2.2 The problem of conducting in 2, and simple & compound patterns

Conducting in 2 is much more difficult than in 3, 4 or more because of the potential for problems caused by too much rebound in the beat. Think back to the exercise in the Technique 1 chapter where we gave the analogy of bouncing a tennis ball on the ground. That feeling of releasing the ball is useful in preventing the beat from rebounding too much. If there is too much rebound, it is easy to end up back where you started and so by definition beats 1 and 2 appear identical – not helpful! Here’s a video demonstrating this – notice how it is particularly unclear from the side when there is too much rebound.

There is an important general point here: it is much easier to be clear to people who are in front of you, those to the side have a much harder job. Keep this in mind, and it’s a good idea to sometimes film yourself in rehearsal from the side to check on this. Experienced string players will tell you that the hardest place to sit in the orchestra is the outside corners – where you might find desk four or five of the 1st violins or the double basses.

When the beat is staccato, this should be less of a problem as the beat should start and stop at each ictus. If the character is legato, think of a more horizontal gesture: come down and out for beat 1 and back in and up for beat 2. The more expressive the music, the more horizontal and less vertical you can be. An expansive horizontal gesture can look very expressive, whereas a similarly sized vertical beat will probably look a bit ridiculous. If you think about it, you are now simulating the physicality of playing legato on a string instrument: this is a powerful and highly communicative image, even for non-string players.

Another image that might help is that of a pendulum, and this can be particularly useful if the meter is compound, for example in 6/8 rather than 2/4 or 2/2. The more curved shape of a pendulum can convey the feeling of the beat having 3 parts to it, but the most important thing is to have this subdivision in your mind. If you are thinking of a triple feel, it will naturally come out in your physicality.

Compound meter, 6/8

In Technique 1, the workbook excerpt of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Overture dealt with a staccato 2/4 in a nice brisk tempo. These workbook excerpts demonstrate more expressive music, firstly in alla breve time, then in 6/8.


Workbook 4 – Dvorak – Symphony No.8, 1st movement

Workbook 5 – Mussorgsky – ‘The Old Castle’ from Pictures at an Exhibition

Workbook 5 – Mussorgsky – ‘The Old Castle’ from Pictures at an Exhibition

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