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Can I get an illustration on how a choir master can conduct a piece of music written in 6/8 time? Thanks.

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Since 6/8 is essentially two time, down up works just fine. Each movement will encompass three quavers, so instead of counting 1 2 3 4 5 6, the count will be 1(2 3) 2(2 3).

If it's incredibly slow, there could be an opportunity to count two lots of three, but that would be unusual.

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  • Also if it’s fast enough it could be conducted in one. Dec 4 '20 at 21:17
  • @ToddWilcox - condutors can't conduct in one, I believe. Their hand/arm needs to return to the top of the beat before the next downstroke! So isn't that two..?
    – Tim
    Dec 5 '20 at 10:36
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    The difference between conducting in one and in two is that in two, the hand or point of the baton crosses the imaginary line twice - once on the down stroke and again on the up stroke, and there’s usually a kind of bounce or pause at the bottom. In one is more of a continuous motion and the beat is at the bottom of the stroke. There’s a video of Leonard Bernstein demonstrating it on YouTube. Fast waltzes like the Blue Danube are often conducted in one. Dec 5 '20 at 13:26
  • @ToddWilcox - ah, that's what I envisaged when I wrote down up. Down = 1st beat, up = 2nd. So each bar used two movements, down, then up. So the last 'beat is an upbeat/upstroke, just like in 3/4 and 4/4 time.
    – Tim
    Dec 5 '20 at 13:30
  • Conducting in two and conducting in one are two different things. Maybe I’ll find a link for you to look at later today. Conducting is based on a horizontal beat line. Each time the baton hits or crosses the line is a beat. In one the baton only touches the line once per measure and then goes back up. In two the baton hits the line on the downbeat and crosses it again on the upbeat. Dec 5 '20 at 13:31
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In conducting course I attended, we were taught four patterns. It depends on tempo and which beats are stressed.

  1. If the tempo is fast and 1st and 4th beats are stressed, you conduct like 2/4 (on the stressed beats).
  2. If the tempo is fast and 1st, 3rd and 5th beats are stressed, you conduct like 3/4 (on the stressed beats).
  3. If the tempo is slow and 1st and 4th beats are stressed, you conduct every beat in this way: down (and outside), inside, inside, outside, outside, up.
  4. If the tempo is slow and 1st, 3rd and 5th beats are stressed, you conduct every beat in this way: down (and inside), inside, outside, outside, inside (and slightly up), up. (It is like 3/4, but you make two beats in one direction.)

Of course, there are also different patterns, but for rare situations.

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  • Isn't 6/8 time where the 1st, 3rd, and 5th beats are emphasized really 3/4 time?
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 5 '20 at 16:10
  • I second this. If it isn't in two, it isn't 6/8.
    – Max
    Dec 6 '20 at 5:10
  • @Dekkadeci Yes and no. Similarily I could ask, If 6/8 with 1st and 4th beats emphasised isn't really 2/4 with triplets. I assume you speak about fast tempo, because in slow tempo, 3/4 and 6/8 are different things. If you conduct 6/8, it often happens that some beats are 1,4-emphasised and some 1,3,5-empasised. Consider main theme of America from West Side Story (youtu.be/JioV6kI316I?t=59). It is fast tempo and the stresses are constantly moving. You would conduct odd measures with the first pattern and even measures with the second pattern.
    – Vit Henych
    Dec 6 '20 at 7:20
  • @VitHenych - "America" from West Side Story was probably always going to be a tough one to notate and conduct. If I'm not concerned with bringing out accents, I'd probably conduct strictly according to the sheet music. This often means not changing conducting patterns. (I've seen other questionably notated ensemble sheet music such as Michael Markowski's Shadow Rituals. That one has several measures notated as alternating 4/4 and 3/4 time that all recordings play as 7/8 time instead.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 6 '20 at 15:12
  • @VitHenych - Regarding your "Similarily I could ask, If 6/8 with 1st and 4th beats emphasised isn't really 2/4 with triplets.", you could very well be right - I've actually seen the same music notated both ways, and in those cases, I'd truly play both of them the same way and not strongly question either notation upon listening to recordings. This is unlike "6/8 time" with beats 1, 3, and 5 emphasized - keep those beats emphasized for too many measures in a row and I'm likely to leave a comment on your piece asking you to re-notate the excerpt in 3/4 time.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 6 '20 at 15:19
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In concert band, I've seen slow 6/8 time - or slow 6/4 time - conducted like 4/4 time, except with an extra flick of the hand at Beats "2" and "3" of the 4/4 conducting pattern. The conducting pattern for slow 6/8 time therefore looks like this from your point of view:

Down -> Left -> Flick -> Right -> Flick -> Up

Fast 6/8 ended up getting conducted like 2/4 time, except with the "upstrokes" of 2/4 time being transferred to beats 3 and 6 of 6/8 time.

I have no reason to believe that choir masters conduct differently, especially since I've also been in 2 school choirs.

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  • If anything, from my experience, choir masters conduct less often than concert band conductors.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 6 '20 at 15:28

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