The Effect of Different Preparatory Conducting Gestures on Breathing Behavior and Voice Quality of Choral Singers



      The breathing technique is a determining factor for the singer's sound quality and consequently crucial for the choral sound. However, very little is known about possible influences of the conductor's preparatory gesture on the way choral singers inhale before the beginning of a piece (respectively every subsequent phrase). The conducting literature does not discriminate between out- and inward preparatory gestures and even describes them as equivalent, but previous studies suggest that singers assign different types of inhalation to different preparatory gestures. It may therefore be assumed that the type of preparatory gesture has a direct influence on the singer's inhalation and tone production, and the aim of this study is hence to examine possible effects of two contrasting preparatory gestures on the singer's inhalation type and the resulting tone quality.


      In our within-subjects study design, 18 healthy choral singers (9 male/ 9 female) were recruited to participate in a laboratory experiment. The participants were asked to sing a tone suitable for their voice register in response to different video stimuli. These consisted of two conducting-videos, each showing a different preparatory gesture, and two control conditions with an animated bar and an arrow indicating the desired breathing type. The singers reacted to 10 sets of videos, each set consisting of the four stimuli in randomized order. For evaluation of the breathing behavior and vocal output during the different experimental conditions, chest wall kinematics of upper rib cage, abdominal rib cage and abdomen were measured via 3D motion capture and voice samples were recorded. The obtained data were filtered and compared using the repeated measures analysis of variance and post hoc Tukey test for significant results. The level of significance was set at P < 0.05.


      The results of the study show significant differences in volume of the abdomen between the two different gestures (F1,17 = 24.04, η2 = 0.59, P = 0.0001), which can be validated by the two control measurements (F1,17 = 21.12, η2 = 0.55, P = 0.0002). An outward preparatory gesture evoked an abdominal breathing type while an inward-upward movement led to an inhalation with a higher portion of clavicular breathing. Furthermore, significant differences in timbre and loudness of the produced tone could be observed. The maximum sound pressure level of the outward preparatory gesture was significantly higher than in case of the inward-upward movement (F1,17 = 20.4, η2 = 0.56, P = 0.0004).


      In contrast to the existing conducting literature, which does not discriminate between out- and inward preparatory gestures, the results of this study show that the conductor's choice of trajectory direction and form of the preparatory gestures elicit spontaneous, gesture-specific reactions in singers’ breathing behavior as well as the corresponding loudness and sound quality.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Journal of Voice
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


      1. S.L. Platte, B. Lauber, J. Willimann, et al, Breathing with the conductor? A prospective, quasi-experimental exploration of breathing habits in choral singers, J Voice. Published online September 2021. (accessed 31 October 2021)

        • Kahn E
        Elements of Conducting.
        Schirmer, New York1975
        • Thomas K
        Lehrbuch der Chorleitung 1, 15. ed.
        Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden1967
        • Forbes M
        • Bartlett I
        It's much harder than I thought’: Facilitating a singing group for people with Parkinson's disease.
        Int J Community Music. 2020; 13: 29-47
        • Higgins AN
        • Richardson KC
        The effects of a choral singing intervention on speech characteristics in individuals with parkinson's disease: an exploratory study.
        Commun Disord Quart. 2019; 40: 195-205
        • Skingley A
        • Page S
        • Clift S
        • et al.
        Singing for breathing”: participants’ perceptions of a group singing programme for people with COPD.
        Arts Health. 2014; 6: 59-74
        • Gick ML
        • Nicol JJ
        Singing for respiratory health: theory, evidence and challenges.
        Health Promotion Int. 2016; 31: 725-734
        • Traser L
        • Özen AC
        • Burk F
        • et al.
        Respiratory dynamics in phonation and breathing — A real-time MRI study.
        Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2017; 236: 69-77
        • Salomoni S
        • van den Hoorn W
        • Hodges P.
        Breathing and singing: objective characterization of breathing patterns in classical singers.
        PLoS ONE. 2016; 11: 1-18
        • Thomasson M
        Belly-in or belly-out? Effects of inhalatory behaviour and lung volume on voice function in male opera singers.
        Music Hear Quarterly Progress Status Rep. 2003; 45: 61-73
        • Thomasson M
        • Sundberg J
        Consistency of inhalatory breathing patterns in professional operatic singers.
        J Voice. 2001; 15: 373-383
        • Watson PJ
        • Hixon TJ
        • Stathopoulos ET
        • et al.
        Respiratory kinematics in female classical singers.
        J Voice. 1990; 4: 120-128
        • Manternach JN
        The effect of varied conductor preparatory gestures on singer upper body movement.
        J Music Teacher Educ. 2012; 22: 2034
        • Manternach JN
        Effects of varied conductor prep movements on singer muscle engagement and voicing behaviors.
        Psychol Music. 2016; 44: 574-586
        • Stefan EJ
        Effects of Conductor Preparatory Gesture Direction on Abdominal Expansion of Teenage Singers.
        University of Kansas (published online), Lawrence2017 (Master’s Thesis)
      2. R Eichenberger, What they see is what you get!, 1994 (accessed 2 November 2021), 2020.

        • Schuldt-Jensen M
        What is conducting? Signs, principles, and problems.
        Signata: Annals of semiotics. 2015; 6: 383-421
        • Massaroni C.
        • Piaia Silvatti A.
        • Levai I.K.
        • et al.
        Comparison of marker models for the analysis of the volume variation and thoracoabdominal motion pattern in untrained and trained participants.
        J Biomech. 2018; 76: 247-252
        • Winter D.A.
        Biomechanics and Motor Control of Human Movement, 3. ed.
        Wiley, Hoboken, 2005
        • Massaroni C.
        • Piaia Silvatti A.
        • Levai I.K.
        • et al.
        Comparison of marker models for the analysis of the volume variation and thoracoabdominal motion pattern in untrained and trained participants.
        J Biomech. 2018; 76: 247-252
        • Lartillot O.
        • Toiviainen P.
        • Eerola T.
        • et al.
        A matlab toolbox for music information retrieval.
        (eds.)in: Preisach C. Burkhardt H. S Thieme L. Data Analysis, Machine Learning and Applications. Studies in Classification, Data Analysis, and Knowledge Organization. Springer, Berlin & Heidelberg2008: 261-268
      3. (eds)Siedenburg K. Saitis C. McAdams S. Timbre: Acoustics, Perception, and Cognition (Springer Handbook of Auditory Research, vol. 69). Springer International Publishing, 2019