Conducting 101: Conducting like Bernstein

Before beginning to dissect Bernstein’s scores and conducting patterns, let’s take a look at basics in conducting.  


As you can tell from the picture on the left, each time signature gets a particular conducting pattern. Each first beat will get the downbeat (your hand will go in a downward motion). These conducting patterns are only three of the many different patterns out there. There are many more time signatures that each get their own conducting pattern.

Bernstein composed, conducted, and educated a wide audience and had a huge impact on music in America. He was a very expressive and emotive conductor who entertained so many audiences for many years. 

Let’s learn how to conduct some of his pieces: 

1) ” A Simple Song” – MASS 

Sheet music from Bernstein’s “A Simple Song” from his MASS

The beginning of this song is conducted in cut time, but it does eventually
make its way to common time- conducted in 4/4. This time signature is one of the most common, if not THE most common, time signature. In simple terms, every quarter note gets one count in each measure. (In this time signature, 4 quarter notes makes 1 whole measure). It is not so surprising that a name with such title is in such a simple time signature.  Try listening to this song and feeling the pulse of the rhythm. (1)

2) “I Feel Pretty” – West Side Story 

Sheet music from Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story

This song is a bit more complex than the first. “I Feel Pretty” is in 3/4. The conducting pattern will look like the first pattern on the chart above. This time signature consists of 3 quarter notes per measure. A waltz will also be in 3/4. This time signature may make some feel more inclined to sway or dance as opposed to marching or walking like in a 4/4 time signature.  (2) 



3) ” America” – West Side Story 

Sheet music from Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story

Lastly, this song is conducted in 6/8. This time signature also allows for a swaying motion. The time signature also helps push this specific song towards a very uplifting happy feel. It’s easy to imagine how into this piece Bernstein would be as he conducted during concerts. Try conducting 6/8 with the help of the diagram in the picture above. (3)










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