Duets will allow piano students to play and work together, and they will also encourage children to develop their sight reading skills, which will be very useful especially when it comes to taking piano exams. More advanced players can take advantage of piano duet arrangements of symphonies, operas and overtures; this is an excellent way of getting to know orchestral repertoire and become aquainted with different composers and their stylistic traits, which could be very helpful in the last section of aural tests in music exams, where candidates are asked questions about musical styles.
Here are a few important factors to bear in mind when arranging duet sessions whether for you or your child:
1. Make sure that your duet partner is of a similar standard to you (or your child). This is very important. If you can’t find a partner it might be a good idea to ask your teacher as they will probably have other students who will be compatible.
2. Choose music that is really very simple to start with, so you can learn to play together and get ‘used’ to each other, tackling the problem of ensemble before looking at more complex pieces.
3. Establish whether you are just meeting for a sight reading session or are actually going to prepare pieces and work at them to perform; it’s probably better to meet to sight read at first.
4. Try to meet regularly so that you can build a rapport and are able to improve your sight reading ability; this needs regular practice to make significant improvement.
There is no doubt that duets are great fun and they force the student to ‘keep going’ and more importantly, keep the pulse or rhythm which is crucial when trying to improve reading abilities. Once you have decided on a speed for your duet and have started playing, never stop always keep going no matter how many mistakes you make.
It is a good idea to keep swapping parts too; both pianists need to experience playing at the top (primo) and at the bottom or bass (secondo) of the piano. This allows them to learn to control the pedal which feels different when playing duets. It also feels different playing each part; the melody, often in the primo part, needs different phrasing and consideration than the bass accompaniment, which is usually in the bass or secondo part.
I hope this may have inspired you to try duets. There are many great beginners volumes: Chester’s books, the Me and My Piano range, John Thompson’s volumes, Alfred’s books – they all have their own series. More advanced players may enjoy easy classical selection books such as The Joy of Piano Duets (edited by Denes Agay) or Easy Classical Piano Duets (published by Music Sales). There are various duet ranges available, so find one that is right for you and start playing.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.