39

There are several reason. The most basic would be “so that they could play together”. A symphonic orchestra is much bigger than a band, and being in perfect sync with the player at the other side of the stage or pit can be hard without visual cues. In smaller ensemble, such as a quartet, quintet, or even chamber orchestra, there might be no conductor or the ...


24

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 ...


19

Let me try to add to the excellent answers. In general: Your question is legit, but it can be readily explained with scale. Compare: "me and my brother built a doghouse yesterday - why building a skyscraper needs an architect and blueprints?" :) More in detail: The musicians are presumably professionals who have had much practice at this point, so why ...


18

There's a funny thing that happens when you look at more and more advanced orchestras. Across the board, the level of musicianship and technical skill increases among the players in the ensemble. This has a side effect in that more advanced orchestras need less and less information1 from the conductor in order to play together, in part because section ...


15

Traditionally, conductors of choirs will not conduct using a baton unless they are leading a full orchestra along with their choir, whereas conductors of orchestras and other large ensembles will use a baton. Using a baton is an additional skill; in programs of conducting pedagogy I've seen, all students will work with a baton in their first few semesters "...


8

In my experience as both ensemble member and conductor I believe that there is considerable benefit to separating the role of the conductor from the other musicians. During rehearsal, a conductor should focus all attention to the ensemble and helping them stay together, balance parts, etc... It takes considerable mental and physical effort to play an ...


8

Raise the stands! Seen it a zillion times. The music stands need to be set high enough that the conductor's upper body is visible just above the top edge of the music. That way they can read the music AND receive visual input from the conductor simultaneously. The problem with having to "look up" is then you get lost when you look down again.


8

A suggestion for an exercise: Select a short passage of music of say four bars that involve everyone and has room for some conducting work in terms of dynamic or tempo changes. Go through it until everyone can play it without looking at the music. Then have everyone look at you, while playing that passage over and over again. Each time you do something ...


8

Édouard gave the politically correct answer, but things are a bit more complicated. TL;DR During concerts the conductor does mostly more than necessary, most of his/her work takes place during rehearsals. Turns out, experienced orchestras (not an orchestra of experienced musicians, but an orchestra that has lots of experience playing as that same orchestra)...


8

If you look at the scores for Corelli's concerti grossi, for example, you can see that the concertino (soloists) and the tutti (full orchestra) each have their own basso continuo parts. These continuo parts mostly coincide, but sometimes differ. The reason for this arrangement is not known for certain, but it could have something to do with fullness of sound ...


8

Mirroring hands when conducting is, in my view, almost totally pointless. If your right hand is doing the job of indicating the beat how does doing the same thing with the left hand help at all? It doesn't; most of the time it adds nothing. What it could be doing is indicating other things - cueing as has been mentioned - which then adds to the control ...


7

The written notes actually miss a lot of information. If you would write down every little tempo change, every little accent, small and large scale rubato, microdynamics, articulations, etc. etc., the score would be impossible to read, and it would probably still miss something. What the composer writes down is just a skeleton of the piece and the most ...


7

First what makes a good conductor. Being a good conductor requires three things: a broad knowledge of music in general and music theory in particular, the mastering of musicality and, last but not the least, very strong management and organisational skills. I believe point 1 is obvious. A conductor must be able to look at the score and make it sound in his ...


7

If I were feeling inflammatory, I'd say that is because research level musicology has very little to do with actually playing music, and leave it there. But given that's not exactly fair, let's flesh the question out a bit more. Start with your first pair of assumptions. I'm not going to strongly disagree with 1, because I don't think it's highly relevant ...


6

The soloist should do all of those things. You don't necessarily have to look straight at the conductor though. Peripheral vision can be enough to see the movement of the hands and baton. If you just listen instead of watching too, there's a good chance you'll miss something and not be together with the ensemble. However, the conductor also needs to ...


6

There aren't any specific rules, conductors don't need to use a baton or in fact anything, but it makes it easier for the orchestra to see the conductor's movements. Especially for those musicians further back, it just gives a nice specific timing point.


6

In orchestral music, tempo often varies a lot, and it's much harder for a large group of players to speed up / slow down together than it is for them to just keep going at the same speed, so a single source of 'pulse' is useful here. Édouard mentioned the size of the orchestra making it hard to hear - one reason is that an orchestra pit can be 20 metres or ...


6

The conductor's job is to analyze the piece and figure out, to a very minute detail, how it should be played. He then has to communicate that in rehearsal through words and physicality (conducting patterns and gestures). The difficulty is in coming up with a good analysis, having a sharp ear to hear what the ensemble is doing, and being able to communicate ...


6

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). ...


5

When someone is following a conductor, the location of the ictus is not so important as the direction of movement of the tip. This is going to seem counterintuitive, but the direction of movement is consistent with both methods, and I've known conductors to switch back and forth with the ensemble only noticing when inspecting the video afterwards. Think ...


5

In addition to having eyes to see the conductor, most professional orchestra players have ears with which to hear one another, and, being able to win an orchestra audition, tend to be excellent musicians with a great sense of rhythm and time. To put it simply, if the orchestra is not in need of timing information from the conductor, the conductor is wasting ...


5

A conductor provides different things at different levels of musician skill. At the lowest level of skill, they keeps time and tempo for you. As you learn to keep your own time and tempo, they begins to provide dynamics. As you learn dynamics, they provides key cues. It is not uncommon to have a long pause followed by a sharp note in many instruments at ...


5

It looks like yes, regardless of your answer to my comment. From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conductorless_orchestra The East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) was envisioned in 2001, when a group of young string players sought to form a conductorless chamber orchestra, based upon democratic principles. The members are soloists, orchestral musicians, and ...


5

It seems to be presumed that once a tempo has been established, then that tempo continues. That is not the case in a lot of orchestral music. So a metronome just wouldn't hack it. One of the conductor's jobs is to keep up to a hundred players in time with each other, and often spread out, at that, so just listening to each other for tempo isn't the best. ...


4

The best way I've seen conductors solve this problem is by "changing it up" with their conducting. I've played in bands for a long time, and I've found nothing more effective. For example. In the middle of a piece, change the tempo. When a small percentage of the students actually catch what you're doing, they'll follow you. The others, when hearing that ...


4

I can't speak about CV advancement, but I would add the following to @Fabricio's list of what makes a good conductor: Knowledge of how all instruments work and are played, e.g. will two alto flutes playing in unison be heard above the viola section playing sul pont? Will it be different when the hall is full instead of empty? Experience with the mentality ...


4

"Beyond feel and experience"? Using a mathematical formula to create a ritard in music would not be beyond using instinct, but vice versa. It's nearly impossible to create an authentic ritard in computerized music because composers don't create ritards to slow down the music, but to create an emotional reaction in the audience. The rates of ritards depend on ...


4

"...is there a rule conductors use for ritardando in terms of (a) its rate, (b) its change in rate, and/or (c) the relationship between the final tempo and the tempo of the piece?" Not that I'm aware of. Such a rule would be of little value, because -- unless you're practicing with a drum machine, or other device that permits varying tempo -- there's ...


4

Conductors are not actually required; there is a long history of conductorless orchestras. However, having a conductor is certainly useful for the reasons stated in the other answers. It's also worth noting that the conductor often has a leadership and training role in the orchestra -- so it's a bit like asking "why does a basketball team need a coach?" As ...


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