The role of the conductor

What does an orchestra conductor do? It may look like he or she is just waving a baton around in the air, probably just to keep the beat. The conductor’s job is, however, much more complicated than that! 

The conductor has to know the music PERFECTLY

A conductor has to have an image in his head, a very clear idea of what he wants the orchestra to sound like, at every moment. He has to know every tiny detail of the musical score – dynamics, tempo variations, where the melodies, harmonies, musical themes occur. A conductor studies a new musical score for hours before rehearsing with an orchestra.

The conductor has to understand each instrument

During rehearsals, the conductor has to know how to speak to each instrument section, how to communicate to them the sounds and nuances he’d like in every part of the piece. In order to do that, he has to have a very good idea of how each instrument is played – otherwise he might ask for things that just aren’t possible to do.

The conductor is like a sound-sculptor

In a concert, a good conductor uses his arms, face, and body to “sculpt” the sound, to create a musical moment that’s exciting for the players and the audience.

Watch the videos below to hear and see more about the conductor’s role.

In the next sections you’ll explore the basic movements a conductor makes – called “conducting patterns”, and you’ll see a conductor both in rehearsal and during a concert.