Music Conductors and Directors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Formal training in at least one musical instrument is necessary for a future as a music conductor or director. Keyboard instruction is particularly important. In high school, participation in a concert band, jazz ensemble, choir, or orchestra will teach you about group performing and how the various parts contribute to a whole sound. Some high schools may offer opportunities to conduct school music groups.

Postsecondary Training

It is unlikely that many people start out at a very early point in life to become a music conductor. Most conductors begin studying music at an early age and possibly, at some later, more mature point of life, may discover or suspect that they have the qualities to become a conductor. Some conductors become involved at the high school or college level, leading a small group for whom they may also do the arranging and possibly some composing. There are some courses specifically in conducting at advanced institutions, and interested students may take courses in composition, arranging, and orchestrating, which provide a good background for conducting. Some opportunities to conduct may arise at college, and you may be able to study with a faculty member who conducts the school orchestra. There are also conductor training programs and apprenticeship programs, which are announced in the music trade papers.

It was once commonly thought that conducting was unteachable. That attitude has been changing, however, and some institutions have developed formalized programs to teach the art of conducting. The Paris Conservatory is particularly noted for its conducting instruction, and completion of that institution's course is said to pave the way to opportunities in conducting. The Julliard School is another institution known for its studies in conducting.

Conductors must acquire a multiplicity of skills in order to practice their art. These skills may be divided into three parts: technical, performance, and conducting.

Technical skills deal with conductors' ability to control orchestral intonation, balance, and color; they must be advanced at sight reading and transposition in order to cope with orchestral scores. Conductors must acquire a comprehensive knowledge of all orchestral instruments and must themselves have mastery of at least one instrument, the piano probably being the most helpful. They must acquire skills in composition and music analysis, which presumes accomplished skills in counterpoint, harmony, musical structures, and orchestration. Finally, conductors must understand and be able to adapt musical styling.

Performance skills refer to conductors' own instrumental ability. Mastery of one instrument is important, but the more instruments conductors know, the better they will be able to relate to members of the orchestra. It is through knowledge of instruments that conductors develop their interpretive abilities.

Conducting skills involve the ability to use the baton and to control the timing, rhythm, and structure of a musical piece. Conductors must develop these skills at performances and at rehearsals. At rehearsals they must use their power and their intellect to blend the various elements of the orchestra and the composition into a single unified presentation. Conductors must also learn to use their whole bodies, along with the baton, to control the music.

Conductors require not only an extensive knowledge of music but also a strong general background in the arts and humanities. They should have a comprehensive knowledge of musical history as it fits into the general fabric of civilization, along with competence in various languages, including French, German, Italian, and Latin. Language skills are particularly helpful in coaching singers. Familiarity with the history of Western civilization, particularly its literature, drama, and art, will also be valuable in the composer's musical frame of reference.

Other Education or Training

The Conductors Guild offers workshops, seminars, and summer institutes that help train and develop conductors. According to the guild, "a wide spectrum of conducting issues is covered, including matters of baton technique, rehearsal methods, style and interpretation, analysis of scores, the relationship between conductor and players, etc., as well as the history and development of conducting as an art." The League of American Orchestras offers seminars and online learning opportunities about topics such as financial planning and electronic media. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

No certification or licensing is available for music conductors and directors.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring conductors should gain experience by conducting different types of orchestras—such as chamber ensembles, youth orchestras, etc.

Conductors require a high degree of self-discipline and unquestioned integrity in order to fill a difficult and complex leadership role. It is important as well that they learn all the aspects of the business and social functions of an orchestra.

Like musicians and composers, conductors must have talent, a quality that cannot be taught or acquired. They must have supreme self-confidence in their ability to lead and interpret the music of the great masters. They must convince both audience and ensemble that they are in command.