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 fairly 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 (usually 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 have a go at duets. There are many great beginners volumes; have a look at 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 many duet ranges available so find one that is right for you and start playing.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.