In our article ‘How to Conduct’, we looked at the role of the conductor and offered some basic tips to get you started on the mechanics of the job. In this article we am going to examine the baton which is a vital tool of the trade for any conductor. We will investigate what makes a good baton and some of the features to consider before outlining some possible choices.
One must consider the weight of the baton and feel comfortable with how heavy it is in the hand. It should feel comfortable but not as light as to be imperceptible. The baton is an extension to the conductors arm and should facilitate graceful movements without causing any issues. Equally, it should feel substantial enough to allow the conductor to grip it with some force where needed and to command a sense of power in the hand for those particularly dramatic sections of music.
Comfort and grip
We should then consider the comfort of holding the baton and the grip as many conductors have different approaches to holding the baton. Some common ways to hold the grip include the Basic Fulcrum, In-Line Grip, Tension Free Comfort and Behind the Collar Pinch. You may wish to buy a baton with a wooden handle or cork. Similarly you may wish to opt for a plastic handle in the early stages of learning but do consider whether you may outgrow this further down the line. Consider also the size of your hand and how this might impact on the size of the baton and grip.
Other factors to consider are the colour of the shaft of your baton and the balance. Some people prefer a white shaft as this aids visibility and the balance of the baton in your hand is a very subtle and important art. You want to feel confident that the baton can hold its balance if you were to place it on your finger where the stick and the handle meet. If it moves or falls easily then chances are you have a rather cheap and poorly balanced baton which could impact on your ability to communicate effectively. Remember that the baton is personal to you so don’t always assume that a more expensive baton is right for you.
The Mollard S14-RW Baton has a formidable reputation and features a gorgeous rosewood handle. The handle is pear shaped which gives a good grip and although lightweight the 14 inch length allows for one of the easiest and clearest articulations required in professional situations.
The Sound Harbour Music Baton is a good option for students and professionals and features an imitation agate handle. This baton is a little longer than the Mollard and for some maybe too long for their needs. This is a very light baton which is only 2 ounces and comes in a variety of colours to add some personality to your conducting.
King David 14WTCK
This baton uses a tapered cork handle which is designed for comfort and it has excellent balance. The white shaft is a combination of birch and maple wood has been kiln-dried. The 14 inch baton provides great movement in use and is a very popular design.
This baton is a good choice for those with smaller hands and is made of Cocobolo, a tropical hardwood from Central America. Although lightweight, it is surprisingly durable and at 12 inches is perhaps the perfect size for leading both bands and orchestras.
This is a good professional option and features the much revered pear shape handle. It comes in a 13 and 15 inch variety to allow more range for different conductors. It has a light hardwood handle and white shaft and represents a minimalist no fuss approach to conducting without scrimping on comfort, balance and poise. This is a solid contender and worth investigating.
There are many brands available and the five above represent excellent value in terms of performance and quality. It is such a difficult choice to make and personal to each individual but it may be worth pointing out that some materials are by nature more robust than others. Newland Batons for instance use a carbon fibre shaft which ensures a long lifespan. Whilst Mollard is a popular brand, some people have had issues with them breaking over time when they are tapped against music stands too often. Some brands provide cases for storage and this is an important factor to consider. If you are a professional then you will no doubt be on the road and moving from place to place so having a safe storage option should be considered.
The most important aspect when buying a baton is the communication and openness you can have the manufacturer. Sometimes it is best to call them and tell them your requirements and open a dialogue directly so that they can advise on the best option for you.
Below I have listed a few key points from this article that you may wish to consider a priority when making that first step towards buying a new conducting baton.
- Consider buying a baton that matches your height. Some recommend a baton that is around the length of your forearm.
- Always check the balance of the baton as it should feel secure and well weighted.
- Consider the size of your hand when selecting a grip as the shape can have a big impact on how it feels in the hand.
- Don’t be afraid to trust your instinct and try not to be swayed by the opinions of others. The baton is yours only and you must be truly comfortable with it.
- Contact manufacturers for advice so that you can make an informed choice and most importantly make sure you try as many as possible in music stores.
Good luck on your quest for perfection.