Why do conductors use batons rather than just using their hands?
A baton is a stick that is used by conductors primarily to exaggerate and enhance the manual and bodily movements associated with directing an ensemble of musicians.
Conductors view their gestures as the primary means to communicate musical ideas, whether or not they choose to use batons. Leonard Bernstein is quoted as saying ‘if one [the conductor] uses a baton, the baton itself must be a living thing, charged with a kind of electricity, which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement.
The usual way of holding the baton is between the thumb and the first two fingers with the grip in against the palm of the hand. The baton is usually held in the right hand though some left-handed conductors hold it in the left.
Before the use of the baton, orchestral ensembles were conducted from the harpsichord or the first violin lead. Conductors first began to use violin bows or rolled pieces of paper before the modern baton was introduced.