When I started designing the Exploring series, I made a wish list of all the things I wanted these books to offer. I proposed a wide variety of solo pieces – not only broadly “classical” but also incorporating jazz styles, popular themes, and contemporary examples within the one volume. Each book, therefore, would be suitable for use with multiple exam boards and syllabi, but much more importantly beyond that, I was aiming towards a varied musical experience. In the simplest of terms, I hoped to help pianists learn how and why we make sounds in different ways.
One of my highest priorities was to include duets. Particularly in the earlier stages of learning, we are helping our students build a mental and physical “library” filled with different experiences, ideas, techniques, and sounds, which provide ongoing and ever-expanding context. The pedagogical and social benefits of the duet medium can be transformative. Learning and having fun with another person; how to listen more deeply and match another’s sound; the importance of counting; coming to a shared interpretation; understanding how one’s line fits within the bigger picture; when (and why) to come forward or to remain in the background: these are invaluable aspects in all music-making, but have an immediacy of consequence in duet playing that students recognise more rapidly.
I must admit that the duets are some of my favourite works in each of the Exploring volumes. Not only are they great pieces with vibrant and varied characters, but seeing one’s own students’ joyful reactions, observing their musicianship, friendship, and teamwork develop through the process, and recalling their hilarious stories in response to the music have provided some memorable moments.
What follows, are my thoughts on two of the duets in each book. In all the duets, both parts are of essentially equal difficulty, allowing for the possibility of learning both roles to extend the understanding and experience. Happy exploring – may there be many spirited evocations of grumpy dinosaurs, blipping robots, and flouncing fairy tales!