Teaching Conducting - left hand independence
Thanks to everyone who responded to my question about exercises that could help conducting students strengthen the independence of the left hand. Below are the responses I received.
Boise State University
Look at the exercises in Lessons 16 and 17 of Kenneth Phillips
"Basic Techniques of Conduction." There are some useful exercises for
working on left hand independence. JLW
Allow your student to conduct with his or her left hand - a rather
iconoclastic idea I know -
Joseph Paul Dease
My choral conducting prof had us dribble basketballs left hand and conduct pattern with right. It is crazy (and noisy) but if the student really concentrates, it will help to create incredible independence of left hand.
Kyla L. Morton
I achieved maximum independence when I switched hands for a while. Whether
using a baton or just the hand, the main pattern went to the left hand and
the right became the "color hand".
After I went back to the right hand leading, I felt a tremendous difference.
I did that only in practice though as I would not recommend doing it in
front of a group. I started the switch technique while I was doing my MM in
choral conducting at Univ of Northern Colorado and I still go back to it
Joseph Gentry Stephens
I don't know if this will be helpful, but I started as a left-handed choral
conductor and did very well. Even with 5 semesters of conducting classes at
Westminster Choir College -- no one called me on it. However, when I took a
summer workshop with Michael Korn and the Philadephia Singers, he urged me
to consider switching to the "standard" right hand. One of the professional
singers in our lab chorus said, "You are a fine conductor. It would be a
shame to get a call to sub for a major orchestra and have the players unable
to follow you because of your conducting pattern being backwards." In other
words, you can get away with it with singers who can watch you more.
Orchestral players are only watching out of the corner of their eye and they
expect to see the beat in a certain place.
THE WAY I switched was by using a baton (which I normally did not use.) By
keeping the baton in my right hand, it helped remind my brain which hand was
supposed to be in charge. It was quite challenging at first.
Basically strengthening the independence of the left hand would be similar.
It is really retraining the brain -- sort of like learning to use the pedals
on an organ. I would suggest practicing conducting with the left hand
(using a baton as a reminder.) Also exercises such as the Hindemith Book
which have each hand beating a different rhythmic pattern would help also.
I assume the student has strong piano skills. If not, that is another way
of training the brain to have the hands function independently.
Hope this helps,
Judith R. Higbee
I found the the Elizabeth Green book The Modern Conductor 6th ed. has wonderful exercises for teaching motor skills. Carroll
Dr. Carroll J. Lehman
As a recent M.M. choral conducting grad, here's what
worked for me - reading Don Neuen's chapter in the
conducting textbook (the name escapes me), observing
videotapes of great choral conductors, and then simply
practicing consistently in front of a mirror. No
special exercises, just determination, imitation and
All the best,
Deborrah Thurston, M.Div., M.M., SPC
With my beginning conducting classes, as one of the techniques
I utilize for L.H. independence is the following:
I purchase of box of drinking straws, cut them in thirds, and
distribute 10--15 of these to each student. Each student must have an
area such as a music stand, table, piano top, whatever, to serve as a
work table. I then have them conduct in a 4 or 3 or 6 meter while with
the LH contruct words, such as: TILT, MITT, KITTEN, KIT, LINT, TINT,
etc. During this time they must maintain steady rhythm and also stay
within a designated "conducting frame". I take no more than 15 students
per semester and make certain that all of them conduct at least once or
twice per week depending upon the exercise or assignment.
After the students have done this for a couple of class sessions, I then
have them change meters while they are constructing words and/or names.
Another technique I use as soon as I introduce a meter pattern is to have
them conduct, let's say a "3" pattern at ca. 72-84/beat, and ask them
questions while they conduct, such as: "Tell us a bit about you, such as
your hometown; hobbies; your family......etc. This has nothing to do with
the LH, but the students begin to feel the independence of the RH--in not
needing to "concentrate" on the "floor-wall-wall-ceiling" thing.
I hope what I have submitted is of some interest. I works well for me.
I will use the first technique for about two weeks--until we have learned
all of the basic meters and the left hand begins to feels less like an
Charles E. Ruzicka, D.M.A.
Does he already play the piano? It is the ultimate teacher in teaching hand independence.
sound simple, but when I was an undergrad, I remember my conducting teacher
telling us to sit at a table and conduct patterns with the right hand while
doing mundane things with the left hand like rearranging silverware and picking
up the saltshaker. I did this quite a lot and it really helped.
Try giving them a simple two part melody and have them conduct each part
with a separate hand.
I have written a small "supplemental text" specifically for this (and other
stick-based) issues, entitled "A Conductor's Handbook" which is published by
Thomas House Publications, and available from any reputable sheet music
dealer. There are numerous examples to help with this and other topics.