Over the last couple of months in the Bandsmen there have been letters written about conductors or stick wavers as they put them. And am just wondering if anyone has any views on this subject.


Sorry, I gave up reading the bandsman many a moon ago, so not sure what your referring to. Could you ellaborate a little please?


Staff member
There were several issues, including whether conductors should of necessity have any formal training before standing in front of a band - if I remember correctly, at least in part it was a sly dig at players from top bands stepping into conducting positions.
I think you are talking about the "what makes a good / conductor" and who should be allowed to "stick Wave".

Personally I have one view on it.

I think conductors should have had some higher level of playing ability / training.

Its all well and good for the chap in the middle to be shouting and balling at people saying how wrong it is, when the players themselves generally dont know how to produce the desired effect.

Its no good instruction a young player to "use their diaphram" to get that high note, as generally they dont know how, and dont understand the term.

Effective guidance with examples must be considered especially with kids.

I also think theirs alot of stick wavers who mean well and give 110% to their cause, but who have picked things up of others without any individual experience! Although banding would be at a severe loss without these people.

Its just a difficult one to call!

We need the enthusiastic, "average type" stick wavers!

We need fully experienced, well trained musical stick ticklers!

I know through personal experience that there's nothing more frustrating than not knowing physically how to produce the result, all we players want is guidance and simple instructions.

A little confidence building is nice too!


So it was saying that all conductors should have formal training before wagging the stick?

I have to admit, I received my training at Salford University, and I think that without it I would not be able to conduct today, it's a very steep learning curve and it takes a lot of time to begin learning the trade properly.
However, I have no doubt whatsoever that some players can jump into the conductors role quite easily, I think it really depends on the individual. I think if you polled all the conductors in Britain, you'd find that less than half of them have had "formal" training.
I'm not sure if you can generalise on a subject like this, everybody is different and some people make the transition from player to conductor really smoothly ( Mines was a rough journey, and it's still quite turbulent). I will agree however on the top players automatically getting good jobs in the top section without earning their crust with the lower bands, I've seen some disastorous attempts at that, a case of the ego coming before the groundwork
Pretty well I agree with Martin.........

I don't think that formal music/conducting training is a requirement, but obviously an advantage. It would be hard to be MD without being able to know the construction of chords - is that the right way to put it?

Most important, I feel, is that a conductor should be able to get a deep insight into the piece being played, and then through rehersals - get that across to the band.

With regard to "shouting and balling" - if any MD does that..........he is in the wrong job / hobby. Simple as that.

Motivation and confidence building are prob for me one of the key areas that a conductor should be good at.

I too have seen conductors, in 4 section bands, telling begginers on 3rd cornet "squeeze the diaphram"......and "give it some Vib!!". These poor beginners are coping with trying play the instrument together with learning to sight read the music. To top it all...they get publically exposed in the band for not triggering their bottem Ds. It's all to much for a beginner to handle. Treat em more sympathetically I think.

I can honestly say that when conductors give the back row a hard time (as above), knowing that the conductor is an ex (say) bass player - I have felt like handing him my cornet (front row) and saying "go on then.... you do it..." Or maybe just packing the stand away and walking out.

The guy that waves the stick is the boss - no doubt about that. When he says "silence" - thats how it should be. Without discipline, the MD will never have a good band.......but, the end result can most certainly be gained without humiliations of beginner players, and for that matter any other members of a band.

I am lucky that at present I have a conductor that has studied music as a profession and has endless patience.........He never humiliates, but then again never leaves mistakes uncorrected (unless a simple mistake). Whilst he never "shouts and bawls", also he isn't over the top with praise - the best you will ever get is "See, you can do it - when you try"...and that is good praise from him.

For what they are worth.........those are my thoughts.......

Dave Payn

Active Member
Elsewhere on this board, I've shared my experiences in how I fell short on a concducting course in 'person management' skills which are also vital to any conductor.

I think if you're a conductor of a lower section band which wants to improve, then the MD of that band needs to have a working knowledge of theory and harmony (or 'construction of chords') as well as the brass playing skills. Nowadays, I think a working knowledge of percussion and the techniques required is also a boon! Also, (one thing that does get overlooked by 'valve' players - it was certainly something I was guilty of in my early days) is knowledge of trombone slide positions, with or without plugs. Also, cornet and horn players going into conducting should learn about the 4th valve on a euphonium, bass (and, in these days, baritone).

The knowledge of chords/harmony/theory etc. is vital to lower section band conductors certainly, as many a time when a test piece comes around particularly, where queries are made by the band as to whether they've got the right notes in a certain passage. In these days when the music is printed from packages like Sibeluis, you tend to find that mistakes in the parts are replicated on the score and vice versa, so the MD really needs to be on his/her toes in the harmony department.

I can't comment on what it's like for top section conductors as I've never conducted one, though I'd imagine if I ever did, most of the band would know at least as much and probably more about the brass technique things certainly. However, there is a saying in music that the best players don't necessarily make the best conductors.

I've been conducting brass bands/ensembles, wind bands, orchestra (once) and choirs and whilst I'm confident I can pass on what I've been taught over the years, I know I've got a hell of a lot of learning to do. That's the challenging part and it's what keeps me going and wantinng to continue to conduct.


Been following this thread with some interest, the majority of you who have made some very good points so far seem to be assuming that the ''un-trained'' conductor is likely to be a liablility and be unable to get the best out of the band.

Not so, it really does all depend on the conductor and what the band itself wants to do, playing in and conducting in two non-contesting bands (one likely 4th section the other section 1/2 ) I find both are extremely succesful through the sheer hard work and professionalism of the man in the middle.

Knowing what you want, what the band wants and delivering it is half way to solving any problems encountered.

the people we have most difficuly with ?

Yes youve guessed it - the players who think they know better than we do.
They may of course do, but is by claiming such things and trying to un settle the man in the middle helping the band? I think not



I have to say I disagree with those people who feel having formal training is a necessity for conductors.

I have been conducting Littleborough Band for nearly three years now. In that time we have grown from a group of 8-9 players who hardly performed in public to a 20- strong fully contesting 4th section band.

My formal training- none. I have achieved what I have through hard work, dedication and obviously some luck along the way.

I do not believe it is essential for conductors to have formal training in order to lead a band. I will hold my hands up and say my knowledge of chord sequences etc. should be better, but have we stopped using our ears? As musicians we should be able firstly to hear whether a note is correct or not.

I am not saying my system is in any way the right way, it works for me and my band. Other people will no doubt have other opinions on this matter.
What about looking at it from another angle?
There are people with qualifications coming out of their ears but are absolutely useless in front of a band!
There is an assumption that just because somebody is waving a degree around that they know what they are doing?
There are some people who train and come out of the other side with a great qualification-not because they are good musicians but because they were acedemically good and learnt everything parrot fashion!
Musiciality surely can not be taught-but is something that is developed-if you get me? It has to be there in the first place and then developed and trained.
Far too many people look at letters after a person's name and see it as the be all and end all!
Apoligies for the appaulling grammar but it's too early in the morning!


Active Member
My thoughts...

Is playing under other conductors not training enough. The only thing I feel I lack is the technical side of stick wagging and I agree that could be taught as bad habits are quickly picked up but the rest is not something you need a certificate for. You dont need a higher level of playing experience as long as you know the technical aspect of playing each instrument, that is what enables you to help your players progress. The people management side of the job cannot be taught either, can you imagine how long it would take to teach someone how to deal with every situation that could crop up regarding brass band life. You either have inter-personal skills or you dont. I honestly believe you either know what you want to do with the music you play or you dont, the only way of knowing if you are doing it right is with the performances you get out the band (not necessarily the contest results).


I agree with the last two posts completely. Conductors should be judged on how the band plays, not what bit of paper you have.


I agree with "i bang and blow".

Music colleges (like all university/colleges) are chundering out students with, shall we say lower standard degrees. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great thing that further education has been opened up to the masses, after all it has been especially productive for the brass band movement. But, standards have definately dropped (across the board). By this i mean the standard of the qualification itself has been diluted. Therefore it can't be taken as read that someone is a talented musician or conducter if they have a degree from a music college, (i hope this is what you mean I Bang and blow).


Regardless of qualifications or experience, you know straight away when sat under someone, how good they are! I would say it is the bands who are often attracted to people with the letters after their name!!

There are plenty of people in influencial teaching positions who don't have any musical qualifications. Like McCann at Huds Uni, but I wouldn't say this affects his level of teaching. At the other end, the guy who teaches conducting at huds uni is far more qualified academically than p.mccann but in terms of experience and performances acheived, mccann is miles better..but who leads the course?!!

I think there are numpties in every area of life and the best man doesn't always get the job. There is always a great deal of beurocracy and brown nosing involved!!


Dave Payn

Active Member
deave said:
Regardless of qualifications or experience, you know straight away when sat under someone, how good they are! I would say it is the bands who are often attracted to people with the letters after their name!!

Indeed, I have letters after my name. I have an OBE AND I'm an Earl (thereby naking me an Earlobe.....) ;-) ;-) ;-)


Active Member
MattB said:
Conductors should be judged on how the band plays, not what bit of paper you have.
Agreed, that they should be judged on how they play, but I can't help but think that some training will help. Even if the training laid down some foundations, I still think it'd be worth it.


Active Member
I'm a conductor with no 'formal' training, I have lots of musical experience, not just in the field of brass and I gained most my experience from playing myself. It works and I'm prepared to continue to learn as a cnductor on various courses when I get the opportunity. It's just as much about passing on musical information to the band and teaching them as it is about wagging the stick - esp in the youth and 4th sections.
I'm currently conductor of Besses O'th Barn band and have some ideas on what a conductor should do. First of all a conductor doesn't have to be awesome on his/her instrument. Sir Colin Davis wasn't exactly the best clarinnettist in the world but is now known as one of the finest conductors! Conductors are there to be the link between the composer and the band, he/she interprets and shapes the music into what is a personal and ultimately unique performance. We are humans not machines and therefore are emotions can get involved in music which is great! Depending on the standard of the band it always isn't necessary to get involved in "techniques" of playing, afterall you as conductor would see each player 2/3 times a week and how do you know what their practise regime (if any!) is??? Also, there is no point in blaming a conductor on how a band plays, we are all humans NOT machines therefore we are entitled to play split notes etc... it can make things much more exciting! How would you like going to a contest and hearing everything played too safe with no risk, thats boring and quite frankly unmusical. A great conductor can't "polish a turd"!
My suggestion is for conductors to go to as many symphony orchestra concerts as possible or band concerts with fine conductors such as James Gourlay, Howard Snell etc... watch how these guys do it, they make it look so easy!