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Conducting: Left-Handed Conducting

Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 20:46:40 -0600
From: crt2384(a) (Carla R. Timmermans)
Subject: conducting

I recently had some discussions about conducting and different approaches and
styles. A friend of mine is left-handed and says that conducting left-handed
is more comfortable. However, the professors disagree and say that it is
universal to conduct with the right hand only.

I am looking for some responses for this because I have seen both and am wonder-
ing if there is a right or wrong way.


Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 21:49:41 -0600
From: David Topping
Subject: Re: left-handed conducting (was Re: conducting

Carla (and fellow Choralisters),
I've studied with some conducting teachers who are pretty
strongly against left-handed conducting, mainly due to the
fact that instrumental ensembles are so used to watching the
right hand for the beat. Any ensemble can become accustomed to
a left-handed conductor over time, but what about when you only
have one rehearsal with an unfamiliar group? I have also taught
conducting and encouraged my "lefties" to use their right hand
to beat time.
My college roommate was strongly left-handed, but bowed to the
will of our teacher and learned to conduct with his right. He's glad
he did, because his left hand ("strong" hand) is free for expressive
use, and he naturally has better control of that one.
In the end, it is an individual decision, but I recommend that
all beginning students at least try to learn right-handed, until
they determine that it just won't work for them.

David Topping

(and no, I *don't* think this opinion is comparable to forcing
someone to write with their right hand, just because everyone
else does--it has more to do with making a practical decision
based on what works and what doesn't)

>-----------------------------------------------------------------------> agdbt(a) (or David.Topping(a) > co-manager of Choralist, the discussion group for Choral directors >-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 22:07:31 -0600
From: Roger Doyle
Subject: Re: conducting

Only an opinion on a very worthwhile subject.....
At the risk of incurring the wrath of left-handers, I suggest that the
conductor's comfort should not be the primary consideration of any
conducting technique or gesture. Conducting is a non-verbal form of
communication and the comfort of the musicians and the clarity of the
"message" should be of paramount interest to would-be conductors. One
need only observe some of the silly, meaningless but showy gestures of
certain "professional"conductors to imagine how hard the musicians have to
work to accomodate such uncommunicative and unproductive gyrations.
What has that to do with left- or right-hand conducting? Since all but the
youngest musicians will have had extended experience with right-handed
patterns, why force the musicians to accomodate the conductor who chooses
to conduct from the left hand?

I once observed a left-handed cellist in a semi-professional orchestra
(the principal of the section). One would assume that this was
the best of the lot of cellists but I can tell you that it was certainly
disconcerting (no pun intended) to watch the "dueling" bows of the first
stand cellists.

In any event, I have always insisted that left-handed persons learn to
beat the patterns with their right-hand--which, I believe, made them even
better conductors because they also had the advantage of very expressive
left-hand gestures for adding the details of music-making. But, I would
certainly listen to arguments to the contrary.....

Roger O. Doyle
University of Portland OR

Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 23:27:43 -0600
From: Walter Knowles
Subject: Re: conducting

On Thu, 13 Oct 1994, Carla R. Timmermans wrote:

> I recently had some discussions about conducting and different approaches and
> styles. A friend of mine is left-handed and says that conducting left-handed
> is more comfortable. However, the professors disagree and say that it is
> universal to conduct with the right hand only.

I'm left-handed and have found that the increased small muscle control in
my left arm and had is a real advantage when conducting "right-handed".
In my experience, left-handed conductors (conducting "right-handed") tend to
have more indepence of expression. It may be more "comfortable" to beat
with the left, but it's worth it to learn the conventional technique.

-- Walter Knowles (206) 822-2441 --
-- Rainforest Software internet: waltk(a) --
-- Kirkland, WA ci$: 71001,3354 --
--Professional Programming for User-modifiable Multimedia Applications--

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 00:57:17 -0600
From: Mewzishun(a)
Subject: "Handedness" and Conducting

Carla, I met with the same resistance when I was in college. I'm a
left-handed choral conductor and since I'm also an accomplished organist and
conduct a great deal from the organ console my left hand has always gotten
more of a work-out than my right. One of my professors made an excellent
observation, and it has stuck with me all these years: since I was such a
good conductor with my left hand, he insisted I do no conducting for class
with that hand. Not as much because "the right hand is the correct hand" but
because I would then have two strong hands that can work interchangeably.
This has served me no end at the organ console when I really need my right
hand to give a cue at the extreme right of the choir, for example, or this
past Easter when I had to conduct a brass ensemble on the balcony almost 100
feet away while leading hymns at the organ and conducting the choir. Clearly,
becoming ambidextrous in my conducting has made me a better conductor, and
it's a decided advantage over right-handed conductors who are not forced to
develop the left hand to the degree that I've developed both of my hands.

Out in the real world, I find that ensembles are much more "forgiving" as to
which hand does what than classroom instructors would have you believe, as
long as you're consistent and don't give a cue with the left hand one time
and with the right hand another.

Ken Sybesma

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 06:48:10 -0600
From: "Stephen E. Bacher"
Subject: left-handed conducting

I'm left-handed and I conduct my choir left-handed. Maybe this is
"wrong" and I should learn otherwise, but there is at least one
advantage to this:

Since I am also the accompanist - this is a small church and the
director does double duty - conducting with the left hand allows
me to play the parts on the piano with the right hand, especially
when working on individual parts. On Sunday mornings at the organ,
I can accompany with the right hand plus pedals, giving a nearly
full sound, while leading the choir with my left hand. This works
fairly naturally for me.

Btw, I play guitar and use a computer mouse right-handed, for what
that's worth.

- seb

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 07:18:18 -0600
From: Robert E Wright
Subject: lefties


It seems to me that the argument for forcing left handed people learn to beat
time with their right hand just doesn't make any sense. Why take someone who
is struggling with all the other aspects of becoming a conductor and force the
issue of handedness on top of everything else we expect. Sounds like pedantry
to me. And any professional instrumentalist worth his salt can follow a
conductor who is expressive or s/he wont get many repeat jobs.

Also, if left-handed people who are forced to conduct with their right hand
find that they are more expressive with their left, perhaps we should force
right-handed folks to learn to beat time with their left so their right hand
will become more expressive.

The whole thing seems like a tempest in a teapot anyway. Isn't the point to
teach out students to be expressive conductors, to seek out and communicate to
their ensembles what the composers intentions were. Which hand they use, it
seems to me, is of little or no importance. Let's help them understand and
marvel in the majesty of what we do. Let's teach them phrasing and
articulation, rhythm, good diction, how to tune a choir. Let's train their
minds not get hung up on which hand they beat time with. That's only one of
their responsibilities.

BTW... I am right handed and encourage my students to be able to make all their
gestures with either hand.


*Robert E. Wright, D.M.A. * o. (615)372-3650 *
*Director of Vocal Activities * h. (615)432-5869 *
*Tennessee Tech University * fax(615)372-6279 *
*Cookeville, TN 38501 * REW1259(a)TNTECH.EDU *

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 10:21:17 -0600
From: Jim Shepard
Subject: Re: conducting

My friend Scott Bowen, who conducts left-handed, has had NO problems with
choral musicians (most of whom don't even notice).

With orchestras he just says (before he starts), "Ladies and gentlemen,
the second beat is HERE!"

It works for HIM!!

James A. Shepard
MiraCosta College
Oceanside, CA.

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 11:58:02 -0600
From: P.OShea(a)
Subject: Re: lefties

Robert and all,

The "tempest in a teapot" analogy is, I think, accurate. On balance, I
would advise students to keep the beat in the right hand, regardless of
their normal writing hand. However, that said, if a student found it
significantly problematic to conform to this expectation, the use of the
left hand, in my opinion, is not anathema. In general, it is best to
conform to the expectations of ensemble players or singers, but
accomplished musicians can easily adapt, and inexperienced musicians will
seldom notice the difference.

One wrinkle: If beginning musicians become accumstomed to a left-handed
conductor, are we not setting up future confusion, since they will almost
certainly have to adapt to a right-handed conductor eventually?



Patrick O'Shea
DMA Candidate
Arizona State University

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 13:28:42 -0600
From: promza(a) (Patricia Romza)
Subject: left vs. right

I was an ambidextrous child who was immediately made right-handed (born
in 1960, so you understand the educational milieu and my parents' mind-set
[why set the child up for trouble, the whole world works right-handed]).
As I had learned to write, sew, crochet, and knit right-handed, it never
occurred to me to ask my first conducting teacher, a retired Italian
opera-house conductor, to teach me otherwise.
As a conducting teacher, I try to make myself aware of which of my
students are left-handed before they enter my class, and I have a short
talk with them to encourage them to practice the basic gestures with their
hands together and then right hand alone BEFORE the class even starts, just
to make sure they are comfortable and at least at the same level as the
rest of the (right-handed) students. The net effect seems to be that they
are often more comfortable with the beginning gestures than the ,
and when we reach beat patterns coupled with expressive gestures, the task
seems almost equal; the still have to concentrate on the basic
pattern more because the left-hand gestures come easier, while the
are the opposite.
The left-handed cellist story was amusing but saddening as well; I would
have thought that playing a stringed instrument the normal way would give a
left-handed person an advantage in fingering dexterity. My left-handed
older brother, who plays with a swing-era combo, plays all of his
instruments the normal way (including guitar and piano-accordion; of
course, finding an accordion built the other way is next to impossible!;
and on piano, organ, and saxophone, it's a non-issue).
My personal opinion is that the drawbacks of allowing our students to
conduct the basic pattern with the left hand outweigh the possible gains in
initial ease of learning. The bottom line is communication; it's one thing
to tell a group of instrumentalists, "I conduct left-handed, please get
accustomed to it." and having them acclamate themselves; but having them
want to play under our conducting again (and as is often the case, for
little or no money!) is another thing entirely. Most of us have had at
least one experience of playing/singing under a conductor whose gestures
were confusing, and it was not an experience we wished to repeat, due
mainly to the strain of having to cope with unclear, erratic, or
non-standard gestures - no matter how wonderful the final effort was! In a
short rehearsal time situation such as guest conducting, or having an
orchestra in for the final few rehearsals, it is counter-productive to ask
our musicians to deal with any idiosyncrasies, be they personal styles that
are unreadable or non-standard gestures such as left-handed conducting.
I would think that as educators, if we are committed to having all our
students play their instrument or conduct the "normal", accepted way, we
need to treat the left-hand orientation as a strength, not a hindrance, for
them. Conducting, like any other skill, comes easily to some, with more
difficulty to others, but can be mastered by every musician with practice.
It's the last two words that seem to be the crux of the matter.

Patricia Romza
Director of Choral Activities
St. Ambrose University
Davenport, IA 52803

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 13:52:41 -0600
From: Mary D Groom
Subject: Conducting Handedness

After having read all of the opinions about left-handed conductors, these
are some thoughts from one of them.

I had much opposition in college and graduate school to try and switch my
conducting hand, but the opposition never had a leg to stand on when I stood
in front of a choir. Since that time, while teaching conducting, I have
become a perfect mirror for my right-handed students, and most of them do
not even notice that I am using my left hand. My choirs have never had any
problem following me. Even when I do honors choruses, All-States, guest
conducting or other festivals, which only have a minimal amount of rehearsal
time, I have never had a problem, nor have the singers, nor have the
instrumentals in either their following or my gesturing. It only matters if
one can make music, and that does not reflect the hand that is the primary
gesturer, I can assure you.

Let your students do their best work with their strong suit.

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 14:23:06 -0600
From: Peter Hoogenboom
Subject: Re: conducting (lefty)

My first conducting teacher (a lefty) said that he never had any
complaints from any players or singers about the hand he used. The vast
majority did not even notice until he pointed it out (he is principally an
orchestra conductor). He encouraged all of his students to conduct
right-handed, however, for two reasons:

1. He had received bad reviews because of his left-handed conducting (at
least one reviewer had found it visually distracting).

2. Right-handed students could mirror his demonstrations and thus be
taught face-to-face.

A couple of interesting questions arise. This teacher taught that a four
pattern is "down, in, out, up" and a three pattern "down, out, up." Most
texts I have read have specified left and right. Do most lefty conductors
keep left and right the same as righty conductors or in and out?

Many jazz bandleaders (and some others) conduct (right-handed) with in and
out reversed ("down, out, in, up" and "down, in, up"). Does anyone know
why this is and how do you feel about it? (I find it very distracting!)

Peter Hoogenboom phoogenb(a)
Department of Music, DuPont 208 phoogenboom(a)
Washington and Lee University (703) 463-8697
Lexington, VA 24450

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 16:56:28 -0600
From: Mewzishun(a)
Subject: Handedness and Conducting, The Sequel

I agree with David Topping, that insisting upon right-handed conducting is
not comparable to enforced right-handed writing. One does not read a
hand-written passage based upon the hand used. One does, however, come to
rely upon a particular hand for cues from the conductor.

To go even further on the issue, I think if an ensemble is properly prepared
the conductor should usually just get out of the way of the music. Show the
important things, but don't overdo the gestures, et cetera. "Less is more."

Ken Sybesma

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 19:28:04 -0600
From: Sylvele(a)
Subject: re: lh conducting

I allow my conducting students to conduct with the hand with which they are
most comfortable. I don't believe that the hand that is used is as important
as the expressivity of the conductor. I have found that students are
uncomfortable enough with learning the art of conducting itself without
having to worry about the difficulty of having to learn how to control an
arm that seems oddly alive in its own way. I find the preference of one
hand over the other to be absurd. I worked with David Wilson who I believe
is now at UCLA and he is an absolutely wonderful conductor and he uses the
"wrong" hand. I've also seen many right handed orchestra conductors use the
left hand with great expressivity. Gary Funk, Mount Union College,
Alliance, OH 44601 e-mail Sylvele(a)

Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 23:28:47 -0600
From: Mewzishun(a)
Subject: Handedness and Conducting, the Saga Continues

Peter Hoogenboom writes:

>>If a hand is telling me something, I don't generally ask
>>myself if it is the proper hand.

I don't ask myself if it's "the proper hand" either. There's not time for
such conscious analysis during a performance. But if, for example, in a
quick-moving, contrapuntal work I've come to expect a particular cue from a
particular hand in a particular place in relation to the conductor's body it
does not serve the music or the musicians suddenly to change. I did not mean
to imply that such is the case for all instances of conducting, but it is
true in certain instances and in particular when a passage requires precision
from all parties involved.

We expect the performing musicians to play the music in a precise, careful
manner at each performance. Why should we not expect the same care and
precision from the conductor?

Ken Sybesma

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 07:25:10 -0600
From: Bob Conway
Subject: Lefties

Regarding left handed choral conductors;
I sang in London with many choral groups, and from time to time we would
have a left handed director. I cannot say that it ever bothered me or
my fellow tenors, but I do remember some comments from other choir
members, such as "I can't get used to this" and the like.
For a time I was at Morley College, which in the 50's had one of the
finest Madrigal choirs in London, and one of the conductors was left
handed, but the music we sang (one or two singers to a part) was
sufficiently complex to not even notice that the conductor, (who also
sang with the choir), was a leftie.
As always, my main concern with any conductor was that sometimes they
would not do what we expected to do from one rehearsal to another, and
even worse when at the performance the conductor would seem to be
reading from an entirely different edition!
My BIGGEST peeve was with those conductors who would tell the choir
"Ladies and gentlemen, I shall beat this in two", or three, or whatever,
and then promptly do something different!
As far as students in a conducting class go, I can see that there could
be an advantage in having a left handed teacher, for it is easy to
imitate a mirror image, but for the budding lefthanded conductor, he or
she gets an object lesson in how to do it!
By the way, I am a retired engineer, with a love of singing, and sang
with the the University Choral Ensemble until I retired almost five
years ago, so i have no axe to grind!
Bob Conway, CFRC-FM Queen's University Radio, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Bob Conway,
CFRC-FM, Radio Queen's University,
Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 08:25:40 -0600
From: Gibbons Henry
Subject: Re: Handedness and Conducting

I tend to agree with the preponderance of opinion previously expressed in
this thread that if the conducting is clear, consistent, and
communicative, the issue of which hand gives the beat is relatively
unimportant. If players truly relied absolutely on seeing particular beats
in a particular place, there should be much more controversy over how to
beat a six pattern than there actually is. True, if you are used to
seeing one of the standard patterns (say, quad+2), the other one
(Christmas tree) can be momentarily disorienting -- say for about 30
seconds -- but for most players and singers the confusion quickly
dissipates if the conductor is consistent and clear in gesture and

Consider the possiblity that complaints about this or any other
relatively inconsequential issue might be indicative of a more serious
problem that people are reluctant to discuss directly.

A left-handed orchestra conductor I once knew insisted there was no
penalty to be paid for directing the beat with the left hand. But some of
his players complained privately that they were bothered by this. I now
suspect that their objection to left-handedness may have been masking a
more deep seated issue -- the conductor's abrasive personality, which
other less tactful players griped about openly. So if you're a lefty, and
people complain about it, make sure the cause isn't deeper!

Henry Gibbons
Associate Professor of Music
College of Music, Univ. of North Texas

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 10:28:53 -0600
From: promza(a) (Patricia Romza)
Subject: odd beat patterns

Peter and colleagues,

In reference to the "opposite direction" conducting of bandleaders: my
opera-house teacher explained that it is common in opera orchestras
(especially in Italy, his native country) to invert the patterns to try to
contain the conducting across the body for two reasons:

1) the stick crosses in front of the conductor and can be seen clearly in
(i.e., stay within) the low lighting level from the light on the
conductor's stand, as opposed to moving to the far right (as in beat 2 of
3) and being lost against the unlit background of audience or pit wall;

2) in some houses, the pit floor is very high, meaning that the conductor
can be seen from about the waist up, and the stage director, the singers,
the audience, and the critics complain if the conductor distracts from the
action onstage! (And isn't that the case always - if the conducting is too
flamboyant, it distracts from the music.)

My teacher also made it clear that the second beat in four was a 'negated'
beat, hardly a motion at all, but three was a strong beat across the body.
And the six pattern was two threes: the first with the second beat to the
right, the second one with the second beat to the left; the second pattern
to the left was the reminder that it was the second half of the six and
that the downbeat was approaching. I've tried this one out with an
orchestra and choir and it actually works as well as any other six pattern,
as long as the 'down' of four is not as big as the downbeat and the upbeat
of six is strong. However, I've never inverted the beats when conducting a
pit orchestra, mainly because most of the musicians were students or
amateurs and I didn't wish to confuse them.

Some time after this discussion with my teacher, I also noticed jazz
bandleaders doing this inverted motion, and asked my combo-playing brother
about it. He didn't have an answer, although he thought either of the
above reasons might be why; he also suggested that many of the early
bandleaders were not trained conductors and so they made it up as they went
along. (Or perhaps they were mirroring what a 'normal' right-handed
conductor does from their point of view.)

Incidentally, the worst experience I've had as an orchestral musician was a
conductor who, when he wanted to beat time with both hands, had the left
hand COPY rather than mirror the right hand. The effect made us seasick.
And my worst experience as a singer - the oh-so-expressive choral conductor
with no discernable beat pattern at all (a common complaint by
instrumentalists regarding choral conductors)!


Patricia Romza
Director of Choral Activities
St. Ambrose University
Davenport, IA 52803

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 11:17:06 -0600
From: Kevin Robison

I feel that Romza has surmized the issue best in her first post: the
reality is that sometimes performers won't mind a leftie, but sometimes
they most definitely will. And how they love to find fault in our work!

I am in a similar situation with a gentleman who posted earlier: I write
with my left, I answer the phone with my left, I eat with my right, throw
with my right, open doors with my right and conduct in the "normal"
fashion. This information probably doesn't make much difference to the
debate at hand, but I do sympathize with

This, however, is not an excuse for not to learn conducting
in the conventional manner. In spite of my left hand abilities, I still
struggle with what to do with it in conducting. It feels awkward to me
and I don't like to use it (mirroring is the tendancy). However, my
professor does not say "Well, since you feel awkward using your left hand
to cue or indicate other interpretive ideas, let's just not use it. You
shouldn't have to do something you're uncomfortable with."

The fact is that conducting can be one of the most in
which we engage ourselves (pardon the humor). The biggest complaint that
we as singers have with conductors (and instrumentalists as well) is that
their conducting is unclear or ambiguous. Is it not true that such
conductors have this problem simply because they do what comes natural to
them and haven't really thought about what is necessary (and ONLY
necessary) to communicate the music?

It is true that most choral singers won't mind, and many instrumentalists
will adjust to a left handed gesture, whether the "ins and outs" are
"correct" or not. But there will be times when it does get in the way.
Some students can learn the conventional method (as proven in testimony
here this weekend), others may not. But to simply say that you can do
what comes natural as a conductor leads to far greater criticism and
transcends the issue of left and right.

Kevin Robison
Grad Asst, Choral Conducting
University of Nevada, Reno

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 17:44:05 -0600
From: "Mark Petersen (MAP)"
Subject: Re: Handedness and Conducting, The Sequel

On Fri, 14 Oct 1994, Peter Hoogenboom wrote:
> (open question to everyone):
> Have you ever sung under a left-handed conductor? Has it confused you?
> If so, please let us know. Lots of people are saying that people grow to
> expect certain theings from certain hands, but no one has supported
> that. My experience tells me it's simply not true.
Yes. The Portland Symphonic Choir and Portland State University had a
left-handed conductor for about 5 years. David Wilson now directs in the
graduate program at USC, I think.

We never had any trouble figuring out what he wanted...never noticed a
difference going between him and Lawrence Smith, who was the conductor of
the Oregon Symphony Orchestra at the time.

What seems to bother us as singers more than anything else is having the
"beat point" (icthus?) changing locations or being radically different
from other conductors. What hand it comes from is irrelevant.

Consistency is also a good thing.


Mark A. Petersen "Progress might have been
petersen(a) all right once,
Catlin Gabel School but it has gone on
Portland, Oregon, USA %^) far too long." Ogden Nash

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 19:46:57 -0600
From: P.OShea(a)
Subject: Lefties

One final thought on the leftie issue:

It seems to me that the approval/disapproval of left-handed conducting is
only one facet of the larger question of standardization. As we all
know, there are a great many approaches to various gestures for pattern,
dynamics, and other musical expressions. Left-handed conducting alters
the direction or placement of some gestures, and thus deviates from the
"standard" gesture.

I'm not suggesting that this is inherently wrong, but perhaps the
misgivings of certain performers are a reaction to the unfamiliar
elements of left-handed gesture in a more general way. We've all seen
right-handed conductors who shift the point of their ictus, or that use
the ever-popular windmill pattern. I would submit that these problems
are far more removed from the "standard" or "ideal" gesture, and thus are
more troubling to performers than left-handedness. Perhaps the
controlling question must be "How far should conductors (at various
levels of development and in various situations) deviate from the
'textbook' repertoire of conducting gestures?"

By the way, I have greatly enjoyed reading everbody's contributions to
this thread!



Patrick O'Shea
DMA Candidate
Arizona State University

Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 20:17:07 -0600
From: Bob Conway
Subject: Storm in a teacup

It seems to me that we have been making a real dog's dinner of the fact that
some people beat time with their left hand, and others with their right hand,
not to mention the ambidextrous ones, who are out there too!
I have gained the impression from reading the posts, that there are a good many
choralists who really don't notice the fact. I also think that most choralists
are not necessarily professionally trained musicians, are we making a storm in
a teacup over all this?
In well over 50 years of singing in choirs, I don't think that I ever cared one
way or another, provided the conductor kept us all together, and that the choir
did a creditable performance.
Good Luck to all who are singing, - have a good SING!

Bob Conway ...

Date: Mon, 17 Oct 1994 15:22:58 -0600
From: KatNagel(a)
Subject: Left-handed confusion

Dawn Pierce wrote:
>I feel a conductor should use the hand that comes naturally,
>and it is the performer's job to adjust to the change.
and Peter Hoogenboom wrote:
>(open question to everyone):
>Have you ever sung under a left-handed conductor?
>Has it confused you?

As long-time amateur and professional choral singer, my reaction to this
thread is a hearty chuckle and a (slightly modified) endorsement of Ms.
Pierce's point of view.

One of the most successful concerts I've seen (technically and
interpretively) was conducted by a man who was recovering from a serious
accident. He conducted from a wheelchair with both arms in rigid braces.
The beat was in his right foot, dynamic indications were given by lifting
and lowering his left hand about 2 inches, and all other interpretive cues
came from his head and eyes.

Even under less traumatic conditions, I rarely notice whether a conductor is
right- or left-handed until I see her/him jotting a note in the score. It's
generally obvious by the end of a two-bar pickup which hand to watch for the
beat and which to watch for interpretive cues. Occasionally I've been
confused when one conductor has prepared the chorus but another conducts the
dress rehearsal and performance. The first few minutes with the new
conductor are usually a bit ragged, until everybody catches on to the
different style. But this happens even with two right-handed conductors.

Actually, I prefer a conductor who is comfortable giving cues with either
hand. As long as s/he is 'internally consistent' (the alto entrance in
measure 12 is *always* given with the right hand and the ritard on page 7 is
*always* indicated with the left), I find that an ambidextrous conductor has
a cleaner, less distracting style. Entrance and cutoff cues for a section of
a large chorus, for example, can be given with the 'closer' hand. This
avoids awkward cross-body reaches which can obscure the signals given by the
other hand.

In case I haven't made my point, I'll try to be more explicit: as long as
*some* part of your body is visibly maintaining the beat, and *some* part of
your body is giving recognizable indications of interpretation, handedness is
irrelevant. The best conductors I've worked with learned to conduct with
either hand, then did what's comfortable. If it didn't get the results they
wanted in a particular situation, they tried something else. If they still
weren't satisfied (the altos *never* got that entrance right, or the basses
*still* screwed up on page 4) they tried something really radical ---
they *told* the singers what they were aiming at, and then *asked* the
singers what kind of cue they needed. Even my Cherub choir (ages 2-6) could
say "please, ma'am, just make your hand *smaller* if you want us to whisper."

(a)kat (---who, all things considered, is glad Playn Song is small
enough to sing without a conductor. We may waste hours
arguing about repertoire and interpretation, but *nobody*
has to worry about which hand to use!)

Life 1: MasterWork (technical writing and document design)
Life 2: PlaynSong & Madrigalia, Ltd (vocal chamber music)

Date: Wed, 19 Oct 1994 04:17:19 -0600
From: jpsmith(a)
Subject: Reply to Doyle and others

I am posting this for Dennis Cox who is in the process of signing on to
choralist but hasn't quite got the technicalities down yet.

I concur with you that most left-handed conductors
have no problem working with the right least
I have never encountered a problem in any of my conducting
classes, graduate or undergraduate. Of course, one can
argue that developing LH and RH independence is a primary
goal, and it does not necessarily follow that the work
of the LH is less technically demanding than the work
of the RH.


Dennis K. Cox
Director of the Choral Music Program
University of Maine
5743 Lord Hall
Orono, Maine 04469
E-mail address: Cox(a)Maine.Maine.EDU
JANICE SMITH "Though my soul may set in
9 ISLAND AVENUE It will rise in perfect
ORONO, ME 04473 I have loved the stars too
E-MAIL: jpsmith(a) To be fearful of the night."
207-866-2681 - Sarah Williams

Date: Wed, 19 Oct 1994 16:34:05 -0600
From: crt2384(a) (Carla R. Timmermans)
Subject: left-handed

Thank you for all the input and advice on left-handed conducting. I had
fun reading all the responses and there were some great things to think about

I think the major thing I respected from the answers is that we shouldn't
spend our time worrying about whether the conductor is right or left-handed
but rather worry about the music and its interpretation.

Thanks again.
on October 9, 2002 10:00pm
I find it insulting to the intelligence of all musicians to assume they cannot follow a clean beat pattern, regardless of the hand giving it. Clear articulation, beat patterns, cues and expression is what is needed. The entire discussion seems also to imply that the hand is the only part of the body used in conducting. What ever happened to eye contact, visual cues, body positioning and attitude?
In 24 years of conducting, no one has ever complained about any confusion stemming from my left handedness. Most comments I have received are appreciative of clear direction and communication and clean beat patterns.
I can conduct righthanded, and occasionally do, but music is as much about expression and communication as anything, and since I am more comfortable nonverbally with my left hand, why should I conduct a smooth, lyrical line with a hand that is less comfortable?
BTW, last spring I conducted a concert with 2 conducting professors in the audience. Only one noticed I was left handed, and he was amazed that he forgot about it once the music started. The other pointed out later, that when the musical experience , expression and ensemble works, handedness truly doesn't matter.
on March 5, 2003 10:00pm
There was a ChoralNet poll on this topic, which brought forth many more comments. See

on October 15, 2004 10:00pm
Right, let's get back to basics. If you are right handed you use your right hand. If you are left handed...wait for use your left hand. Since it is thirty years since man landed on the moon, I am at a loss as to why this discussion can even be taking place. I thought conductors were supposed to worry about music? I feel in a postion to offer some particularly helpful gesticulations with either hand!
on January 30, 2007 10:00pm
Here's my advice to you, Bob. Do it your teacher's way while you're in the class. Then, when you're out of school and doing it on your own you can do it your way. A good side effect of this is if you decide later on that your prof was right, you'll have the skills to go right-handed.
on January 30, 2007 10:00pm
I appreciate everyone responses to this thread.
I am a student who just started a conducting class and the teacher makes it his best effort to keep pointing me out in class by telling me to use my right hand when conducting, and we are just learning the basics. I don't see why I should conform to the right handed way of conducting when it is uncomfortable for me and I can do all the movements perfectly fine with my left. I am not studying music to argue over semantics, I want to learn to be as best as I can be, but I dont know what to say to my professor at this point when he cannot seem to get past his idea of the right hand being the correct way (left handed being "wrong" and "unnaceptable".

on June 10, 2008 10:00pm
How interesting it's been reading all these!

I'm a music teacher and do a bit of conducting when I can, always giving the beats with my left hand. I've only had one musician mention the fact (a cellist who was also a leftie) and as far as I'm concerned, so long as I can keep my beats clear and convey my expressive intentions, that's what counts. Which is exactly the same for right handers, getting their message across to the performers.

Regarding beat patterns, in my opinion it is vital to use the left hand as a mirror of the right-hand established patterns - ie: 4/4 time is down, in, out, up. Changing direction in relation to the body, not 'left', 'right' etc. There are many right handed conductors who use both hands for added effect, such as in loud, climactic or difficult passages, and their left hand can become a mirror of the right. So any left handed conductor must do the same.

When I was at uni I studied conducting for a short time with a well respected conducting professor who had worked with the excellent Melbourne Symphony Orchestra many times, as well as lots of other groups. He, and my tutors, never criticised my lefthandedness because I made sure my gestures were clear. I've conducted inexperienced musicians who have barely noticed anyway, and semi-professionals who are intelligent enough to see that I know what I'm doing in terms of patterns and expression.

A friend of mine who is lefthanded changed to conducting righthanded after seeing a video of himself and thinking it looked strange. He's an excellent musician and a good, clear conductor although I've always thought his style now looks a little awkward.

Stay lefthanded everyone! Encourage narrow minded righties to just use their brains and musicality like they should be doing anyway. Just ensure you follow the patterns correctly and be clear in your gestures, exactly as right handers should be anyway. Of course, as Allen Simon said, if your Prof forces you to be right handed in his class, just go along with that to pass, then show the world how good a leftie can be.

Linden Greatwood
B.Mus, M.Mus (Uni. of Melbourne, Australia)
on September 17, 2008 10:00pm
Look, conducting is just a way to keep everyone in time and cuing. I've conducted for 8 years with my left hand and I've talked to children and adults , and they all said (100%) it's the same motion, so, no difference... down, in, out , up (4/4) .. thats it .. if your kids are smart enough to realize that ... then I see no problem.. If any of you are left-handed .. Just conduct with your left hand !! Feel comfortable at conducting ... I personally don't care about what these professors say ... they didn't invent conducting .. they just teach techniques and basics ... I'm only 20 and I am a proud High School Band teacher.