If you haven’t yet introduced the duets of Anton Diabelli to your teaching studio, you are missing out on some of the best student duets for beginner and intermediate students.
In fact, as long as students can read a 5-finger position in C Major, they can at least play the first couple of these pieces.
Diabelli was an Austrian publisher and composer born in the late 1700s and who lived around the time of Beethoven. He is probably best known for writing the original waltz on which Beethoven based his Diabelli Variations.
In my opinion, he should have been best known for his works Melodius Pieces Op 149 and Pleasures of Youth Op 163. Both are sets of duets designed for early piano students. The first features 28 mostly one-page duets in various keys and with varying levels of difficulty. The second unusually named book features six sonatinas each with multiple short movements.
The best thing about these duets is they are all written “on five notes” (i.e. all in the same hand position and often in octaves between the hands) and so are relatively easy for students to play quickly, while still being incredibly musical. All my students LOVE THEM!
I use the first couple of duets from Op 149 within the first months of lessons and once students get the hang of them, they are hooked. One of the Sonatinas in Op 163 has a movement called Romanz which is just stunning. Some of the later Op 149 pieces have students playing interesting rhythms like triplets against the teacher playing straight quavers – all great fun for beginners to grapple.
Best of all, the “secondo” teacher parts are musical and enjoyable to play. I’ve even found myself needing to run through the accompaniments a few times to get them right – something that doesn’t often happen in other beginner duet books with accompaniments that are sometimes mind-numbingly dull!
I’m assuming I don’t have to discuss the merits of playing duets with students. Good beginner books feature duets pretty much from the start which sets a great tone for a friendly and musical relationship with a teacher.
It also makes playing the simple one note and two-finger pieces much more enjoyable for students. This is also the reason that I like method books that include backing tracks.
As well as playing these with my students, I’ve recently started getting my more advanced students to learn the teacher parts so that at my next recital, I can have two students playing duets.
Not only is it great sight-reading for my older students, but the important skills one can only gain by playing with other people are developed and reinforced.
I believe it’s easy to forget just how isolated playing the piano can be for students who aren’t in bands or accompanying singers or choirs or playing for their church.
One of the first things that is lost (or never even found) when students only play in isolation is a strong sense of rhythm and the ability to listen actively to both their own and other people’s playing and analyse and adjust things on the fly.
So if you enjoy playing duets with your students (and I hope you all do), then please check out these works. You will love the intrinsically musical nature of the pieces and the way that your students will respond to them.
I’ll leave you with some links of people playing these on YouTube. Make sure you take a listen. You’ll find plenty more on YouTube.
Must remember to record some myself!!
All the best,
I’d love for you to leave your own recommendations about the best duets you’ve found for beginner students. Please feel free to leave your thoughts below.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.