4 Tips for including Duets & Ensembles in Music Recitals

This article about including duets and ensembles in music recitals was written by Julia Omelko. Julia is a piano teacher, performer and music director from the Central New York area. The mission of her studio, ‘Inspired Ivories’, is to inspire the life-long love and exploration of the piano.

The term “recital” often conjures up images of a solo performer, laser-focused on delivering the absolute best performance of their lives. But it can be fun to break up this pattern with something that could be even more engaging for both the audience and the performer.

drum roll please…

Let’s all welcome duets and ensembles to the music recital stage!

Although many teachers use duets and ensembles when teaching lessons, perhaps not as many are comfortable incorporating this type of repertoire into their recitals.

If that sounds like you, I’d like to offer some pointers to spark your imagination and make your next recital even more rewarding for you, your students and your audience.

No. 1: Mix Up the Ages & Skill Levels

A teacher’s first instinct when approaching duets for music recitals might be to pair students who are around the same age and skill level. It’s easier to find music, and seems as if the experience will go more smoothly for both performers. 

But challenging this notion can actually be very helpful, and can provide more possibilities for growth.

Leadership Opportunity

Duets and ensembles can be a wonderful opportunity for older, more advanced students to take the lead in music recitals. We all know that learning by doing can be most effective.

Allow older students to provide some guidance to the younger ones. It can provide these students with an invaluable leadership experience while strengthening their own musical knowledge.

This could be an especially beneficial opportunity for an older student who has expressed interest in teaching (music or otherwise).


In my experience, young beginner students really look up to the older, more advanced performers. This pressure of knowing someone they admire is counting on them can be a lovely and gentle way to push certain students to get in a little extra practice.

You’ll find more great resources in the Recitals section of the Colourful Keys Business hub page to help you plan your next recital.

No. 2: Find the Perfect Pieces

As with any recital repertoire, it’s vital to find those elusive just-right pieces for your duet and ensemble performers.

Keep It Casual and Fun

All learning benefits aside, playing duets and ensembles in music recitals should be a fun, low-stress experience. Students are often already working on energy-intensive solo material, so this repertoire should be kept fun and light.

Unless your students are budding concert pianists, choose literature that will keep them motivated and engaged throughout the process.

Offer Options

Instead of just one picky student choosing music, you now have 2 – or more! Make it a pleasant experience by having lots of options ready to present to them. 

Give the students a sense of ownership over this undertaking by allowing them to talk amongst themselves and discuss what music they’d like to perform. Then stick with their decision.

Need help finding great piano duet and ensemble repertoire? VMT members can access Nicola’s personal reviews in the Recommended Repertoire section of the member site. Not a member? Learn more and join today at vibrantmusicteaching.com.

Leverage Students’ Musical Interests

Playing together can be a wholesome bonding experience, especially for students who may not interact easily with their peers. For that to happen, though, they both need to like the music.

Encourage students to share their general musical interests with their duet or ensemble mates. With some guidance and direction to their piece-picking discussions, they may actually land on a piece they equally enjoy.

Plan for Prep Time 

When choosing music, a good rule of thumb is to choose pieces that take about half as much time to learn as a solo recital piece.

This might mean that you have to pick music a level (or two) below what your students typically can play. But remember: That doesn’t mean they aren’t learning and growing through the experience of performing with another musician!

Layer in Leadsheets

Keep in mind that you probably have students who are interested in playing from chord or leadsheets as well as those who just want to play from written sheet music. Appease both types of students by mixing things up.

For example, one student can improvise a chord-based accompaniment while the other plays the melody from sheet music. The melody could even be played on another instrument (more on that below👇).

This strategy is especially good for mixed-level performers.

No. 3: Incorporate Other Instruments & People

Do you have a particular student who’s just itching to show off their flute skills? Perhaps they have a friend who likes to sing, but could benefit from some piano lessons? (Hint, hint, I know of a great teacher!) 

Capitalise on these circumstances by making room in your recital program to include non-studio members and a variety of instruments.

If your performers have the bandwidth, allow them to perform more than one or two pieces so they can incorporate multiple skills.

The more music, the better!

In my mind, this can have 2 primary purposes:

  1. Showing off your students’ well-rounded musical skills
  2. Bringing new folks into the studio

You’ll be able to make your current students feel even more seen and appreciated by showcasing their other skills, while introducing potential new students into your studio.

No. 4: Schedule Rehearsals

While this may seem like an obvious statement, keep in mind that the more you plan ahead, the more enjoyable the recital experience will be for everyone.

Lesson Times

Your students are likely running around to multiple extra-curricular activities already. Try one of the strategies below to ensure rehearsals for duets and ensembles happen before your recitals with no one being too terribly inconvenienced (including yourself!).

  • If you’re a teacher who gives buddy or group lessons, use lesson time for pairing students and practising.
  • Pair students who have back-to-back lesson times so you can easily overlap by 5, 10 or 15 minutes for a practice session.
  • Ask students who live near each other to carpool so each parent gets a turn at rearranging their schedule.

The more convenient you can make the rehearsal times for parents, the greater the chances they’ll be on board again in the future.

Interested in the whole “buddy lesson” idea? Enter your info below and Nicola’s team will send the ‘Buddy Piano Lessons Logistics Cheatsheet’ directly to you.

Members can access this and other buddy lesson resources in the members-only library. Not a member of our global teaching community? Learn more and take a virtual tour at vibrantmusicteaching.com.

Short & Sweet

Remember: Playing duets and ensembles in music recitals should be a fun experience! Keep these rehearsal dos and don’ts top of mind:

  • Don’t be overly critical or nitpicky. 
  • Be mindful of everyone’s time and energy levels. You want this to be a sustainable process that students will look forward to, time and time again. 
  • Remember that the younger ones don’t have a long attention span.
  • Remind students that if they mess up, they should just keep on going. 
  • And if anyone makes a mistake, laugh it off and move on! 

It’s all about enjoying each other’s musical company.

How will you include duets and ensembles in your recitals? 

Please share with us below.

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