





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