We expect the downbeat to be signified with exactly that from a conductor - a downstroke of the baton. With 3/4 and 4/4, and often 6/8, that's pretty straightforward to achieve, with a maximum of 4 distinct movements from the conductor.

But what about more complex time signatures. It's been a long, long time since I watched Mars, in 5/4 for example, so am asking how would that be conducted? Is there an 'industry standard'?

  • I don’t think there’s one answer. Sometimes there are multiple downbeats conducted per measure. Other times the macro structure will be conducted only. Also of course different ensemble types have different standard conducting styles. Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 18:14

2 Answers 2


There'll be a downbeat on 'One' and (more importantly) an upbeat preceding it on 'Five'. In-between, whatever, though there's generally an 'out, up' on '4,5', increasingly pronounced as the music gets 'bigger'.

Here's a couple of random YouTube hits. What I found interesting was different conductors' choice of preparatory beats at the very start. 'Mars' pretty clearly sets off in a 3+2 grouping, so Andrew Lytton's two-beat preparation seems logical.

Susanna Mälkki gives three. Well, OK... Either way, it's quite clear where the music starts.


It depends on how fast it is. If it's fast, you can't conduct all five or seven beats. A little slower, where it's possible to conduct them, you still might not want to. In these cases, you typically conduct 5 in a 2 pattern, with one beat being 50% longer than the other. In 7, you similarly use a 3 pattern with one beat being 50% longer than the other two.

For slower speeds where you do want to indicate five or seven beats in each measure, you typically conduct a subdivided 2 or 3 pattern, just as 6/4 can be thought of as a two pattern with each beat subdivided in three, or 3/2, when conducted "in 6" typically uses a 3 pattern with each beat subdivided in two.

Thus the 5 pattern becomes down-in-out-out-up for 2+3 and down-in-in-out-up for 3+2. Similarly, the 7 pattern is down-in-in-out-out-(more)out-up, down-in-out-out-out-(more)out-up, or down-in-out-out-(more)out-out-up.

Thanks to Chris Strickland for some visual aids:


seven-beat patterns

The "subdivided upbeat" patterns (b and c in the image) are standard, but I did not mention them because I find them awkward and misleading. They result in a large upward motion that doesn't serve as the preparation for a downbeat, and they leave the baton in too high a position to be able to give an appropriate preparation for the downbeat.

  • I had conducting class, and that's about it. I have "conducted" a few groups of varying complexity since then but I've always had my hands full of guitar or bass or trombone. We had a book of patterns, which seem similar to what you describe and they were similar to these (5/4 is at the bottom): [classicfm.com/artists/marin-alsop/guides/…. The 7s were similar to these, although there are clearly more options: [encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/… Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 11:28
  • @ChrisStrickland "more options" indeed. I find that patterns are more important for the conductor than the ensemble, most of whom don't pay much attention to anything more than the downbeat. Thanks for those links; I don't remember whether I ever even had a conducting textbook, and I didn't find any decent resources from a quick search. The square brackets broke the links, though; I'll fix them and add them to the answer. I don't use the "subdivided upbeat" patterns because they lack the desirable (critical?) property that the preparation for the downbeat is the largest upward motion.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 11:37
  • Didn't realize about the links. I think you're right about the ensemble, but sometimes the pattern can be helpful in initial rehearsal to communicate expectation. Yes, patterns can quickly get cumbersome at fast tempi, and in my experience the more beats per measure the more likely that it's going to be a compound meter and the individual beats too quick to conduct. Also a no to the subdivided upbeats. We were taught big downbeat in the middle, and big upbeat directly to the right of the middle and all strokes should touch (or approach) the horizontal plane, regardless of how you group. Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 12:00
  • @ChrisStrickland "cumbersome at fast tempi": this is why you conduct fast 5 or 7 as 2 or 3 with one beat being 50% longer (or again there are other possibilities for unequal beats as seen in music.stackexchange.com/q/125340/2257). My main point about details of specific patterns though is that 99% won't notice (and those on either side can't even see) whether a given beat is left, right, center, or what have you. For the most part the pattern helps the conductor keep track; the players are more helped by relative sizes of beats than their location.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 12:16
  • 1
    @ChrisStrickland I know. I just wanted to connect the "cumbersome" observation back to the beginning of this answer and to try to clarify what I meant about patterns -- or rather certain details of the patterns -- being less significant to players than many people seem to think.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 17:09

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