Piano Duets

Hooked on Duets

Guest Post by Susan Bettaney

The Piano Duet form is an enriching experience which opens up a plethora of knowledge and repertoire dating back to the 18th Century, a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of a wondrous art form which evolved from the quills of the Great Composers ideal for the drawing rooms and salons of the times.


The more we research and explore, the less time we have to acquire and perform this huge repertoire. There are many original compositions available from the ‘Great Masters’, and the book ‘The Piano Duet’ by Ernest Lubin is a must for enthusiasts keen to learn the history, available on Amazon here.

There are many teaching books where the teacher plays the harder part and the student plays the easier part, often doubling up the melody, a good way to sight read and learn ledger lines.

Haydn’s ‘The Maestro e lo Scholar’ is an example of the teacher playing a phrase and then the pupil copying it, written in 1778 with a Theme followed by 7 Variations, each progressing pedagogically in difficulty until the end, when the pupil is finally free to take the lead.

A useful guide to the grading the repertoire is through the LCM Syllabus, the Trinity Syllabus, and ABRSM books in exams leading to a Performers Diploma in Duet playing.

Qualities and Skills

Solo piano playing can be lonely and arduous, but duets can provide comfort, fun, a social setting, enjoyment and greater ensemble rewards; so enhancing social skills, friendships, sight-reading, aural, ensemble, presentation and performance skills.

Duet partners:

  • need to be perceptive, research, willing to discuss, listen, and be patient;
  • practise regularly in sections and parts, to hear and decide which parts are important;
  • explore sonorities of sound, creating what the composer would want;
  • develop a rhythmical togetherness;
  • have patience and a willingness to discuss; this is after all a team performance!


Some aims:

  • A tidy and professional approach when performing. A sloppy approach can detract from an excellent programme.
  • Work out how to get to the piano, from which side, and who is introducing the repertoire. A brief introduction to a piece may entice the audience to appreciate it!
  • Will you need a page turner, or can you manage it youselves with the minimum of distraction?
  • What to wear? Formal or casual? If you are both of the same gender, do you like to dress the same or colour co-ordinate, depending on the venue or time of day?


From the vast duet repertoire, it can be difficult to choose depending on the situation venue and time allocated.

A few ideas for programming:

  • A themed programme of French Composers (Debussy, Ravel, Faure, Bizet are all found in Essential Keyboard Duets Volume 3 by Alfred Music, recommended).
  • Masterpieces by the great composers; these are the main fodder for the purist duet performers.
  • A varied programme mixing standard repertoire from different periods can be more palatable to a general audience.
  • Introducing less well known works with 21st century composers can be refreshing and stimulating
  • Try to vary the length of works chosen for variety, and maintaining the mental health of the general audience!

Building up a Library

As you delve deeper into the wonderful journey of duet playing, listening to recordings is an inspirational obsession.

There are many Duet teams on CD’s. Isabel Bayer and Harvey Dagul (our EPTA Duo representative over many years, both in the UK and abroad) are hard to beat, and have recorded (in 8 volumes) all of Schubert’s works for duet, as well as many other CD’s of music from the major composers.

Bayer and Dagul have dedicated their life to the duet repertoire and their ensemble playing and sound is superb. They have researched the Libraries from around the world and have an amazing library of rare and desirable manuscripts.

There is no mention of the 2 Piano repertoire here but that is another story. I hope you are now suitably inspired, I am!

Explore reviews of recent Duet Repertoire on Pianodao here.

EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.7 (June 2019)

This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:

pdf-logo   Piano Teacher Talk No.7

Special Thanks to Murray McLachlan, Karen Marshall, and Carole Booth.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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