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Conductor playing music in time

What does a conductor do?

This is an awesome gig shot of a conductor Sarah-Grace Williams, posted on Facebook by singer Emily Williams. It reminded me of a conversation with a student I had recently. How do musicians achieve playing music in time?She hadn’t done it much playing with other musicians. She didn’t yet know how musicians make sure they’re all about to start off playing at the same speed.   So I picked up a pen and showed her. Conductors begin counting in the beat with their baton, before anyone plays or sings a note. And explained how ofter drummers click their sticks or count out loud for a bar before a song starts.

Basic pulse that everyone locks into 

This idea of the pulse of the music underlying everything is powerful.
 
When is works well, everyone in the band/orchestra/ensemble/any other group of musicians moves as one. The basic pulse isn’t always overtly obvious like a click track, but when musicians are truly playing together, they are ALL locked into it. Even when the are stops or silence in music, the basic pulse is still there.
 
Some styles of music insistently push the basic pulse, and grooves lazily follow it, but the pulse is still always there, like a heartbeat.
 
This photo is so awesome at showing the “get ready” sense of anticipation of beat 1.
Musicians who learn and practice alone (and sometime solo performers can suffer from this) there’s a natural tendency to slow down for “tricky” bits and speed up for “easy” bits. Or ever to rewind and repeat sections if a mistake has been made. This interrupts the flow of the performance, mostly because the underlying basic beat has been interrupted. 
One of the things I LOVE about group piano classes is that students get to experience playing in an ensemble setting from day one. They learn the idea of the basic pulse of music as a matter of course, by experiencing it. The teacher doesn’t need to say a word or explain it in any way – it’s self evident.
Playing music in time makes for better musicians.  

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