5.2 Subdividing in 1.

(a) In duple time signatures, such as 2/4 or alla breve, there is a useful technique which lies somewhere between a true 1 and a 2-pattern. This involves stopping the beat at the ictus and starting moving again precisely halfway through the duration of the measure. 

(b) When the music is in triple time, 1 can very often feel as if it is not enough information, but 3 is too much. The ability to indicate 2 out of 3 beats is therefore a very useful middle ground. This can be done by indicating 1 & 2 but not 3, or 1 & 3 but not 2. The technique is the same as for duple time – stopping and starting the beat at the appropriate moment.

Be very careful to keep the subdivision accurate: it is extremely common to see conductors doing (a) when they should be doing (b). It is not helpful for musicians trying to play a waltz or a complicated triple-time scherzo if they see an alla breve subdivision!

(c) Sometimes you may wish to gently suggest the second and third beats of a triple time signature. This can be achieved by allowing the second beat to float upwards in a diagonal direction rather than being horizontal. 

This video demonstrates these various approaches.

Subdivision or inner rhythm?

What we are really aiming for here is to find a natural synthesis between practical and artistic matters. Although that statement could apply to almost everything to do with conducting, it is especially relevant here. The suggestions we have given so far rely on communicating subdivision in the beat and within the recognised patterns, but many fine conductors have developed very individualistic means of communicating inner rhythm. 

Carlos Kleiber had a fantastic ability to show subdivisions along a line, allowing him to exercise control on a micro level whilst communicating the macro of the overarching phrase. The basis of Neeme Järvi’s virtuoso technique is extremely small gestures in extremely large units of time: until you realise that there are often subdivisions present somewhere other than in his hands – the shoulders, for example. Zubin Mehta uses subtle head movement to show subdivision. The common factor here is that if the inner rhythm is shown somewhere else other than in the beat itself, it can give the perception of not being a subdivision in the technical sense of the word, and therefore a more artistic solution.

It is worth finding some examples of this on YouTube and attempting to develop your own way of doing this.

Finally, it is also worth considering for a moment how to negate the need to subdivide at all. Conductors with highly sophisticated techniques are often able to control incredibly slow tempi without resorting to subdivision, so how can they do this? The answer lies in the ability to control what happens between the beats. This is a subject we will explore in Technique 6.

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