Conducting 101

Photo by Rafael Baldwin, courtesy of New World Symphony


Audience will understand the role of a conductor in an ensemble, and use basic conducting techniques to reflect/induce musical elements of tempo and expression while listening to a piece.


Let audience members conduct a piece and see how the musicians respond to their movements in different ways. With large audiences, let the audience conduct the beat pattern from their seats to feel beats, dynamics, etc.


  1. Pick a piece on the program (or segment of a piece) that stays in one time signature with clear pulse and rhythm.
  2. Teach the audience the basic beat pattern for the piece being performed. Optional: talk about how the conducting pattern changes for dynamics and expression (e.g. smaller/larger for dynamics, and smoother/more rigid for legato or staccato).
  3. Either ask for a volunteer from the audience to conduct the ensemble (and ask the ensemble to respond to their conducting pattern), or ask the audience to conduct along with the ensemble (and ask the ensemble to change their speed or expression for the audience to respond to).

Audience Type

What does this activity look like in action?

Example Script:

Piece: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, “Ballade in A Minor”



“So just what does a conductor do?” I get this question probably more than any other in regards to playing in an orchestra. The answer has many parts. There are clear responsibilities like beating time to show the tempo or speed, but also much more ephemeral responsibilities like inspiring the orchestra to share a common musical interpretation. But rather than just tell you that, today I want to flip the question around today and ask all of you: what would you do if you were a conductor?


First, a quick conducting 101, at least for the piece we’re about to play- Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s “Ballade.” This piece starts in 2, which is conveniently a pretty simple conducting pattern. Let’s get our right hands in the air, 1 will be down, and 2 will be up. Let’s try a few bars of this pattern together [lead beat pattern]. Now as we keep that pattern going, if we want our orchestra to play softly, we can use smaller motions [lead audience in conducted diminuendo], and if we want them to play louder then we can use bigger motions [lead audience in conducted crescendo]. This whole time our left hand is free to do things like ask the string players to be more expressive [shakes left fist in vibrato gesture towards strings] or tell the brass to play more quietly [uses left hand to shush brass players]. [Cut off beat pattern]


It looks like we have lots of budding conductors in the audience today! Now that you have the basics, is there anyone out there that would like to try their conducting out on the podium and lead the first 16 bars of the piece? Great, we have 3 volunteers, which means we’ll get to hear three different interpretations of the opening. Let’s see what kind of tempo, dynamics, and expression they ask for. [let each volunteer lead the opening, describing what they’ve done with their interpretation after each one]. Thanks so much to our conducting volunteers! Now as we play the whole piece, I want you to watch our conductor and observe how she leads the orchestra through different tempos, dynamics, and emotions.


  • For advanced audiences, mixed meters may be used. Can use this activity to have them identify (raise a hand, shout, etc.) when the meter changes.
  • For lower interactivity, don’t make changes to tempo or expression. Simply have the audience conduct along with their interpretation of the expression to a steady tempo.


  • If the performance venue does not allow for volunteers to come to stage, the activity can be done with the whole audience conducting from their seats.

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