I play soprano cornet in a British brass band. The ensemble is seated so that if the conductor spreads his hands as wide as he can, his left hand points at me and his right hand points at principal trombone, over on the other side of the band. I struggle to read beatings sometimes because, from where I'm seated, although there's a clear vertical component, there's little or no horizontal component to the beat - the stick moves closer/further rather than left/right.

There would be no issue if I could see the conductor face on rather than from the side, but the conductor cannot face everyone simultaneously - if he turns to face me, he'll have his back to the trombones.

This is not an issue in pieces with regular bar lengths, but it is in heavily syncopated rhythms or where bar lengths change from bar to bar.

Are there any suggestions that might help me read the conductor more reliably?


Talk to the conductor about the problem - but don't waste everyone else's rehearsal time on this, start the conversation before or after the main rehearsal!

IMO every "beat" should have some up-and-down movement, even if the main movement is from side to side. The size of the up-and-down movements depends on the ensemble you are conducting - a 120-piece orchestra plus a 500-voice choir obviously need bigger gestures than a 5-instrument chamber group!

If your conductor is "self-taught" or inexperienced you might want to gently point them at some tutorial videos on YouTube, which will explain some basic ideas like the "conducting window" (the space within which you make all your conducting gestures) and the "conducting plane" - an imaginary horizontal plane at the base of the "window", which every beat should touch to define the exact timing of the ictus of the beat.

If the problem is simply that the conductor's left hand is blocking your view of the "conducting plane", that may be easier to solve - if the conductor doesn't want to change his/her style, just change the height of the podium!

  • It would be a very rare conductor who would consider, and not be offended by, suggestions from someone in the ensemble. I don't know why, but that's what I've noticed over the years. Oct 27 '17 at 13:35

I have played with several conductors where there is no horizontal component to the conducting pattern. The only way to tell beat one of the measure is to look for a slight exaggeration of the first down beat of the measure.


The root cause of this problem, of course, is that the podium should be set closer to the audience by a few feet so that you can get at least a glimpse of the transverse motions. However, sadly, this is not possible in many performance venues.
To some extent you'll learn to pick up visual cues after a while; and as alephzero suggests a good conductor should be using more than just his hand(s) to indicate beat and tempo. In addition, as you get more experience, you won't need to see all the beats (consider that some orchestras are sans conductor entirely). The difference between a metronome and a (good) conductor is all the other body motions, facial expressions, etc. which indicate dynamics, phrasing, timbre, and so on.

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