Playing in a small group, I already know and use the gesture of pointing to my head to indicate "play the head" or "go back to the beginning".

If the ensemble is playing songs containing intro, verse, chorus and bridge sections, is there any widely understood set of gestures that mean "at the end of the current phrase, go to the chorus" or "at the end of the current phrase, go to the bridge" or "do verse 1 again".

I have seen some videos (Snarky Puppy) where the end of an extended solo is indicated by a raised fist, but there seems to be prior agreement about where the music will go to immediately afterwards.

  • 4
    Only circling an upward facing finger to indicate go round again, and either a cut throat or pat on the head meaning end the piece. In all the bands I've worked with, there are idiosyncratic signs, but nothing that seems to be universal.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:49
  • 2
    Jazz groups used to be comfortable with shouted commands ".. take another chorus, Gene!" YMMV Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 14:19
  • I have seen a C with the hand for the chorus, a shaking hand for instrumental, and other signals that were agreed beforehand to mean bridge, verse etc.
    – user30646
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 9:43
  • Unless you play piano or trumpet, both hands are usually pretty busy actually playing the instrument, so there's not a lot of time for complicated digital semaphore. Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 1:54

4 Answers 4

  • When it's time for a jazz tune to end, the bandleader may raise their index finger in the air which means "Play the melody one more time and then end."
  • In string bands, raising a foot means, "When you finish this time through the tune, end the tune or start the next tune in the medley."
  • If a group is playing a medley and a number of the members are playing the medley for the first time, the bandleader may show 3 fingers up which means the next tune has 3 sharps or 2 fingers down which means the next tune has 2 flats as @LaurencePayne says in his answer. The bandleader may then signal the changes to rest of the band using the number of fingers to signify the scale degree of the root of the chords.
  • In my band either the fiddler or the guitar player will signal tempo by moving the neck of their instrument. Side-to-side means "Go slower" and up-and-down means "Go faster."
  • If I'm sitting, then standing up means "Watch me." If we're doing a big splashy rock finish, I'll take a hop or jump off of a chair to signal the final "thump" of the ending.
  • Staring or pointing at a musician means "Take a solo". Rotating a hand towards the end of the solo means "Solo another time through."
  • Staring and nodding in time at the drummer means, "Go at this exact tempo."
  • In folk ensembles often a foot in the air means, "End at the end of this section."
  • In my band, me laughing means "I have totally screwed up. Cover me."
  • I don't get the changes signal with no. of fingers too well. What about quick changes - 2 or even 4 in a bar. That'd be nigh on impossible to show or follow! +1 though. Now I possibly know why so many of the bands I play in are laughing so much...
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 6:47
  • @Tim The hand signals are for the bare-bones chords, no passing chords. It's assumed that all musicians on the bandstand know the standard chord progressions so the signals are only for the tricky bits. I have seen two to the bar finger signals for tricky turnarounds, though.
    – empty
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 15:36

Generally, groups I've been in have very limited signals to go to a specific place in a piece. Those are:

  • Go to the top (tap head, point up)
  • Go to whatever part we agreed should follow the solo (closed fist or a particular musical phrase signals the end of the solo)
  • Go to another solo (nod at the new soloist or point)
  • Go to the coda (closed fist)
  • This is the last verse (closed fist)
  • Oops, we need to end this piece now! (very emphatic closed fist and desperate eye contact, with a wild hope that we all roughly land on the same chord :-) )
  • Do a turnaround (finger swirls around in air)
  • End the final note (instrument raises, fist closes, jump in air)

Depending on the situation, these can either be prearranged for a specific performance or just part of your group's everyday operations.

You can also use signals to make minor modifications to what you're playing. For example: once upon a time, in a drum section, we had signals to throw in one of a predetermined set of fills for a given piece. Those were simply indicated by number: 1, 2, 3, 4.


I have seen

  • a circular hand movement used to indicate a repeat
  • both hands palms forward to indicate stopping/end of song/silence
  • index fingers together, hands in a pyramid shape - softer/slower/legato (finger to the lips was also used on occasion, mostly for "softer/more quiet")

However, that was a conductor in front of a choir - a distinct person with his hands free. A small ensemble will be playing (hands busy, as Areel says) and I'm not sure you have one dedicated signaler.


As well as the 'stirring' gesture for 'keep going' there's the 'cut-throat' for 'end it!' Also the 'three fingers up' (three sharps, A major) 'two fingers down' (two flats, Bb major) etc. indications for a key change.

  • +1 for key signing. It seems to be so esoteric not enough - very few - people understand, therefore don't use it. Sadly. I asked a question a long time ago, about signing minor keys.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 16:00
  • @Tim In bands I've played in, minor key signing is from context, especially if the band leader is also signing the scale degrees of the chords the first time through.
    – empty
    Commented Aug 8, 2018 at 20:22
  • @pro - thanks. Maybe you can expand an answer to my earlier question. I'll try to ref. it.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 6:49
  • @pro - it's 'key signing using fingers'.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 11:10

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