Orchestral conducting technique: the held back attack


Ennio Nicotra 16/08/2016


Very frequently an orchestra is asked to perform a clear and sharp attack, especially in the Forte.

The gesture that offers most chances to suggest and obtain this effect is the held back attack.This is one of the most important basic gestures, and to master this attack is very useful as its use can be very frequent.

The held back attack can be used as an initial attack too, but sometimes with an orchestra which is not accustomed to it, this attack can lead to confusion; therefore it’s advised at first to use it as a subsequent attack and later on as initial attack as well. During the performing , can be used for a subito forte, to confer incisiveness and brilliance of sound, as you can see in the following video

Now let’s analyze carefully the held back attack and how to perform it

Starting from the basic position, the arm makes a circular movement as if you were gathering energy, moving back towards the starting point, followed by a very brief moment of concentration and ultimately the hit

Frequently during his lessons Ilya Musin used to compare this gesture to a boxer’s preparation and recollection of energy that comes just before he hits, especially with those students who found difficult to comprehend it.


Let’s now take a look at the practical applications that, as I mentioned before are very frequent:

Or again,


Furthermore, it is precisely the principle of the held back attack that underlies the realization of the sforzato attack:

The realization speed allows you to show different intensities of sforzato:


Furthermore this type of attack can find many applications even in the p where poignancy and precision are necessary.

Next Workshop in  Palermo (Sicily) 20-24 July 2018!  Intensive week with piano duo  in Villa del Pigno – Istituto dei ciechi Florio e Salamone.

By Ennio Nicotra

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