Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Most method books have student-teacher duets. And you, teacher, are the perfect duet partner. You are listening and responsive; pausing and slowing down when your student does (especially in a performance situation). Like any good accompanist, you are providing real support... Or, alternatively, in an effort to teach the importance of a steady tempo, you lock into the pulse and musically force the student to keep up with you. Both are common ways of approaching the student-teacher duet. Both are valid and have their place.
However, it's a whole new ballgame when two young students are playing with each other! Likely, one (or both of them) is not rock-solid when it comes to maintaining a steady tempo. It's also common for students to be so wrapped up in their own playing that they don't hear if their partner pauses or slow down.
So what can you, as a teacher reasonably expect from them? How should we approach coaching young duet-partners at the piano?
You, the teacher, will have to be a sort of conductor. And you can certainly expect to have to count them in. Counting-in" is a much harder thing for young students and beginners than us older musicians realize. It takes time and experience, not to mention, confidence. The occasional young student will have it, but most will not. So treat "counting-in" as simply part of the lesson, and, for performance, give the job to the most confident partner. And if neither of them is ever able to successfully count themselves in, then do it for them, even in performance ... . Most importantly, don't make a big of a deal out of it! ...Yes, it's important. But we want to build confidence here, not tear it down. Everybody gets it in time; your students will, too.
Yes, there will be train-wrecks at the piano. And it's good to call these "train-wrecks" and make a big joke about it. Most young students think "train-wreck" is a hilarious description and it lightens things up. They might even create train-wrecks on purpose. This is okay. Let them do this a couple of times. Laugh with them. It gets old fast and they'll eventually stop. I promise.
Simply keep asking them (gently) to listen to each other. (I have a few little exercises and games I do with them to foster this listening. We do these at the coaching sessions. I will write about them in a future blog.)
How do you gauge success with primary duets? When you start to see the two young students listening to each other! And yes, you can actually SEE them listening (or trying to listen) to each other. This is the magic part -- and the whole reason why we're doing it.