2.4 Starting on beats other than 1

So far, all the Workbook excerpts have begun on the first beat of the measure. Therefore, the active preparatory gesture that generates the sound is the last beat of whichever time signature the music is in. Because the last beat always goes up, it will essentially always be the same gesture regardless of whether you are beating in 2, 3, 4, 7, 11 or whatever.

However, not all music begins on the first beat of the measure. In the Shostakovich excerpt, the music starts on beat 2 so the preparatory gesture becomes beat 1. The tempo is slow, so there is no need for an additional gesture. This means the first active movement is downwards – this is quite difficult to do as we are so used to going up before coming down! This excerpt is also a good exercise in conducting quiet, still music. Notice how the conductor conveys this with gestures that are small and contain very little vertical movement. When you have had a couple of goes at this, try seeing how softly you can get the musicians to play, especially if you have the chance to try it with string players. The softer you get with your hands, the more important it is to remember to breathe.

The Bizet is in 4/4 time and starts on the third beat. The tempo is allegro so the conductor gives a passive beat 1 and a more active beat 2. Being clear is important here, because this music doesn’t look like it sounds: if you know it but have never seen it written down you might be surprised that the phrase begins on beat 3 – it feels like beat 3 should be beat 1. There is a fourth version of this excerpt which explores how to conduct this same music with a staccato articulation, and then change from legato to staccato and vice-versa. Notice how the conductor changes the articulation in her gesture one beat before she wants the musicians to change. Remember: every gesture should influence something that will happen after that gesture. If that isn’t the case, the conductor is co-ordinating rather than leading.

Now let’s look at a March by Gustav Holst which is in alla breve time, starting on the second beat. The conductor places her baton higher up than normal in order that the preparatory gesture is a decisive downwards motion. Something else to look out for in this excerpt is the accents. The conductor uses her left hand to prepare and indicate each of the three accents, not using her left hand for the other beats.

Finally in this section, here’s an excerpt by Percy Grainger where the music begins off the beat. Usually, unless the tempo is very slow, two preparatory beats will be necessary. You’ll see a positive but still quite passive downbeat followed by quite an energetic beat 2 for the melody line to bounce off. Watch how the conductor shows the many different articulations in this excerpt – legato, staccato, tenuto and accent. Try practising this excerpt in a very slow tempo and really exaggerating those different articulations.

Workbook 11 – Grainger – ‘The Brisk Young Sailor’ from Lincolnshire Posy

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