And it must come from within, because it will rarely come from any outside source.

Secondary school band directors learn early on that there are a myriad of factors working
against their growth as conductors and few if any factors working for that growth.

Like all teachers, band directors have many school requirements outside their primary teaching area; and even a lot of their band responsibilities have nothing to do with conducting.

Additionally, most band directors don’t have music supervisors to either mentor them as conductors or keep them honest when other things inevitably get in the way of growing/maintaining their conducting skills.

Combine all these factors with family and other responsibilities, and it becomes all too easy to “learn the scores on the podium.” And let’s face it — that’s a realistic, if poor, option. We can often stay ahead of the students without studying the scores, especially with young bands; it is an ever-present temptation.

So if you are serious about being a good conductor, you
must :

1) Study (and mark) your scores.

ot only is it “the right thing to do,” but by not doing it, we cheat our students, our audience, and ourselves out of experiencing an informed performance of a piece. We simply can’t make meaningful interpretive decisions “on the fly.”

2) Practice, both for growth/maintenance and performance.

Practicing is just as important for conductors as it is for players. Beat patterns are our daily scales; creating visual musical styles are our version of an instrumentalist’s or vocalist’s aural styles.

The good news is that we conductors can get a lot more out of relatively small amounts of practice time than we can as players. We only have to build our skills, we don’t have to build the kind of strength or endurance it takes to maintain an effective embouchure. Even fifteen minutes a day (though more is better) can have a huge impact on our conducting skills — it’s almost too good to be true!

So do your growth/maintenance practicing: practice all the common mixed meters until your hands automatically go in the right directions; practice patterns in varying styles and tempi; and use a mirror and a video recorder regularly — you can’t “see” what you look like any other way.

And do your performance practicing: in the music you’re working on, make those difficult tempo changes flawless; practice that spot where you have to change dynamics, style, and tempo all at once; convey everything your players need in your initial upbeats.

Being a good conductor matters; it’s one of the most rewarding things we get to do, and it directly affects how we are viewed by our peers. So get excited about it, make it a part of your day, and make it happen!