Piano duets have always been an important part of my teaching. I’ve written about them many times before and recently reviewed a brand new book for piano duet. With restrictions beginning to ease, a return to face-to-face piano teaching feels a little closer. I have missed being able to play piano duets with my students over the past year or so. With that in mind, in this blog post I wanted to share 10 of my favourite piano duet books for beginners.
1. Conrad: Delightfully Easy Piano Duets (Books 1 & 2)
These two books with duets by Rosa Conrad are probably my most-used of all the beginner duet books I’m including here. The primo parts are all suitable for beginners, the majority with the left hand duplicating the right hand part an octave lower. Most are in a five-finger position, though not always with thumb on C. The majority of the pieces are in C major, though some go up to one flat and up to two sharps. Rosa has a real gift for writing memorable melodies and these two volumes include numerous different styles, including blues (‘Saloon Bar Blues’ in Book 1) and folk (‘Shanty’ in Book 2). The secondo parts, more often than not played by the teacher, are marked as ‘intermediate’ and would also suit pianists of around Grade 1 level. Rosa also suggests that the primo beginner parts can also be played one hand only offering flexibility for teacher and performer alike.
Delightfully Easy Piano Duets by Rosa Conrad can be purchased direct from Rosa’s website here. Each book costs £7.50 and there’s an option for a PDF download version with studio licence priced £35.00 per book.
2. Last: For You and Me, Grades 0-1
Many teachers will be familiar with Joan Last’s books, not just on teaching itself, but also her books of technical exercises and repertoire pieces. For You and Me includes five duets aimed at beginner pianists. Whilst slightly trickier than Rosa’s duets above, the book offers a progression for the beginner to around Grade 1 standard. The pieces in this book provide good concert and recital material for beginner pianists in the early stages of learning. The pieces themselves will take some learning, but the results are satisfying.
For You and Me, Book 1 by Joan Last, is published by Forsyth, FLJ15, priced £5.95, and can be ordered direct from Forsyth’s here.
3. Shur: Beginner Keys for Two, Pre-Book 1
I met Laura Shur at an ISM Members’ Day some years ago. We chatted, and she subsequently sent me some of her books. Whilst there are many piano tutor books, there are very few, if any other piano duet tutor books. Beginner Keys for Two is an introduction to playing piano duet repertoire and includes music games, clapping rhythms, rounds, counting games and other useful ideas for improvising and composing. The book encourages students to develop the ensemble-playing skills needed to successfully and effectively enjoy playing duets. Following the initial exercises which focus on counting, composing and improvising, the book includes a further seven piano duets with both primo and secondo parts written around the same level. The final page gives some tips on duet playing.
Beginner Keys for Two, Pre-Book 1 by Laura Shur, is published by Spartan Press, SP422, priced £8.95.
4. Blackwell & Marshall: Piano Star Duets
For the first time in 2021, ABRSM allowed a duet option at Initial Grade, and Grades 1-3. This book, which also accompanies ABRSM’s successful Piano Star series provides 26 duets from early beginner to Grade 2 level. Edited by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall, the book includes a mixture of original pieces and arrangements. Composers of original works include, amongst others, Heather Hammond, Nikki Iles, Mike Cornick, June Armstrong and Alison Mathews. The book also includes a number of games, as well as tips for duet playing. One thing I really like about this book is that it offers learners a clear progression from absolute beginner duets through to around Grade 2. It’s also very good value!
Piano Star Duets compiled by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall, is published by ABRSM, ISBN 9781786013378, priced £6.95.
5. Waterman & Harewood: Two at the Piano
This is the first duet book I owned as a learner and I’m glad that my early teachers all encouraged me to play duets both in and outside of the lesson. This book is especially suitable for beginners as it really does start from absolute basics. In the first piece, the primo part simply plays semibreves up and down between C and G. Whilst early pieces retain a five-finger ‘C-position’, later pieces are more complex and by the end of the book, semiquavers, alongside time signatures such as 3/8 have been introduced. This is a substantial volume containing 50 duets so again, very good value. I enjoy using these as much as a teacher as I did as a learner.
Two at the Piano by Fanny Waterman and Marion Harewood, is published by Faber Music, ISBN 9780571502325, price £7.99.
6. Marlais: In Recital Duets, Volume 1, Book 1
I include this book as, unlike all the others mentioned, it includes a CD. This is particularly useful tool and something which students can use at home. The first eight tracks are a performance of the complete duets, with the remaining 16 tracks containing the primo and secondo parts. The book contains a variety of pieces, including arrangements of well-known ‘classical’ favourites such as Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ alongside original pieces such as Melody Bober’s ‘Roller Coaster Ride’. The majority of the primo parts are hands separate, though there is some hands together playing in the form of occasional chords. The whole series is well worth exploring and they’re all excellent value considering they include a CD.
In Recital Duets, Volume 1, Book 1 compiled by Helen Marlais, is published by The FJH Music Company Inc., ISBN 9781569395158, priced £4.99.
7. Blake: 8 Duets for Beginners
Again, another of my favourite piano duet books for beginners, and it gets a lot of use. Whilst the titles of the pieces are a little old-fashioned (‘The Old Banjo’ and ‘The Bugle Band’) the music is appealing and satisfying for beginners. ‘The Pink Parasol’ has always been a particular favourite of mine and I know of other teachers too. The primo parts, whilst using right and left hand, are not hands together. Interestingly, the book is subtitled ‘piano solos with duet accompaniment’, but really, what’s the difference? Perhaps my only criticism here is that the book costs £12.99 which is far too expensive for 20 pages and eight pieces. If you can, seek out a copy second-hand.
8 Duets for Beginners by Jessie Blake, is published by Boosey & Hawkes, ISMN M060013140, priced £12.99.
8. Norton: The Microjazz Duets Collection 1
Many teachers will be familiar with Christopher Norton’s iconic Microjazz series and this book is pitched level 3 (alongside The Microjazz Collection 1). Whilst these duets are probably at the harder end of what we might term ‘beginner’, they are written, as we would expect, in Christopher Norton’s popular and accessible style. A variety of jazz and blues styles is represented here and in addition, some of the secondo parts would also be suitable for players of this level. As above, Boosey & Hawkes are slightly pricing themselves out of the market with this book costing £12.99, so do look out for second-hand copies.
The Microjazz Duets Collection 1 by Christopher Norton, is published by Boosey & Hawkes, ISMN M060106804, priced £14.99.
9. Hall: Duets with a Difference, Piano Time Duets Book 1
Pauline Hall’s ever-popular Piano Time series has been a hit with teachers and students alike for years. There are two duet books, and this one is the most suitable for beginner pianists. Again, early pieces use a limited range of notes and hands separately, but pieces quickly progress to hands together. As is the case with the series as a whole, the books are very clearly presented which I like. Some listening games and other activities are also included.
Duets with a Difference by Pauline Hall, is published by OUP, ISBN 0193727536, priced £9.95.
10. Kirkby-Mason: First Duet Album for Piano
Finally, another iconic series from Barbara Kirkby-Mason. What I particularly like about this book is the fact that both primo and secondo parts are of an equal difficulty meaning that students also get experience of playing the lower part in the ensemble. Whilst only six pieces are included, the music is catchy and characterful. In particular, ‘Raindrops’ has always been a favourite with my students.
First Duet Album for Piano by Barbara Kirkby-Mason, is published by Bosworth, ISMN M201609980, priced. £6.50.
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