Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Role of Duets in the Piano Studio

I love playing piano duets! I always have, too. Throughout my studies, getting to play great music with another pianist has proven to be lots of fun while still addressing important pedagogical issues. Because it is not always convenient to include piano duets in our studios, sadly many teachers neglect this portion of the repertoire. Here are just a few of the benefits that students of all levels can gain from diving into these rich works.

  • Improves recognition of notes and rhythmic figures. From the very beginning, young children benefit from duet playing because the parts are often below their current level, allowing them to focus on reading the notes and rhythms accurately. As students progress, duet playing's focus on a single clef (in most cases) also develops their sight-reading skills.
  • Strengthens aural skills. Since all of the music is not coming from a single set of hands, student pianists quickly learn that they must depend upon their ear in order to insure that the two parts are fitting together properly. Additionally, students are exposed to chord progressions in duet playing that are often technically too demanding for their solo repertoire
  • Develops independence of playing. Pianists quickly learn how to confidently play their part while hearing another theme or rhythmic pattern in opposition to their own.
  • Improves the inner sense of rhythm. Students no longer have the luxury of adjusting the tempo to fit their technical needs. Those playing duets quickly realize that the beat must be maintained in order for the performance to work.
  • Allows soloist to experience performing in ensemble. The study of piano is primarily a solo pursuit. Making music, however, is not always a solo effort. The duet repertoire is a wonderful introduction to the sense of community, collaboration, and camaraderie musicians enjoy when playing in ensembles.
  • Serves as excellent preparation for future roles as accompanist and chamber player. Few pianists will enjoy a career exclusively as a soloist. Truthfully, much of our time will be spent as accompanists and chamber musicians. Playing duets -- especially with students at a lower ability level -- can be a great introduction to the art of collaboration and the skills necessary for a successful performance.