Sonja Joubert is a master pianist classically trained by the late master Mr Josias Van Der Merwe and the late Adolph Hallis. She is also an excellent piano teacher with over 40 years of teaching experience specialising in both jazz and classical piano.
Playing duets has been a much-neglected aspect of music teaching, especially in the piano.
It’s mainly because it’s a huge instrument on which one person can play music sounding like a whole orchestra or band playing together, not needing another instrument.
Duet playing is more utilised in weekly teaching in single line or single melody instruments (like a flute or trumpet or violin etc), as it helps the student to hear chords and music on the whole.
Duet playing in all instruments including the piano has great benefits and advantages.
What is duet playing?
Duet playing is where two persons are playing instruments together, whether it is two individuals playing on one or two pianos or two instrumentalists playing two different instruments like a violin and piano, or two flutes or trumpets etc.
This brings us to the question:
“What are the advantages or benefits of playing duets?”
Here are some major benefits discussed below:
Development as musician
Duet playing plays a major role in the development of a student as an instrument player and musician.
If duet playing is used in regular lessons, it has a major influence on the student, motivating them and helping them to be able to develop much faster with more fun and excitement.
Mimicking and modelling the teacher
One of the major benefits of duet playing is the fact that the student has the opportunity to see and hear the teacher play the instrument, be it piano or flute or drum or trumpet etc.
This way the student can mimic and model the teacher in sound and posture, in the way an instrument is held ( like in the flute), the way the sound is produced, the way the teacher is playing and holding his hands at the piano etc.
The intonation of sound is also heard and modelled as in the violin and trumpet intonation etc.
Student performs better
Most of the time the student always plays better if he plays with his teacher or has to play a duet with another student.
It pushes the student to perform and practise and know their work, so as not to sound unprepared.
Duet playing pushes the student to a higher level and the teacher always makes the student sound so much better.
Adding a duet line – whether (improvised) or playing the written duet part by the teacher, always helps the student to musically perform better. Better than any other way.
The fun element of duet playing
A great advantage of duet playing is the fun that it brings to the participants.
Sometimes playing or practising alone can be tiring and even sometimes boring, but when playing a duet it can be great fun and bring motivation to the student to excel and practise with purpose.
Improvisation on your instrument
For the single lime instrument like the flute, duet playing helps with improvisation and getting to know the instrument better.
Therefore it can be seen as a very valuable teaching tool.
If the teacher can add a counterline to the student’s melody, the music becomes much richer and brings out the harmonies used by the composer.
It makes the music more understandable and enjoyable to the student.
It also teaches the student about improvisation, an art that needs to be developed especially for the classical instrumentalist who reads notes and does not really play by ear.
Student and teacher duets
Here the duet is used in the lesson where the teacher plays with the student making the lesson more full of fun and bringing the participation of both teacher and student.
The bond created between student and teacher
In the duet, not only the student plays, but also the teacher enjoys playing and having fun with the student. This also creates a bond between teacher and student which is very valuable in the development and enjoyment of lessons, both for the student and the teacher.
Two students of equal development or ability
Here one chooses two students that are at the same development stage to play a duet together.
This works well if they are practising a duet as in a piano duet (two playing on one piano) or as in a two-piano duet for a specific public performance.
The advantage is here that both students will really put in their best as they realise that the success of the performance depends on them both knowing their work and being able to flow or perform together as one or in unison.
This is a great tool for development and fun.
It is also a fact that audiences are more intrigued by a duet performance and they respond with much more applause than in a solo performance.
Using two students of unequal ability on their instrument
This works well for both students, as the weaker student will work harder to sound better while the stronger student will often act as teacher to the weaker student and thus “teaching” the weaker student sometimes even in a better way than what the teacher sometimes can, because of their own way of working out the particular piece of music.
This way the stronger student is even developing his own teaching skills and both students will have more motivation to improve and work harder – helping each other. Thus, creating the bond needed for playing a duet.
More advantages of playing duets:
Playing duets brings a development in the area of musicianship to the students. As two have to perform together, they have to give attention to timing, sound, dynamics, rhythm and melody.
Students will learn to really listen with the ear to the sound that they create together on the piano as an example.
The bass can not overpower the melody.
Neither can the melody be too soft.
Dynamics becomes important and hearing one another develops the ear in a great way, which many times gets lost in the solo piano pieces when the mind is working on notes and the ear cuts out.
In the case of the duets, students have no other option but to listen and to listen intently at one another so that the timing is perfect and the music can truly be as though one person is performing, yet it is two.
What a pleasure when one can enjoy that playing together in harmony and when both parties feel and breathe the same music, the same breath taken when having to anticipate a beat etc.
It’s an extraordinary way to enjoy music to the fullest. Having to ’feel’ the other person.
It’s like when one plays in a band and there is that sudden unity which unexpectedly out of nowhere flows, and the enjoyment of experiencing something extraordinary!
Timing and rhythm
Playing duets helps greatly with timing problems and development of rhythm. Students are forced to keep time and listen to each other
Development of performing skills
Duet playing forces the students to play and keep on playing no matter what.
No stopping or going back to fix a mistake, as your partner is also playing and moving steadily forward.
It’s a great tool to develop this skill of ignoring a small mistake or blunder and moving forward, keeping the time and bars as is written.
Duet playing brings an important part of having to perform together with others, socialising and talking about music.
For many students having to practise or work on their own, is a hard thing.
With duet playing it can become much less tedious and enjoyable to practise and work on your music, without even really feeling the hard work.
Playing duets or in groups is an amazing tool to encourage students, helping them with the love and interest needed to work and develop in their musical career and studies.
Why not find a lovely duet with spike and life in it, and play it with another student. It’s not about who’s the best but about the love of music. Enjoy! Take it to the concert hall and play with all your hearts!
Let me share a small incident at a double flute concerto I played with my flute teacher at a very smart but smallish performing hall.
As the flute was my second instrument, I did not spend the time and hours to practise as I did on my piano.
Needless to say, I had to concentrate as I’ve never concentrated in my life, as I did not know it from memory, neither knew it very well at all!
It was a beautiful piece of music and a lot of fun to play together. We played basically through the whole piece enjoying yet I was concentrating madly.
The next moment my teacher made a huge horrendous blunder!
I was stunned but kept playing. I, the student was the one supposed to make the mistakes, not the teacher!
Well, guess who was asked if they could teach flute, after the concert?
Not the teacher!
I was asked and had to say – “no sorry I’m the student”!
It was rather hilarious and surprising but one of those things that could happen to anyone.
So whether you are a student or a teacher – just play and enjoy.