While there is more than one way to correctly cut off the congregation at the end of the song, there are many more ways to do it incorrectly.
A proper cut off should clearly signal exactly when the congregation will stop singing. Otherwise, it is simply a useless motion at the end of the song.
Here are the two best ways to execute a cutoff.
Begin exactly two beats before you want the congregation to stop singing. Turn your right hand over and hold it out. Move your left hand straight up for one beat, then straight down for one beat.
Do exactly as written above, but instead of going straight up and down, open your left hand for one beat, and then make a complete circle with your left hand only for one beat. This version looks like this.
Here are several important things about this cutoff.
The cutoff is executed with only your left hand. In conducting, we generally use the right hand to keep the beat and the left hand for expression. This doesn’t matter for leading hymns in general, but for the cutoff, the principle applies. It is nearly impossible to cut off with your two hands at exactly the same time.
During the cutoff, the speed of the motion remains constant. At the end of the cutoff, the left hand comes to an abrupt stop—there is no gradual slowing of the hand. A gradual slowdown removes the congregation’s ability to tell exactly where the cutoff ends.
The critical issue is the timing. By signaling the beat before, the congregation knows exactly when to stop. If that component is not included in your cutoff, it isn’t actually a cutoff.
There is no need to close the hand at all. This adds no beneficial information for the congregation, but does cause some people to close their throats rather than simply stop singing. This is not the cut off you’re looking for.
The other hand remains still, but turned up.
Be on guard against cutoffs that don’t meet these principles.
Here are several things you may have commonly seen that don’t actually serve the function of a cutoff:
Two handed cutoffs.
Remember, in principle, we use the right hand for the beat and the left hand for expression. Making the cutoff with the two hands at exactly the same time is not only technically incorrect, but nearly impossible. Use your left hand.
Cutoffs that don’t have a clear starting and stopping point.
The typical two-handed, circular cutoff that you may have often seen doesn’t actually tell the congregation when to stop. In another flawed cutoff, the song leader will slowly bring his hands down. This too has no identifiable point where the congregation stops singing. If your motion doesn’t serve its purpose, it is really just choreography. Clearly signal your start and stop.
Closing your hand in the air.
This inevitably ends up looking more like a fist pump than anything else. Keep the hand open.
Remember, the idea behind the cutoff is have everyone doing the same thing at the same time, not simply to make some motion at the end of the song. A clear cutoff will keep the congregation in sync with you.