Choral Conducting Suggestions


By Rev. Larry Ellis

These suggestions are drawn from the author’s reading, teachers, friends, fellow choral directors and his own personal experiences. If you have additional suggestions, please contact him directly.


  1. The less you say about how to sing an anthem, the better. You should communicate with your conducting. People’s time is valuable and so is rehearsal time. Keep your remarks succinct!
  2. There is no such thing as a conductor solo. The less movement the better as long as you get the sound you desire from the singers.
  3. There should be no motion that detracts from the singers.
  4. Rehearse the problem areas first. Don't let things slide during rehearsal.
  5. Move through short sections and then alternate with another piece rather than drill relentlessly front to back through the music.
  6. It is often smart to learn the last part of a piece first because in performances the choir moves to more familiar sections as it progresses toward the end.
  7. Know what you want to do, do it, then stop it. There is a tendency to overdo what we do well.
  8. Never apologize for what your are doing, if you have prepared. Always prepare for rehearsal.
  9. In preparation for the rehearsal mark up your scores. Note dynamics, melody, unison or doubled parts, key changes, meter changes, entrances and cut-offs, anticipate problem areas for pitch and rhythm. Mark where you expect each section to breathe.
  10. Anything longer than a quarter note need either a crescendo or decrescendo. Put the emphasis on the right syllable textually.
  11. The conductor should memorize the piece, relying only on the score to prompt his leading.
  12. The focus of attention is your face. Start with your hands in front of your face.
  13. You MUST give a preparatory beat. Always breathe with the preparatory beat. At times it is wise to beat an entire measure prior to the start of the piece with emphasis on the preparatory beat.
  14. The right hand is for the metronome action. Lead the beat with your wrist. This will give you more control of the choir sound than anything else.
  15. The left hand is for cueing entrances and cut-offs as well as dynamics. Do not cue with the beat pattern arm.
  16. For long drawn out passages, hold the palm of the left hand toward you and raise.
  17. To crescendo draw up your left hand with palm toward you and inhale.
  18. To decrescendo draw up closer to your chest and slightly downward with your palm toward you. Also cut the size your beat pattern with the right hand.
  19. You should cut off with cut upward or toward the left. Do not cut off downward. The pitch will go flat. Cut-offs should never be a hand movement toward the choir, such as pointing with the finger. Don't let them look like you are catching flies. Always give a preparatory beat for the cut-off,
  20. On cut-offs and entrances you MUST have eye contact. Point your left hand finger to the section for one measure before they have an entrance. This will insure that they are with you on the entrance.
  21. For a 32nd note or shorter, do not gave a large beat for entrance, only lift your wrist.
  22. The pattern is normally from chin to waist and between shoulders. Hands must be in front of your chest, not to the sides. If necessary turn your body toward the singers.
  23. With children, your pattern should be large and high to captivate their attention. If possible, lean over into the group from time to time.
  24. The singers can always tell what your meters are by where you place your second beat.
  25. Bring your hands toward focus point for actions.
  26. Any tendency to relax your wrist when beating time has to be overcome.
  27. The size of your beat pattern will be dictated by the loudness you desire from the singers. Softer passages should be conducted with a small beat pattern.
  28. Hemiolas should be conducted with the rhythm, against the time signature.
  29. Never beat time with both hands at the same time.
  30. When people have a high note, support them with your left hand.
  31. ALWAYS breath with your choir. They will always be with you.
  32. Force the choir to watch you. Make them memorize the first two choral measures of the piece
  33. Never sing with your choir in performance or in rehearsal. You cannot hear the choir.
  34. Always give an explanation of why you stopped the performance when rehearsing. Never stop them just to have them repeat it. They need to be told how to improve the sound.
  35. The choir will sing the way you conduct. The will do as much as you expect them to do. Be encouraging and positive.
  36. If you are conducting an orchestra, keep the beat very precise and have the choir start just before the orchestra.
  37. If there is an instrumental introduction, conduct it. If you are not conducting, the choir will not be engaged or believe that they have started.
  38. Sing through the first and last numbers in the rehearsal without stopping. It builds momentum.
  39. Never point out any individual’s mistake to the entire group.
  40. If your choir is more than twenty singers, appoint section leaders. They can help you meet personal contact with each person and help with the learning of the music with section rehearsals.
  41. When you do warm-ups start high and sing downward in pitch, not the reverse. For unison, try a line of a familiar hymn that comes down in pitch.
  42. Never confuse the words musicians, singers and instrumentalists.


29 April 2000