Review: John Thompson’s First Classical Duets

I have a whole shelf of piano duets. They range from very easy, one-finger beginner pieces, right through to complex four-hand arrangements of orchestral works. You might ask why, if like me, you have so many piano duet books, why you should buy another.

John Thompson is a name familiar to piano teachers the world over. There a number of series including the Modern Piano Course and the Easiest Piano Course, the latter of which includes this new book of First Classical Duets.

I have always valued the place of duets, not just as a tool for teaching, but as a enjoyable part of learning to play the piano. Duets are often sidelined in favour of solo playing, and pianists miss out on the opportunity to make music with others and gain valuable ensemble-playing skills. I think these are important skills for pianists, as much as they are for any instrumentalist or singer, and so often, ensemble-playing skills enhance solo playing.

In the early stages, piano duets can be used effectively as a means to consolidate work on rhythm and note-reading. Whilst a beginner pianist might play a fairly straightforward primo part, the addition of the secondo part creates a whole new and exciting sound world which they can enjoy.

Minuet in G major from John Thompson's First Classical Duets

This new book, part of John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course series contains 11 classical duets for one piano, four hands. The primo parts are inevitably the easiest of the two, although they include a degree of hands-together playing from the first arrangement. Keys are restricted to C major, G major and F major (and their relative minors), and the time signatures introduced are 4/4, 3/4, 2/4 and 6/8. Whilst early arrangements are restricted to crotchets, minims, semibreves and quavers, later pieces include semiquavers.

The pieces included are:

  • Vivaldi: ‘Spring’ (from The Four Seasons)
  • Beethoven: ‘Ode to Joy’ (from Symphony No. 9)
  • Petzold: Minuet in G
  • Mouret: Rondeau
  • Offenbach: ‘Barcarolle’ (from The Tales of Hoffmann)
  • Tchaikovsky: 1st movement from Piano Concerto No. 1
  • Beethoven: 1st movement from Symphony No. 5
  • Dvorak: 4th moment from Symphony No. 9*
  • Grieg: ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ (from Peer Gynt)
  • Saint-Saens: ‘The Swan’ (from The Carnival of the Animals)
  • Mozart: 1st movement from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

*the ‘Hovis advert’ music!

Whilst the repertoire is perhaps unsurprising, a nice selection of different styles and characters are included from the slow Dvorak to the uplifting Mozart. Each presents their own technical challenge and whilst such piano duets always offer a good opportunity for sight-reading practice, they are arrangements worth learning in their own right.

Piano Concerto No. 1 from John Thompson's First Classical Duets

Overall, the primo parts start at around LCM Step 1 level and progress to around LCM Step 2. The secondo parts start at around LCM Step 2 and progress to around Grade 1 level. This is very much an estimation as it always tricky to grade duets in this way.


Overall, this is a nice selection of piano duets including both familiar and less familiar classical tunes. They have been effectively arranged by Eric Baumgartner who has been successful in retaining the essence of each work whilst simplifying it. Fingering, dynamic markings and articulation are all clearly given, and the slightly larger stave size is welcome, without it being ridiculously big. Whether you use the John Thompson series or not, this is definitely a duet book I would encourage piano teachers to add to their collections, and at about 70p per piece, it’s pretty good value too.

John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course First Classical Duets is published by Willis Music, ISBN 9781705132142, priced £7.99

I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.

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