Two people making music together is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – two great things that are even better together.
Playing solo is fine, naturally, and playing in an ensemble is fun. But nothing is more enjoyable and rewarding than practicing and playing music with a friend. Being part of a duo can be a wonderful bonding experience where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
Successful duos know how to make their rehearsals productive, so that their music can shine. These duos form lasting partnerships that are personally and musically fulfilling. This is my own experience as a member of two duos, each in its fourth decade of performing.
The secret is in serving the music. Keeping the music at the forefront of your work together allows you to put personal inhibitions, fears or constraints aside, so you can contribute confidently as a musician and a collaborator. It begins with bringing your best self to each rehearsal and performance.
Bring Your Best
Do you remember the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared”? That’s what a responsible duo member is: prepared. You don’t have to have your part prepared flawlessly before a rehearsal, but it will make your rehearsals more fun if you aren’t stumbling through it.
As you practice on your own, keep the target tempo for your piece in mind. You and your partner will want to agree on that target tempo, and then it becomes your job, as it is theirs, to meet it, sooner rather than later.
The most important component in your preparation is counting. You and your duo partner will both need to count to stay together, and so your practice will need to include counting as well. Use a metronome to check your tempo and rhythm, but be sure to count; there is no better way to identify and solve a tricky ensemble passage.
Another vital skill you will need to develop is your ability to listen outside your playing. While you play your own part, you will need to listen to the other part so you can align your playing rhythmically and musically. While this may be tricky at first, when you both get used to listening this way, you will discover that your ensemble can play more freely and musically.
A duo rehearsal is much like individual practice done together. You won’t want to only play the piece through; you will take sections apart, slow them down, line things up and put the parts together again. A little bit of creativity can make the process fun. Try a few of the ideas below, and then invent your own.
Make it Music
Rehearsing isn’t only for agreeing on tempo and making sure the parts align well. It is about making music. As you practice on your own, note the expressive details in your part, things like dynamics, tempo changes or rubato moments. Then be sure that the two of you use those indications to intentionally create the duo’s musical vision of the piece. Sharing your musical ideas will inspire each of you to be more expressive.
Although working with the metronome is vital for precise ensemble, remember also to play through the piece without the metronome. This will help you learn to listen to each other and to respond to the natural tempo fluctuations together.
Be an Active Partner
Don’t be too nice! You need to be personally nice, of course. What I mean is that you shouldn’t sit back and wait for the other person to give direction. This will either create a power imbalance in the duo, or it will mean that nothing gets done. Take turns leading the pieces, alternating who counts or starts or sets the tempo.
Your duo won’t benefit from a silent partner. Tell your partner what you hear, what you don’t understand, what your musical or rehearsal ideas are. The more you both share your ideas, the more ideas you both will have.
If you are more experienced than your partner, help without instructing or condescending. Remember that your partner’s effort is just as important as yours and likely costs them more effort. If you are less experienced, don’t let that prevent you from contributing your ideas and suggestions.
Are you part of a duo? Tell us the name of your duo in the comments below and share a link to a video if you have one!