Conducting technique: the power of the left hand

By Gianmaria Griglio

A few examples:

When can the left hand be used with an actual purpose?

1 – to cue a section or an instrument 2 – to highlight a solo section 3 – to make a crescendo or a diminuendo 4 – to enhance a change of color

Cueing it’s one of its most obvious purposes, especially when it concerns instruments or sections positioned on the left side of the stage: why would you use your right hand to cue the first violins on your left?


Highlighting solo parts is one of the best things a conductor can do: without getting in the player’s way, it’s easy to make a connection and “paint” the music in the air. 


ake, for example, this passage from Tchaikovsky 6th symphony, mov. 1:


It would be very easy to simply do a 4/4 pattern. But how would that depict the music? It wouldn’t. Beating time is not what a conductor is there for.


Instead, it is much more interesting to register the line, alternating upwards and downwards movements with both hands: so, in other words, the left hand is assigned to the flute while the right hand to the bassoon and they literally alternate an upward gesture with a small pulse on the second beat. 


Dynamics can be easily emphasized by the left hand: open palm, closed fingers and upward movement for a crescendo;   the opposite for a diminuendo, either with a downward movement or by moving the arm closer to the chest.


This is one of my favorite: there is so much room for creativity! Take, for instance, this passage from Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune:


Starting on the second bar of the page, there is a piano sostenuto, a crescendo, and a mezzoforte on the third bar, where the music changes color. 


Instead of a boring 3/4 pattern, it is much more interesting to use the right hand to register the line downwards on the first two bars, and then switch hands, showing the blossoming of the melody with the left, catching the crescendo and the dynamic change in the process. 


The bottom line is that there is so much more to the left hand than the few things that are normally taught.  If you start from the perspective that your gestures should reflect the music, and not the patterns behind it, then a new world of opportunities opens up giving you a chance to justify your presence on the podium as a conductor and not a simple metronome.

In the end...