This article is for teachers working with beginner piano students who are looking for ways to enrich the first year of lessons. The focus is on duets and how they provide different advantages in getting a feel for the instrument.
As a piano teacher who has worked with beginners of various ages, one of the most important teaching tools I have found is the teacher accompaniment provided in most primer level method books (or books for absolute beginners). The simple process of playing a duet with a student after they have reached a basic level of proficiency with a song strengthens many aspects of a student’s musicality and reinforces their bearings in the beginning stages of piano lessons. Also, duets are fun, because the student gets to become part of a grander music making process, and even a basic piece can sound much larger.
Counting is, at first, an elusive process for some students that requires a lot of concentration initially. Not only is the student having to process pitch changes by moving the fingers, they also have to do these changes in time with a varied counting pattern. In some of the first musical examples the beginner piano student sees, different note values will be either a 1, 1-2, or 1-2-3-4 count. The teacher helps the student in establishing a sense of the steady beat and counting through various exercises, like tapping or counting out loud, but in my opinion, the process of learning the song is not truly complete until the duet is mastered also. For counting, playing the duet serves as a different form of counting for the student. The beat is set steadily by the teacher, but the student has to lock into this steady beat, which in turn, helps them develop a sense of even counting without the duet pattern being present. Therefore, to play the duet with a teacher is a mark of having mastered that particular piece or exercise from a counting perspective.
Melodic Benefits – Piano Duets
In beginner duets, the student always has the melody line, and the teacher has an accompaniment pattern that only serves as support for what the student is playing. In my experience, a student who consistently plays duets with their teacher in lessons develops a stronger sense of the roles of melody and accompaniment in music, and usually has a better ability to voice melodies further down the road of study. By having an accompaniment to play over, students understand that their part is the most important in the musical texture, so they have training wheels for establishing balance between harmony and the actual tune.
As a piano teacher, one of the most rewarding moments in a student’s first lessons with me is the way they light up when they play their very first duet successfully. The initial lessons, of course, only incorporate minimal note movement and single line melodies with very few keys. It’s easy for the student to think that what they are producing isn’t quite like music they are used to hearing and not feel like they are making music yet. What the duet accomplishes is illustration of the musical context in which a simple melody can exist. The student then realizes, “Hey! I AM making music, and my part is important!” The encouragement alone that the student receives from playing along with an accompaniment is reason enough to utilize it often.
Piano Duets Are A Tool
For teachers of beginner piano students, the simple tool of the duet is a powerful teaching aid and should be incorporated into lessons. Rhythmic, melodic, and motivational benefits of the process make using them a necessity in my lessons, and I feel the students enjoy lessons more when they get to play along with an accompaniment. It’s hard to find beginner piano method books that don’t have duets at all, because experts know they work!