This is my first post on the site! I'm 15, a pianist, and have been interesting in conducting for a long time. I know quite a bit about it, I bought a book on it, have a few batons, a favourite conductor, have been to quite a few concerts mainly to watch the conductor. I even had a conducting teacher briefly, until my family had to move to somewhere where you could definitely not find a conducting teacher except at the conservatory I take lessons (which I haven't been able to attend for a long time due to having to focus towards college applications).

I guess the main question is, how do you practice conducting itself? I usually can set up a plan to tackle things when practising piano, but how do I do that with conducting? With my conducting teacher, he'd give me explicit instructions as to what and how to practice, so on my own I feel a bit lost. :( I'd very much appreciate any suggestions or tips :)

4 Answers 4


Probably the hardest job in an orchestra, but made to look so simple on the night!It's a bit ( lot) more than waving a stick around - when one conductor lost his baton, just about every violinist there offered him theirs!

You need to be conversant with each and every instrument and their foibles.

You need to be able to sight-read in the many transposing keys you'll find.

You need to be able to keep very good time.

You need to communicate clearly, often without using words.

You need to be able to look up from the score, and not lose your place in it.

To achieve some of these skills - there are plenty more - get hold of some instruments, and have at least a few lessons on each.

Start with small ensembles - quartets is a good place, and try to conduct in different ways - following the dots, but also putting your own dynamics etc. If the players follow faithfully, you know they're at least taking notice. Rather than you following them!

It's all very well pretending with youtube videos, but you're not actually conducting actively. More passively. Ask for a crescendo somewhere - is the orchestra going to respond? Of course not! However, it's good practice for reading the score - a few bars ahead of course - and getting used to looking away and finding your place again.

If you have scores - and they're not cheap - mark things like dynamics, repeats for certain parts, and such like, so you know exactly where each player should be.

Keep an ear on the tuning. Sometimes a section or an individual may be slightly off. If they are unaware, it's your job to sort out. Listening and looking at an ensemble, you should be able to hear and see which one plays a note too long, too short, to loud.

As a piano player, form a piano quartet and conduct from the piano, bringing in the players as needed, reading not only the piano part but the whole score. Start small and grow gradually. Good luck!

EDIT: almost forgot an important point - attend as many rehearsals as you can, as a spectator. (I used to enjoy listening to the rehearsals more than the concerts when at college), And take scores with you to any concerts .

  • 1
    Unless you're working with a low-level orchestra (think average high-school, perhaps), you don't need to do a lot of telling the players they are playing the wrong note. So sight-transposing is not all that important, compared with understanding which are the leading voice(s), what the competing rhythms are, etc. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 12:44
  • A great advantage young musicians have today: most older scores are available in the imslp.org/wiki/Hauptseite for free. @carl: the problem will be that you don't get a job as conductor of a high school orchestra if you don't have the skill of reading full scores. Of course no one will need be able of sight reading as every rehearsal has to be prepared a long time carefully. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 13:02
  • Great answer! Although I thought most conductors' sheet music has their transposing instruments all in concert pitch for that very reason?
    – user45266
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 14:52
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    @user45266 - no. Each transposing instrument in scores I've seen has their parts written in the key they look at on their own charts. Whilst maybe confusing to new conductors, it has the advantage in rehearsals that the conductor can speak to each 'in their own language', without having to re-transpose.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 15:02
  • @Tim SATB choir can also be a good place to start, and sometimes easier to find than a quartet. Also means you don't have to transpose while learning all of the other skills. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 15:05

As you probably already know, conducting involves a lot of different skills. An old axiom used to say:

"Seeing with the ear, and hearing with the eye."

To accomplish this you need to master music theory concepts like transposition and reading tenor and alto clefs. I would personally say the most important skill is sight reading. You cans start with Haydn quartets to score read, as well as choral music. Later you can add transposing instruments such as horns, clarinets and trumpets. As you add more instruments, your target is knowing what's going on in the entire orchestra. Knowing where to look and what to hear.

A very good practicing exercise would be listening to many different recordings of various kinds of music — orchestral, choral, band, what have you, from all style periods — while following along in the score and making note of any points of interest. Then, practice "air conducting", try to anticipate what the musicians in front of you would ask you while playing, and how you can answer in the clearest way possible without speaking. Watch videos of great conductors and see how they do it, comparing and contrasting different conductors leading the same music.

These are some skills you can practice without actually being in front of someone playing but at some point you will have to find a way to really conduct and that's a matter of where you live, how much time you have and so on.

An example I could give you: in Italy, where I live, every single catholic church has a chorus, some of the small ones would really appreciate a helping during weekly rehearsals. It's not an orchestra but being able to recognize the dynamics of every voice and how to tie them all together is something you can practice for an entire life.

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    That idea of becoming a volunteer choir leader/conductor or even setting up a small choir is excellent. It is easier to find a body of people who can sing than and equal number of musicians who can play. Commented Mar 25, 2019 at 9:15

I guess the main question is, how do you practice conducting itself?

The best way to practice conducting is to play in an orchestra and to study the conductor there. So it will be even better to play in several orchestras and observe different conducturs, study their way of working and the aspects I'm going to tell you. (My answer will maybe get comments like: "This is not answering OP's question." But I don't mind as it will help you more than find the best teacher or the best youtube video like you won't be the best conductor because you have more sticks.

Of course you can "practise conducting itself" counting the times and the beats, practising the mouvements and studying full scores, reading keys and analysing chords. But some important abilities of a concuctor you can't "practise itself."

They way of becoming a conductor is a long way and leads through many stones to stumble. First you have to be a good musician, soloist or composer. If you are a star the chance will be bigger that you will find an orchestra that will follow you or engage you.

Don't forget that all musicians you want to conduct in your dreams are probably better than you. So you don't need only an immence competence in practice of playing an instrument and music theory besides the knowledge of conducting:

One of the most important things you need is social competence to work with musicians who play on a higher level on their instruments than you: Selfconfidence, leadership, management, communication competence, psychology, a lot of abilities that you don't learn in a conservatory and not by beeing taught but only by practice.

So you have to start with small groups - as Tim mentioned - and amateur ensembles and amateur choirs. As a pianist you could also start as a co-repetitor or deputy bandmaster. Be honest and tell them that you don't plan to be their conductor for a lifetime and mind too that it will be hard to leave them for your personal career as to be conductor of an ensemble is always like a good marriage or partnership. Perhaps you don't get a job, but may be they will estimate you for beeing honest and respect you as you tell them that you have a bigger plan for your future.


As I'm sure you know, conducting isn't just about waving a stick to indicate rhythm, speed and loudness. The orchestra is your instrument and you have to press the right 'keys' at the right time.

Memorise the standard layout of a classical orchestra. Put down a miniature stage with cushions for each section. Practise cuing in each section as it is required. This is particularly important for instruments that only play sporadically. It is difficult enough coming in on the right note for some of them (for example French Horn who can easily 'split' the note) without them having to worry whether they have counted 48 bars correctly. By cuing each lead you will give your musicians confidence and they will respect you. Remember it is their job to play their part but it is your job to know everyone's part and how they all fit together.

Get the full score, mark it in pencil to say what you want the orchestra to do at any given point. Read through each part silently (or humming to yourself) and see if you can imagine the sound in your head - including the required tone and volume variations.

Read up about each instrument. It is important to be sympathetic about what is easy or difficult for them. This is especially true for an amateur orchestra. You should have a basic working knowledge. E.g. you should know about problems with reeds on an oboe and the difference in sounds between difference in hardness of reeds on a clarinet. This is easily done by going online and searching for terms like 'trombone forum' or 'violin problem'. Look on this Stack Exchange and search for questions about each instrument. You will learn a huge amount both from the question and the answers.

These days you have the fantastic advantage of YouTube. You can 'conduct' a piece while reading the score and listening to the online orchestra. Don't look at the screen - Again you can use cushions to represent the various sections and conduct them.

Finally (YouTube again), just search for "conducting an orchestra" and you will find online examples and instruction.

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