Ahh… the duet point in any tuition book. How many teachers skip over these because they know most students dread to play them.
Although they can be difficult to do – duets actually can be really good for students in many ways and here’s just some of my favourite reasons.
Intonation! How many times do we get exam results through that moan about intonation? But in an exam situation students panic. Yes, they might be listening to the accompanist but are they listening to themselves? Duets are a fantastic way for students to work on their intonation as the sounds they hear need to blend that little bit closer. They’re also hearing the same sort of sounds (assuming you duet on the same instruments) so again it can really make them have to work out what sound is coming from them and what’s not.
Ensemble experience - Duets are a great introduction to ensemble playing – if they’re keen to join an orchestra or band, but aren’t sure what it feels like then duets can be great starting place.
Listening – You’ve got to listen to make duets work. Unlike being accompanied where the pianist will often work with the soloist to support their lines, duets really do need a sense of balance. The rhythms need to work together, the tone needs to blend, the dynamics need to match etc etc etc. So for the ear – again they’re a great work out!
Breathing – Although all students do remember the breathe when they’re playing (hopefully), duets can help them progress a bit further with their breathing. Because you’re playing together the natural result is that both players begin to breathe at the same time. So it becomes natural and organic, rather than prescribed four bar phrases.
Sight-reading – I know I keep going on about sight-reading (partly because I love it and it really isn’t as scary as students make out!) but duets can also be used to add a different angle to their sight-reading practise. Give them a minute to look over part one, count in and both play it from scratch. This would give them a real boost in the importance of making sure when they perform a sight-reading exercise that they stay in time and learn the importance of keeping going (and blagging it when they’re not sure!!)
Repertoire – There’s such a wide range of duet pieces out there that there is really a vault of untapped music ready to be played. They’re a brilliant filler if you need something extra from the tuition book. There’s always a great array of different styles and genres out there to explore.
So get out there and get them playing more duets!