How does the baton move up and down and at a curve to determine the time signature? What are the different movement patterns for 2/2, 3/2, 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 time?

3 Answers 3


What you're looking for are what we call conducting patterns. A quick Internet search for that term should provide you with everything that you're looking for (and will supplement any remaining questions you may have left over).

There are different philosophies about conducting patterns, but they're really all variations on the same theme; I give two variations below. The main differences between the two diagrams provided are fluidity and the placement of the final beat of the measure. (Notice how in the bottom example the first and last beat of each measure is shown in the same place.)

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For what it's worth, I would recommend the uppermost example; the fluidity between the beats is suited for much more music than the drum-major approach shown in the bottom example.

The dots show what we call the ictus, or the beat itself. Practice conducting these patterns with a metronome and try to have the tip of your baton at these points every beat.

I should also say that these patterns assume that you are conducting with your right hand. If you prefer to conduct with your left hand, just mirror these diagrams. In other words, the right-hand side of the above diagrams should be understood as "away from the body." Whereas beat 2 of 3/4 moves away from your body, beat 2 of 4/4 moves towards your body.

2/2 and 2/4 will be conducted like the 2/4 examples above, 3/2 and 3/4 will be conducted like 3/4, and 4/4 will (obviously) be conducted as 4/4.

  • While there is no difference in patterns between 3/4, 3/8 and 3/2 (all share three beats) it may be worth to note, that alla breve (also known under cut time) effectively halves the number of beats, so 4/4 gets only two beats.
    – guidot
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 7:08
  • @guidot was about to make the same comment on alla breve (although I did not know the name, thanks). In speedier pieces, conductors will often cut in half their patterns (e.g. conduct "in twos" in a 4/4 section).
    – ApplePie
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 10:55

Conducting can go up to 7's, 9's and even 11's. It can sometimes fall to a conductor to conduct in more than one time signature at the same time. So it can be necessary for a conductor to get creative. There are, however, a number of set rules:

  • The first beat is always the baton (or hand) moving down from its highest position (also known as the down beat).
  • The last beat in the bar is always up to the highest position (this is known as the up beat).
  • The beat before the up beat is always a movement away from the conductor's body. Usually further out than other beats to signal that the up beat is about to happen.
  • +1 from me for the clearest statement yet of "just one downbeat per bar". I have a very nice conductor who insists on doing slow 6/8 as two bars of three, and it's deeply disconcerting.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 7:53
  • @MadHatter That does sound tricky. Although I can see how they'd get there, if folks are playing every quaver and it's falling apart if he doesn't mark it.
    – AJFaraday
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 8:24
  • 1
    I'm certainly not arguing against marking every quaver, just against two lots of three with a supernumary downbeat. Down-left-left-right-right-up works best for me, as a player.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jul 24, 2018 at 8:41

2 beats in a bar is Down - Up.

3 beats is Down - Out (away from your body) - Up

4 beats is Down - Across - Out - Up

You can 'bounce' each one to sub-divide the beats, if appropriate.

The most important thing is to make it clear where One is.

When starting a piece, it is vital to give at least one clear, decisive, in-tempo beat BEFORE the beat with the first note.

  • Never understood how a whole orchestra can come in, in time after one beat, whereas a band needs one, more often two whole bars counted.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 7:45
  • 2
    @Tim I would speculate that when you're looking at a moving hand or baton, you can infer the tempo from a fraction of the movement, whereas a few hits with drumsticks rely more on the actual beats to get the tempo across.
    – JAD
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 7:59
  • 6
    @Tim a band can come in in time after one beat, it's just that few of them are ever given the chance.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 10:03
  • I would bet that a lot of bands are amateurs whereas orchestras have more seasoned musicians, capable of better following the conductor.
    – ApplePie
    Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 10:56
  • @Tim If you listen closely to "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin, you can hear the drummer, John Bonham, bringing the whole band back in after each tacet section with a single click of his drumsticks. At least Jimmy Page (the guitarist) had to use only the sound of that click to come in on his overdubs, since there are at least three simultaneous guitar parts. John Paul Jones (the bassist) may have recorded his bass part at the same time as the drums so he might have had the added benefit of eye contact and visual cues to time each re-entry. Commented Jul 23, 2018 at 16:17

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