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Lefthanded and conducting

I'm left handed and started choral conducting this year (one of my honours subjects). Can anyone give me some advise on using the two hands seperately, e.g indicating a crescendo with the left AND KEEPING A CONSTANT BEAT WITH THE RH!!
Replies (15): Threaded | Chronological
on February 8, 2011 10:03pm
Dear Tronel:
I can already hear all the sideband comments coming on this topic, but I am glad you brought it up.
I am left-handed, and very mildly dyslexic, and initially for me, conducting was tough. However, I was told by a couple of teachers along the way that lefties have it "better" -- they can do better shaping and molding (cresc./decresc., etc.) with their left/dominant hand, and leave the beat patterns to the right.
And in the end, they were right, but it's gonna take practice. Through alot of trial and error, and feedback (from teachers and from those who play under you), you will find your "style" and process.
In my elementary-level general music classes, when I am teaching conducting (as one way to understand beats, etc.), I insist that they do the beating with their RH -- and to those that tell me they "must" use their left, I say, "OK, I'm a lefty, too... so I have to drive on the left side of the road. Now how far out of my driveway do you think I'm gonna get before there's an accident?"
(Sometimes, you just have to acquiesce to the righties...)
Ironically, when I am teaching the patterns, it's best if I conduct backwards with my LH and let the students "trace" my patterns with their RH -- my right hand goes in my pocket.
on February 8, 2011 11:49pm
Can't give you advise, but I can give advice.
As a left-handed person myself, I've never understood why this question should ever come up as one a lefty should ask rather than one everyone should ask, since keyboard and string instruments, at least, require one to be more-or-less equally adept with both arms and hands.
Begin by "mirroring" every gesture -- beat a pattern vigorously with right and left hands doing exactly the same thing as if watching each other in a mirror, focusing your attention on your weaker arm.  Do only this until your two arms and hands are equally capable; until then you can't hope to do separate things effectively with them.  (With some students this can take weeks or months -- don't expect to master this in a brief amount of time.)
Then practice: with the left hand relaxed at your side, conduct a constant beat pattern with the right.  Then switch.  Then, with the left hand relaxed at your side, practice a simple crescendo-decrescendo gesture with the right, such as a slow, weighty up-down with arm and hand extended, palm open and facing the direction of the arm's movement.  Switch.  Invent for yourself variations on this model.
Best regards,
Jerome Hoberman
Music Director/Conductor, The Hong Kong Bach Choir & Orchestra
Principal Conductor, Baguio Cathedral International Music Festival (Philippines)
on February 9, 2011 12:32am
T. H.
If you will surf YouTube, you will find some left-handed conductors of large orchestras. The chorus will adapt to it. Google "Left handed conductors."
Worry not!
Ed Palmer
on February 9, 2011 10:17am
I'm left-handed, too, although I think I had a slight advantage because I was also a  piano major in college, so I already had some of the separate hand coordination down. 
On the first day of my conducting class, my professor told us to practice the conducting patterns until we could do it while doing other things - talking to our friends, walking around campus, etc.  It may have looked silly (although not as silly as when I walked around campus trying to learn how to buzz on a brass mouthpiece!), but it really worked.  Once I could do the patterns without thinking, then it was much easier to separate the hands to do other things.
Good luck!
on February 9, 2011 12:00pm
I'm a left-handed choral conductor who's had a stroke and has had deficiencies in his right arm.  For my article, "One-Handed Choral Conducting: Disability or Blessing," see Aug. 2006 Choral Journal.
Donald Callen Freed
on May 5, 2012 10:41am
Be yourself and conduct in the most natural way (I agree with Jeremy Moore)!!!!!  I usually conduct left handed....if I am working with an orchestra I will frequently switch to righty as they have strong traditions/expectations of where they expect that baton to be (although I know many conductors who conduct with either hand), but explore and make being ambidextrous a goal.......I make all my students practice conducting w/both hands and striving to be capable of using all four limbs independently a'la drum set players!  Best,  Vijay
on May 6, 2012 5:08am
Just continue with practice.  The more practice, the more consistency.  Keep your inner subdivision.  You will find out in the long run that using your baton (or hand) with your right hand gives you an advantage, as you can use your dominant hand more for shape, phrasing, dynamics (of course the right also does this).
It took a while for me back when I first started conducting, but now, I find that the expressivity of my conducting comes extremely easy, because I have two "dominant" arms conducting. :)
Have fun!  Practice hard!
on May 6, 2012 7:24am
I just want to add that I was thrown into conducting unexpectedly, never having planned to do it, and with only the slightest conducting training about 15-20 years earlier (basically just the meter gestures). I was really bad when I started, made a lot of mistakes in rehearsal and always apologised and joked about it with the singers. But I learned through experience, and now can do a lot with separate gestures on each hand. How did I get there? Practice! And I am right-handed, but never considered it to be an advantage or disadvantage, since, when I started, I usually conducted with both hands together.
on May 6, 2012 8:29pm
Elizabeth Green's book, "The Modern Conductor", 7th edition, well worth the cost, has very specific exercises.  Practice in front of a mirror.  Have fun!
on May 7, 2012 4:43am
I find that I direct most naturally LH when not using a baton and RH when I have a baton. I believe this is because how I was trained in college, starting with a baton in my RH. My professor (Larry Doebler) stressed that I would have an advantage with my left when cuing, cutting off, and giving dynamics due to my inclination. More often than not today (22 years later) I find myself switching based on what I hope to accomplish with my choir's sound.
on May 8, 2012 5:45am
I teach and observe conducting in a number of contexts and have encountered this interesting question more than once.  Sadly, it can cause needless distress, both to conductors in training, and to ensembles who may find themselves being led by musically talented conductors who have been made to feel uncomfortable for no legitimate reason.  Handedness is one of many non-issues that all too often come to loom disproportionately large in conducting pedagogy, which has become unwholesomely focused on a conductor's appearance in contradistinction to her musicianship, which is infinitely more valuable and life-affirming.   Embedded in the posted question is an alarmingly formulaic notion about conducting (RH must keep a constant beat; LH must show dynamics) that itself should be vigorously challenged, as things are seldom so inflexibly schematic in the most artful conducting.
Left-handed conductors may be warmly encouraged to explore and celebrate their own physicality, especially in the early stages of their study, though they will need to come to terms with the current professional reality that much of the field has an expectation (well-founded or not) that a conductor should appear to be right-handed (among other things).   The suggestions offered below can all be helpful; in addition, I sometimes recommend that students do some experimental practice with hands crossed, as this seems to open new avenues.  
Mark Shapiro
Director, Conducting Studies, The European-American Alliance (Paris, France)
Assistant Professor of Music, LIU Post
Conducting Faculty, Mannes College the New School for Music
Music Director, The St. Cecilia Chorus and Orchestra
Artistic Director, Cantori New York
on May 8, 2012 12:09pm
I would actually suggest that you spend some time in practice having your two hands mirror one another, first.  I conduct a handbell choir that plays in a u-shaped arrangement so I mostly have to conduct them in a mirrored style.  This practice has allowed me to even-out the disparity between my two hands, so now I can more easily switch between them for beat pattern and/or expression. Also it is much easier now for me to do a beat pattern with my right hand, whereas when I was just beginning it was nearly impossible.  Once both hands are comfortable with the beat pattern then you can work on taking one hand out to do other things.
on May 8, 2012 4:16pm
Tronél:  I have to agree with everyone who feels that handedness is not a significant factor in conducting, and also with those who feel that you should be able to conduct effectively with EITHER hand, with BOTH, and with NEITHER!
True confession time:  I conduct interchangeably with either hand for one simple reason that has nothing to do with handedness.  It's simply that I have been in too many situations in which conventional conducting has not been called for, and I haven't developed the arm strength to do it one way all the time.  As my mentor in grad school pointed out, a professional conductor can be conducting 8 hours a day or even more, and that arm strength is important if that's what you intend to do.
I may have been born a lefty.  I remember it that way, mirror writing, and being changed over, but my mom claimed that it never happened.  But whether it's playing an instrument or conducting, you pretty much have to use both hands for ANY musical purpose.  So yes, start by mirror conducting because it's easiest, but don't allow yourself to get stuck in it.  The only time I've actually HAD to do it in practice has been in an orchestra pit with the orchestra stretched out on either side, and it was actually difficult to remember to do it!  Practice conducting with one hand only, with EITHER hand only.  Practice conducting with both hands in your pockets, using only your eyes, eyebrows, mouth and facial expression.  (Shoulders are also helpful.)  Practice shaping phrases with one hand only, and not beating time at all.  Then practice beating time with one hand only AND shaping phrases with that same hand.  These are all possible, and should all be part of your technical bag of tricks.
Become functionally ambidextrous, so when you fall out of that tree and break one arm you can still conduct clearly and efficiently!!!  And don't worry about standing in front of EITHER  chorus or an orchestra and giving time with your left hand.  NOBODY CARES!!!!  It's what you express with that hand that matters, and nothing else.  Anything else is simply a throwback to the dark ages when being left handed was something devilish or "sinister" (play on words intended).
All the best,
on May 8, 2012 5:12pm
One can take comfort in this: It is its anticipation and the downbeat mostly watched for, and it is not always in the same gographical location whether
left or right. And from that we should be conducting the music and not just beating time.
Good read, all.
on May 8, 2012 7:43pm
Edward:  Or as our conducting professor has posted outside his office, "ONE is always down.  Everything else is NOT down!"
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