How to make duets with dad more fun?

Robert said: Sep 14, 2013
 17 posts

My now 12-year-old daughter and I each took up string instruments three years ago—she the violin, me the cello. We’re now at about the same place: getting ready to move into Book 4. I’ve bought several books with violin/cello duet pieces, but nothing’s been really captivating for her.

So, for you duetting parents, what have you tried that worked? What was fun, engaging, and perhaps helped you both to grow—as musicians and with a stronger parent-child relationship? I’m wondering if more modern music might be the ticket, but it seems to be more difficult to track down.

Oh yes, there’s another, possibly related issue. She also wants to learn the cello, “So we can play together, dad.” I’m working on restoring an old French cello, but it’s going to be a few weeks before it’s ready to play. Her teacher wasn’t thrilled when I mentioned it. I guess it could become a distraction. Is this just a bad idea?

I’d appreciate your thoughts!


Mary said: Sep 17, 2013
 39 posts

I hesitated writing because our situation is a bit different from yours. My child is 9 and so far enjoys the mostly baroque repertoire of Suzuki. Also, I play the flute so I’m in a similar range as my son who plays the violin. As a result, we can trade off first and second violin parts and I just go up an octave when the part gets too low. This has allowed us to work through the Suzuki duet book for books 1-3 violin. My son also does some ensemble playing and I often do the 1st or 2nd violin parts so that he can practice how to put his part together at home rather than just when he is playing with the ensemble.

We’ve tried playing duets on our own with some success. We’ve done simple holiday songs that he really enjoyed playing and performing for family members. But often we aren’t playing duets together but just trying things out together for fun. For example, there have been times when we’ve been to a concert and he expressed enthusiasm for a piece. I’ll try to find it online at a free music site like and print out some of the parts if I think he is capable of reading it. We had good success playing a couple of the Brandenburg Concertos this way where he was violin 1 and I was violin 2. It was definitely difficult work but he has heard those pieces quite often and loved them so was really motivated to try. And it was amazing music reading practice for him. I would just say that if you do that, you are picking pieces that you are very comfortable playing so that you can guide your daughter if they are a slight reach for her. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a frustrating exercise for both of you.

Lastly, if your daughter particularly likes performing perhaps that is a goal you can strive for as well. At our music school, parents and kids perform together often and that definitely is a very nice thing to share.

I hope this helps.

Robert said: Sep 18, 2013
 17 posts

Thanks for sharing from your experience. We don’t have a venue for performing together, but that’s probably worth aiming for. Having a purpose for playing together must help a lot. It’s probably not too early to start thinking about working up some Christmas duets.

Sue Hunt said: Sep 19, 2013
Sue HuntViola, Violin
403 posts

What’s the problem? I have friends who play violin, viola AND cello to a high standard. The best thing about this is that these useful people have 3 times the playing opportunities.

Ingrid said: Sep 19, 2013
 Viola, Violin
3 posts

Hi Robert,

I love to play with my kids, although also I have a slightly different situation. My daughter (13) plays violin, my son (10) viola, and I play piano. I get to accompany them which is great. I also get them to play duets with each other. On occasion if they are really not motivated to practice their assignment, I turn it into ensemble day, or other times we do it as an extra thing. One of our latest favorites is the Rounds and Canons book by William Starr. This book starts off easy and gets harder—includes some composed by Starr, or arranged by Starr, and many folk/traditional rounds, as wells as many by other composers. A great collection. It is available for violin, viola, cello, and piano—maybe other instruments but those for sure. So any 2 of us or all 3 can play together and it is good sight reading and ensemble practice. We also have the Suzuki repertoire duet books and various other duet and trio books—there are lots out there if you look around. My kids have done some busking at outdoor events in the summer (farmer’s market, folklife festival) which they found quite exciting—to get money for playing! We also intend to play at senior centers although we haven’t done that yet.

Maybe you can find a pianist to join you sometime—then you could do piano trios. There are a few books of easy trios I’ve found. I think part of keeping it fun is playing things a little (or a lot) easier than their solo repertoire so they can jump in and play it without a lot of separate practice.

Another source of music—if you find something for piano or other instruments, that has two lines in the appropriate clefs (and range) for you to read, it doesn’t have to be written out as a violin/cello duet—you might find some modern music you can play together that way. She can take the melody and you can take the bass line, even just leave out other notes in the middle and it may work fine. My kids like to play Pink Panther, and have figured out by ear some things like the Cut the Rope music. They’ve also done some Bartok—he has lots of music that is 2 lines (written for piano) that works well as easy duets. You can also play together by playing pieces you have in common, as long as they are in the same key—and sometimes it is easy for violinist to transpose by just playing down a string, also a good skill for her to learn.

As far as adding cello—maybe it isn’t just “to play with Dad” that she wants to do that? Maybe that is the reason she thinks would be most compelling to you? In any case, I think the main issue there is time—would she have time to practice two instruments? You could always start it on a trial basis, and if whatever conditions you set are not met then it doesn’t continue past a certain time frame. My daughter plays a second instrument (flute) which she started later—and for sure she does not put in as much time on her flute as violin, but she knows she has to maintain a certain minimum practice level to continue lessons. I figure if she has enough interest/motivation to do both, it is all good. And if she eventually wants to drop one instrument and focus all her practice time on the other that is fine too.

Happy duetting!


Robert said: Sep 19, 2013
 17 posts

I appreciate the comments.

It will take some attention to time management, I believe. She’s a gymnast, and (usually) a straight-A student. So, she keeps busy. She says she only wants to learn to play the cello “for fun.” And maybe that’s enough of a reason, and a goal, for now. She noted that a student in her orchestra switches back and forth from cello to bass with seeming ease. But that’s not what she’s aiming for, at present. I guess we can just think about having twice the fun when we try duets!

Emily said: Sep 21, 2013
 59 posts

I agree with the suggestion of looking for performance opportunities. I have found that this is a great motivating factor for players of all age, but especially for children as they tend to enjoy the positive attention.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer

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