Duet Questions—Unhappy Parent
Amber B., Michigan
Can I open a discussion about duets in general and how playing in public in a duet in approached?
This is a response I sent to a parent who was not happy a student played a duet and not a solo at a Christmas Sing-a-long. Apparently, they do not approve of duets, but since I never see them at lessons, I was unaware of their opinion, and the student agreed to the duet. They are offended that I wouldn’t let the student play a solo.
This was after I sincerely apologized and he wondered why a parent has to accompany the student to lessons. I mentioned the words “piano coach”, and he said he was paying me to be the student’s piano coach. Obviously, not the greatest communication with either of us. His final harsh email was if they come to lessons would the student been “allowed” to play a solo? This is my reply.
“Potentially, we could have discussed the preference of duets during lessons. I would have sensed that you don’t prefer duets or really know if they benefit playing piano. Parents constantly give me feedback about how things are going at home and where the student is at with enjoying playing. Music is a lifelong and long-term relationship and there are always peaks and valleys. The optimal teaching formula is like a three-legged stool where the teacher, student, and parent are in this together. Over ninety percent of my students are brought to their lessons with a parent.
Duets are extremely important to the curriculum. Duets are not the easy way out to have students perform. Students are stretched when they play duets but most are accomplished at them. The duets are a precursor to learning to read music because eventually what is being played by two people collapses into a student playing both parts by themselves.
“Music is often enjoyed in the real world in group settings. All students who have been playing for over a year have performed duets at recitals. At the summer recital, almost half the students played a duet. At the sing-a long this past week, all of the students who have had a year of lessons performed a duet, with the exception of David. The students who did not perform a duet are not at a level where they can play with another student. Most of my students have only been playing piano since the beginning of the school year. My own kids have another teacher so their selection was made independent of mine by their own teacher.
“Again, I am sorry that my communication was not optimal. Please let me know what you would like to do about future lessons.”
Heather Lee S.
Apparently, I am newer to SM than you are, because I don’t know anything about duets (and SM).
But I can say that my students play duets in just about every lesson I teach. I never thought about it that way, it’s just part of the teaching process I have made my routine.
When someone has a problem with hitting a wrong note, I play it with them (an octave higher) so they can see where my fingers are when I say stop. The comparison helps them to figure out where they went wrong.
Playing a duet is often harder than playing a solo. Is Dad unhappy because his child didn’t get to be “the center of attention” or because his child played a duet?
You did everything you could, and then some. If his child was unhappy, that would have been different. You can’t fix it if you don’t know something is broken!
Mark M., New York
Beyond what you say about duets as a precursor to reading, duet/ensemble work is a specific musical skill in and of itself that is among the many being taught by the SM curriculum in order to give each student as much strength as possible with a complete musical toolkit. The rest of what you say is reasonable enough, but you may want to give this as added context.
But I think your biggest issues are territory ones.
If the student is coming unattended, that’s a big problem right there.
If the family heard the Foundation Session in any form and you communicated to them the three roles, then you need only remind them of that fact, i.e., that you are the *method* coach and that they the parent is the *life* coach or the *practice* coach, period.
The *last* thing I think you want to do is entertain any notion of them negotiating/exchanging parental attendance for an alteration in what you assign the student.
I am the first to admit that I am not yet rigorous in being requirement-based, but if I had a parent like this, enough alarm bells would be going off with me that I would be inclined to dig my heels in a bit on this one and make the situation really clear to them.
Brianna S., Arizona
I am still learning about teaching, but I thought I’d offer my thoughts.
As a former traditional student myself, I have LOVED my playing duets. It is so much fun, and I also think it teaches the students to listen more carefully to themselves and their partner. It encourages them to play more musically, rather than mechanically.
Elaine F., South Carolina
I would also state that a student who can play a duet is demonstrating superior rhythm and concentration abilities!!! Not everyone can do it. He probably has no idea.
Gordon Harvey, Australia
I agree with Mark, and others, on this subject, although I’d add one quick comment – in any performance events, I’d recommend that you make sure everyone plays a solo piece. If they only play a duet, it would be easy for a parent to think they are being treated as ‘secondary’ performers. Of course you know that’s not really true, but you can imagine how a parent may think. The exception, of course, is when a student teaches a friend or family member a duet part – that’s a fantastic achievement all round!
Cindy B., Illinois
I agree. Another thought: duets are relegated to the same pile as “group lessons”. People, because of the tradition that’s in place, believe that the optimal situation is a soloist taking private lessons, leading up to Carnegie Hall. They are being unrealistic, and setting their children up for failure, and it’s up to us, in the FIS and esp the foundation lessons, to be clear that we’re all about playing the piano, and playing it forever, no matter who hears us or what career the student chooses!
Hilary C., Australia
Another thought – when it comes to performance I let students choose what they play and some opt for a situation where they are not performing alone.
Sharon B., Australia
One of the ‘sad’ facts about playing piano is that it is often played in isolation because it is has most of the tone spectrum (i.e. a broad range of notes allowing for bass, middle and upper frequencies all at once) available to one player. It is often a non-portable instrument. So having the chance to play with someone is not as common for pianists as other instruments.
Two of my students played concert duets for both pieces, swapping top and bottom for each song- their parents were thrilled to hear the results. They played (and sang) SOS by ABBA and ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay.
Dixie C., Washington
This type of parent is the kind that I could never be paid enough to work with. The fact that they aren’t attending lessons indicates they are noncompliant with your studio requirements & would be better off seeking out another teacher for their child.
The last parent I had who wrote me a harsh email indicating his dissatisfaction with how I was teaching his daughter received a kind but firm letter with a check for the balance of the month, strongly recommending that they find another teacher for their daughter. This after numerous head bashings over practice requirements, shared lessons, fees, etc. He actually attempted to undermine my program in the aftermath, and has probably been somewhat successful, but I’m glad not to have to deal with his incessant complaints.
The issue here isn’t about duets, in my opinion, but about who’s in charge. He wants to tell you how to run your program, and as long as you attempt to placate him, he will continue in the same vein. I would dump him, in a tactful way, of course, and be glad not to have to deal with the stress.
Debbie V., Oklahoma
Here’s my 2 cents for what its worth. In my studio doing a duet is a privilege that only comes when you are considered “qualified”! To me that means being able to play and follow the soloist. We generally start near the end of level one if singing with Amazing Grace can be done easily. Then I’ll bring in my daughter on clarinet and let her play following the piano. The 2nd time we talk about following the soloist, and I have my daughter hold a note longer than usual to see if
they are able to adjust. The 3rd time she will really dress up the solo with lots of extra notes which really throws the piano player for a loop. We then talk about that and try again.
This usually takes a couple of months to accomplish. When this can be done easily they are allowed to play a duet at a recital. It is quite an accomplishment that they are all very proud of.
This can be done very early. I had four students start in October and are playing simple duets for Christmas as learning the melody was too hard. Three of the four play them beautifully and they are ages 5,6 & 7! The 4th has trouble with 3 note chords so we made 2 note chords where needed. Normally I wouldn’t have done this, but they were very anxious to play a Christmas song and the parents really helped a lot!
If you approach a duet as a privilage from the start with most it will be seen as a great accomplishment. With your student I agree with Dixie. Let them go now while you still have some sanity left!