If you’re new to singing in front of a conductor this is for you. You see, there really is a method to the madness of Susie’s flailings and I wanted to clue you in. All of the time signatures that we use have a standard pattern of flailing and I wanted to share them with you. First, the patterns themselves:

Note that each of these have two things in common:

  1. The first beat of a measure is always the hand coming straight down (I got a buck that says that’s where we get “downbeat” from). A good conductor (like ours) will make this a VERY visible movement so that everybody finds themselves starting measures at the same time. If you get lost, this is what’ll get you found.
  2. The last beat of a measure is always the hand climbing to the starting point (no, I don’t think that’s where “upbeat” came from but what do I know?). This makes sense as it then leads right into the next downbeat. It’s a great get-ready-the-next-measure-is-coming- move.

In the middle of those two flails are the other beats in a measure (or nothing else if it’s in 2, up-down-up-down) to guide us through it together. Important thing to know if you’re new to this: the beat happens at the end of the stroke when they hand gets where it’s going, not at the start or the middle or some other random time thereabouts.

What, you ask, about those other weird time signatures that Susie always seems to find for us in weird pieces of music (often with weird words)? They’re just constructed from the three building blocks you’ve already seen, influenced by how the accents within the measure are laid out. Leaving the bottom number of the time signature out of the mix (that tells you what kind of note equals a single beat), the top number can be dang near anything and Susie will do some math to make it work. For example, if a song is in  7/8 time, she’d either do >1-2, 1-2,1-2-3< or >1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2< or >1-2, 1-2-3, 1-2< (that last one would be a rare day but anything’s possible).

So what do you need to know if this is all new to you? Keep it simple and look for the downbeat. Everything else will make sense as you get the rhythm of it and adjust your brain to the flailing. Fear not, she’s pretty good and you’ll catch on plenty quick.

As a fellow conductor, I also have a created an additional set of gestures that she could potentially use that I thought I’d pass on (inspired by the FAA Standard Hand Signals For Taxiing Aircraft):