Video transcript
@The Arts Unit Art Bites – Choral singing tips – 07. Basic arm waving

Back to video

[music playing]

IAN JEFFERSON: Today, I'm going to talk to you about basic arm waving, AKA how to conduct basic time signatures. And this is aimed for teachers of the school choirs. Before I begin, let me say that waving your arms around correctly means nothing if the performers don't respond. For example

CHILDREN: (SINGING) Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh, oh the fields we go, laughing all the way.

Cause I'd get a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs as they try to teach me how to dance. A foxtrot above my head. A sock hop beneath my bed. A disco ball is just hanging by a thread. I'd like to make myself believe.

IAN JEFFERSON: Woah, Here is a renowned clip of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.

[music playing]

Some refer to this as eyebrow conducting, but he's not really conducting at all. Presumably, Lenny and the orchestra have sorted out everything they're going to sort out at the rehearsals. For the performance, the orchestra members are listening to one another and playing with passion, while Bernstein stands there listening and enjoying, not getting in the way.

JERRY SEINFELD: I tell ya, I never really understood the importance of the conductor. I mean, between you and me, what the hell is this guy doing? I mean, do you really need somebody waving a stick in your face to play the violin? Does that really help you out?

IAN JEFFERSON: Obviously, rehearsing your choir is what conducting is mostly about. Teaching the piece, keeping the students enthused and engaged, ensuring the music is full of vitality, and at the same time, as much beauty as possible. Singing engages the whole body and, in particular, the face with emotions communicated by the choir through their singing of lyrics. This means choral conducting requires an emphasis on facially animated conducting, not just your hands.

Don't save your smiles for the performances. It can freak the choir out if they've never seen you crack a smile before. And it can look a bit manic. Your role is to give performers a sense of confidence. And you can do this by being calm and clear, as well as being encouraging and passionate.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube giving instructions on how to beat time. But I will share my beginner tips for conducting patterns of four of the most common time signatures- four four, three four, six eight, and two two. Step number one, get a music stand. Don't try and hold onto your music and conduct with the other hand. It doesn't work.

Conduct with your right hand. You don't need a baton if you're conducting a choir. Put that away. And with your left hand, just keep that at your side for now. Keep it out of the mix. In today's video, I will be using reverse cam so that you can mirror my conducting patterns with your right hand.

For choral conducting, keep your palm fairly flat or in a cup shape to encourage the choir to make an open sound inside their mouth. Whatever you do, don't splay your fingers. It looks sloppy and wishy-washy. Keep a straight line from your elbow to your fingers. Don't be too wristy. That's my Achilles heel.

Keep your conducting box small in front of your chest. So let's say here with a clear idea of where the ictus is. The ictus is an imaginary point in the space in front of you where you pulse the beats.

Imagine you can see the ictus, and practise bouncing or pulsing your hand on this imaginary line. Don't let your hands skate and slide. It should bounce off it. Bounce, rather than this. No. Yes. Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce.

Beating time clearly allows your choir to sense the pulse and helps them to sing rhythmically and to stay together. The reality is that many of you will be conducting with a prerecorded accompaniment track. So staying in time with that external sound source is critical. Although, you should never think of yourself as just conducting along. There must be this sense that you are in charge of proceedings, that you are leading the way.

The majority of pop songs are written in four four, four crotchet beats to the bar. However, in choral repertoire written for treble voices, four four doesn't dominate quite so much. But still, it's a great place to start when it comes to arm waving.

So I'm on reverse cam. So remember, use your right hand. Mirror me. Get my tempo at crotchet equals eight eight. So mirror me. Here we go. And out and down, across, out, and one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, down, across, out and.

Let's try it even slower. Listening for a wood block pulsing out each beat, a bass drum on the first beat of each bar, and the sound of a shaker subdividing each beat into quavers. Let's go.


Two, three, four. One.

[music - 'Loch Lomond']

Loch Lomond, where me and my true love wherever want to gae. On the bonnie.

Three four, sometimes called Waltz time, is similar to four four, only with one beat fewer per bar. The pulse is and down, out, and down, out. And one, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.

Let's try this even faster at 124 beats per minute. Here we go.


One, two, three.

[music - 'Botany Bay']

Singing too-ral-li, oo-ral-li, addity. And we're bound for Botany Bay.

Six eight can be tricky depending on the speed of the piece. But let's assume the piece is faster, where we pulse two beats per bar, while in our head subdividing into three quavers per beat.

[metronome] So we conduct like this. And down, up, down, up, one, two, one, two. In our heads thinking, one-and-a-two, and-a-one-and-a-two, and-a-one-and-a-two, and-a-one-and-a-two.

Let's speed it up to 112 beats per minute. And [metronome]

[music - 'Flash Jack']

I can do a respectable tally me self whenever I like to try. And they know me 'round the country as Flash Jack from Gundagai.

Two two, or cut common, has two minimum beats to the bar. When you look at a bar of two two, you might think to yourself, that looks like four four. But the pulse is a little bit different. Instead of one, two, three, four, two, two, three, four. Two two is often a little bit faster. And the pulse is one, two, one, two, one, two.

And you often use this Om-Cha, Om-Cha showbizy type songs, or half-time rock feels. Anyway, to the conducting. It's similar to six eight. It has the same two beat conducting pattern. And down, up, down, up, one, two, one, two.

But in your head, instead of having three quavers, ya da dit dat dat dat da da da, you imagine four crotches- chat chat chat chat chat chat chat chat chat chat chat chat. Let's speed it up to 112 BPM again. And [metronome]

[music - 'Lime Iuice Tub']

When shearing comes lay down your drums. Step on the board you brand new chums with a ra-rum ra-rum rub-a-dub-dub. We'll send you home in a lime juice tub.

The great thing about practicing your conducting is that if you can imagine the music in your head, you could practise it while you're driving along. You might practise it while you're doing the washing up, for example, or even having your breakfast and discovering something exciting. Cleaning the gutters, or even brushing your teeth, or taking out the garbage.

Today, I only really covered the four most common conducting patterns you will come across in choral repertoire for treble voices. And so, for beginners, I would suggest to you to keep it simple, rather than doing a lot of complicated and distracting stuff. But the old adage is if your choir is sounding great, and everyone's having a good time, then what you're doing should be fine. So just keep doing what you're doing. And remember, keep singing.

[music playing]

End of transcript