How Do You Get Conducting Experience?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by David Mann, Nov 24, 2005.

  1. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    Athies, Pas de Calais, France
    I've been playing in bands since I was 8, all the instruments (currently on Sop!!), every level up to top 10 ranking bands, and I want to become a conductor. There is so much you can do for yourself(learn to read scores, learn to teach, theory etc) but to develop you need to be in front of a band. The catch-22 is that bands tend to appoint conductors with experience , and you don't get much experience without a band. Any advice? Any band within an hours drive of Rugby need some part-time help playing / conducting?
  2. Melph

    Melph Member

    What about "attaching yourself" to a band with a good conductor and one willing to be a "mentor" - Surely you will get a better start by watching and learning from an experienced conductor?

    Then, with this experience, can use that (and hopefully the mentor conductors reputation) as a plus point when applying for positions.

    Private message Chunky - i know cawston took on condutors who whilst not experienced, had a quality that many lack - enthusiasim and a willingness to improve - somehow, he (and the band) saw through the no experience issue.

    Hope this helps.
  3. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Farnham, Surrey, UK
    What section/standard are you looking to work with?

    Many of the lower section / non-contesting bands are more likely to allow you to get some conducting experience with them.

    Another area you might look into is working with youth bands. I have heard of many that are crying out for conductors (experienced or otherwise) - and once you can cope with a room full of young people who all think that their part is the most important, the adult band will be slightly less of a challenge.
  4. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    You can always ask your own band to let you practice on them. Maybe get your resident man to let you try out a few pieces, full rehearsals etc and act as deputy. That's how it works in our band.

    Maybe see if there's a non-contesting band who will give you a try out and then work your way upwards?
  5. DaveR

    DaveR Active Member

    Reading, UK
    The way I got into it was by taking a few rehearsals when the regular conductor was working shifts. That gave me a bit of experience before I went to university, and then after I did my degree I applied to the local 4th section band who were advertising in the BB for a conductor and they took me on.

    Quite often in lower section bands, enthusiasm counts for more than experience. Yes, you need ability too but in lower sections motivation counts for a lot. I was 21 when I took on Pangbourne Band and I think that probably my youth and enthusiasm for banding overrode any deficit in experience.

    Look around for adverts from a 4th section band that or one that is trying to build themselves up - there are usually some in every area. There are usually several in this area (Reading / Oxford) but that is a bit far from you. However, I don't expect your area is much different. Try having a look for adverts on here, or on You could also try asking your local band association - they are bound to know if there are any bands in the area that are looking.

    Good luck!

  6. Chunky

    Chunky Active Member

    Its almost a case of selling your personality as much as your abilities. Our current conductor at Cawston has been with us 4 years now. When he applied for the position he was a very experienced musician but had never conducted a brass band on a regular basis.

    His commitment to the band is first rate and has a personality that really fits in with the rest of the band. That was just as important as his musical knowledge and both were more important than his conducting experience.

    I started conducting by asking a local non-contesting band if I could have a go. Took a few rehearsals when the MD was away. He resigned shortly after and I was offered the position. Also when our MD is away at Cawston I get to take rehearsals / jobs. However stepping out from the band you play with to take a rehearsal is a daunting task and would reccomend you get initial experience elsewhere.

    Good Luck
  7. tinytimp

    tinytimp Member

    You've just got to make a nuisance of yourself and ask around everywhere for someone to give you some experience, even if it starts off with taking warm ups, informal jobs etc.

    I had private conducting lessons last year in uni and was coming along quite well (hope this doesn't sound too bigheaded!). Other students came to know my interest and I got to conduct a few ensembles. I'm now deputy conductor for the uni wind band and the first few rehearsals were the scariest things I've done for a long time!

    I'd guess that bands will almost certainly take into consideration your current lack of experience, but then you should really try to demonstrate your enthusiasm and this should come across in your favour; at least this is what I'm finding at the moment. You might also want to think about (once you've found a band willing to take you) trying a piece that the band hasn't played before, allowing you to give your own interpretation from scratch rather than the players having a preconceived idea of how to play it, thus making things more difficult for you.
    Let us know how you get on, and any tips you may pick up along the way!
  8. skimbleshanks

    skimbleshanks Member

    Manchester, UK
    I had my first conducting experience about a month ago and it was the hardest thing I've done for a long time. I set up my own brass ensemble intending to play a trombone part on my horn and find a conductor. But when we found another trombone I got the position of conductor! Doing all the beat patterns is not the hardest thing. The hardest thing is motivating people, having to think on your feet in front of 8 extremely good musicians, having the right balance between disciplin and tolerance, managing egos... It's not the music that's hardest, it's the interpersonal skills, things you can't practise with a baton in front of the mirror. And doing it all in a foreign language doesn't help either!
  9. stotty74

    stotty74 Member

    It's very hard to get started if you have no experience. I had, for a number of years, watched and listened to many conductors and tried to pick up things from each one, but i never got a chance to conduct on a regular basis. It was only when a parent from our Youth Band mentioned after a senior band concert that they were looking for a new conductor that i was able to put myself forward.

    Youth Bands are the best way to start if you have no experience. They are usually full of enthusiasm, and are prepared to tell you what they really think of you, and whether they like what you are doing. And i agree with others that personality plays a HUGE part in being a successful conductor, especially in the lower sections. That's probably more important than your actual skill with a stick to begin with, as you can always develop your technique with more practice.

    BTW, anyone looking for a conductor in North West/North Wales?
  10. WhatSharp?

    WhatSharp? Active Member

    Well I'll be making my conducting Debut this Saturday with our training band! Gonna be taking a few spare undies with me I think :D

    Definatley try the kids first, if you can get them all to be quiet at the same time (without any swearing ;) ) there may be hope for you!

    Best of Luck
  11. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Isle of Arran and lovin' it!
    Best way? Tricky one this. I was lucky. having watched many other conductors of all sorts of musical ensembles in my teens, I volunteered one night at Crystal Palace Band when their regular conductor couldn't make it. God knows why but they agreed. I don't consider myself particularly 'pushy' (others might, though.. :)) but I soon realised I had a lot to learn, not just in score reading and harmony etc. but people skills with which in my early years I was particularly lacking.

    I've done 'some' rounds (not 'the' rounds) and have conducted at 2nd, 3rd and 4th section level. I've now ended up with very much a 4th section band here on Arran and I have to say it's the most rewarding conducting job I've had (with absolutely no disrespect to those bands who've tolerated my conducting in the past!). The players, despite their relative inexperience, won't stand any bull and there are a few, more experienced players, who are quick to point out those occasions where I've missed something. (which I do!). I really feel that we have improved, not because of me as such, but a team effort from within. If 4th section conducting is my level, then so be it. I'm enjoying it. I believe the band are enjoying it. (I'll never assume that!)

    We have our first concert tomorrow night and I've got butterflies like I haven't had in years!

    Nevertheless, very best of luck in finding an outlet for your conducting debut! :)
  12. Steve

    Steve Active Member

    There are two points thus far that I agree with wholeheartedly.

    1.) Its personality and not experience that you should try and sell to suitors.

    2.) Youth bands are a good starting point.

    A youth band is easily influenced by a personality rather than a perfect conducting technique and are more tollerant as they themselves are all learning. They are also fun and the music you are likely to do with them is (generally) less demanding to follow than that you may encounter elsewhere.

    Personality is 90% of conducting and you will always play better for someone you like as a character than someone who can conduct every beat of a 17/8 bar at 200bpm but leaves you uninterested. There is the magical few that have both of course.

    Practice at home, at work, wherever you can. Hear a tune in your head and practie waving a hand about and if you are either alone or very brave then give it the full blown shoulder raising, finger pointing Elgar Howarth staring routine.

    When you do get a chance to wag infront of a band make sure you have prepared and have a good understanding of the score of what you are going to conduct. Mark the top of a score so you know where time changes are and highlight where the tune is. Decide what it is YOU want to hear and where you want the piece to climax etc and then go for it. Pick a piece you like, ask your MD if you could put it in the programme and then do the first few rehearsals on it.

    JUST ASK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THEN KEEP ASKING!!!!!!!!!! THEN.......ASK SOME MORE!!!!!
  13. ploughboy

    ploughboy Active Member

    West Yorkshire
    I got my first full-time conducting job with the 4th section band of the organisation where I played in the senior band.

    My advice is to get to lots of auditions, even if the first few are a bit rough you'll get some quick experiance, explain to the bands that you're learning just like they are etc etc.

    I think the most important part is the communication skills, if you can get across what you want then you're more than half way there! (I was once talking to Geoff Whitham and his advice was - If you can get Kids to do it, you'll get anyone to do it) Start with the young!

    I've found the hardest thing beating the difficult patterns, which i practice at home in front of the mirror, also to see what I look like from the bands point of view. BUT having played for a number of "top" conductors, they beating patterens seem to me to go out the window at some point, all it looks to me sometimes is "up and own will do" (even in 3)!!!!!

    Good luck, I'm sire there's a band out there perfect for you, keep looking!
  14. The Cornet King

    The Cornet King Active Member

    I can certainly vouch for the 'if you can get the young to do it you can get anyone to do it' statement. I conducted the Cottingham junior ensemble for a small time when i played with Cottingham Band and it was at times very hard work, especially when there interest isn't with playing for an hour solid. Its very enjoyable and rewarding though and its certainly made me want to conduct a full band one day, but again its getting the experience thats the difficult bit.

    Certainly made me realise how hard it actually is to stand in front of a band and find productive things to say about scores!
  15. Shaggy

    Shaggy New Member

    A cautionary tale........A good friend of mine who was a very long standing playing member of her band, volunteered to help out her band when they were in a tight spot. They had no conductor for a busy summer schedule, and no takers for the job. So my mate decided to do the decent thing and stuck her hand up. All was well to start with, the band rather enjoyed the novelty of a band member "having a go" and every one was pleased to help, offer words of advice and tolerate my pals mistakes and lack of experience, and the band gave my mate all the basic good manners and respect they would give to ANY conductor........good, or bad.

    However, the honey moon was short lived. The more confidence my mate gained, the more time my mate had to study the scores and start to make an impression, the worse things became. The atmosphere at gigs and rehearsals became increasingly hostile, and an air of sullen bitter resentment prevailed.The players started to get very mouthy and beligerant. May pal told me of an incident when the band simply refused to play the first three numbers called at a gig!

    My pal was voted out of her position by those in charge, despite the fact she never had a position in the first place, and never charged a penny for her services, she was just helping out.

    Having helped this band out many times myself i know how many clowns they have had waving a stick at them, but none have ever been treated with such contempt or basic lack of good manners as my mate.

    So, whats the reason? It was NOT becuase she was the worst MD in the history of the band by a MASSIVE margin, had that been the case, you could almost understand it.....almost, but not quite, the band should ALWAYS have shown good manners. Is it becuase she was a woman? no, the band has had a woman in charge before and no one said a word.

    So what was it that caused this pathetic behaviour? Its impossible to say for sure, because she was never told. I was at a number of these gigs when this "toys out of the pram" stuff occurred and could see no rational reason for it, apart from one thing.......she was a rank and file player in the band, branded,filed away, pidgeon holed for life, despite her vast experience outside the Brass Band world.

    Picking up the stick and having a go was fine while the band had a chance to patronise and feel superior, but then when the penny dropped that she knew what she was doing and could quite clearly do the job better than any of them, then resentment started.

    The fact that she was a band member taking on the job is bad enough, but being a non soloist, and showing a level of ability for the job, is enough to turn a band in to a bunch of sullen resentfull teenagers.

    Its hard to believe I know, but she is still with the same band, despite being treated like something you might find on the bottom of your shoe, and, (you cant make this up can you?) they still ask her to conduct when they are short of a conductor!!!
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  16. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Couldn't agree more. A local 'Championship' section band was in need of a filler-in for a summer season, so muggins agreed. Probably the most stressful few months of my life, and did I even get a whiff of thanks? Not likely. Same band recently sacked a conductor by text message, delightful! And they wonder why everybody's leaving.

    Moral to the story: Don't expect anything but criticism, sniping and backstabbing from people who think they can do better, but in truth, don't know which end to blow into. If you can put up with that, you will enjoy a long and fulfilling conducting career!
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