Everything you need to know to conduct an orchestra

In the spirit of fairness and balance and for the good of music in general, we’ve established a list of “top tips” for conductors offered by each section in the orchestra. Take them to heart and you’ll go far.

Or maybe you won’t 🙂


Flute- I picked this flute because this is the kind of flute I like and make the sound I want to make, and telling me how great the wooden/platinum/graphite/foam-rubber flutes sound in your other orchestra just makes me want to gnaw my own legs off

Oboe- This reed sucks, this reed sucks, this reed sucks.

Clarinet- I’m not conducting the flutes, I’m conducting you.

Bassoon- Please don’t program Beethoven 4 this year. Or next year.

Horn- We’re really the reason people come to the concerts, but we can also be the reason they stay away

Trumpet- Your beat needs to be as precise as our embouchure and tongue or you are going to cause us problems. And when we have problems, you have problems.

Trombone- I have more recordings of this symphony than you do. Just sayin’….

Tuba- I know everything there is to know about coffee and wine. Ask me and learn.

Timpani- It would be better if you were less aware of what stick I was using and more aware of what pitches I’m playing (some of which may be different than in the score)

Tambourine- Wouldn’t it be easier to just tell the rest of the orchestra to play louder?

Harp- The fact I could be making three times as much playing a wedding means I’m really here out of pity.

Violin 1- We’re going with the concertmaster. You work it out with her/him

Violin 2- Learning our names would go a long way towards establishing your credibility.

Viola- The bowings are not fine, they can never be fine.

Cellos- At least half of us are conductors, too, and half of those are more experienced conductors than you. Toscanini, Barbirolli, Ivan Fischer, Harnoncourt- they were all sat in the cello section for conductors just like you, silently making up their minds and waiting for their chance.

Basses- We would rather not be required to gaze at your backside while you lavish your attention on the first violins.

Everyone in the orchestra- Let us go home 20 minutes early and we’ll love you

Your CEO- Let them go home 20 minutes early and I may fire you


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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