Duets Part 2

by Jason Klobnak

Originally published to jasonklobnak.com


We are continuing our discussion of Duets and how they can help your  improvisations. In Part 2 we will look at the benefits of playing duets with written charts.


Part 2:

Playing duets with sheet music in front of you adds another layer of positive development to your overall playing. You may be wondering, “wait a second, Jason. How is playing written duets going to help my personal improvisation goals?” That’s a great question! As jazz musicians we grab ideas (melodic statements, motifs, licks, etc) and allow them to eventually show up in our improvisation. We grab those ideas from multiple sources: recordings, live concerts, jam sessions, patterns, books, etc. Written music (for example a book of duets) should not be discounted.

Playing written duets has similar benefits of improvised duets (without accompaniment), but does have some additional ones:


  • Timing and Phrasing. Even though you are reading music, the two of you rely on your collective time. This is a benefit of any type of duet playing (classical, jazz, etc).
  • Sight-Reading. Performing music in time is necessary for a wide range of musicians. If you have a desire to be a professional musician then this is an absolutely necessary skill.
  • Non-Verbal Cues. Playing with someone else requires you to pay attention to what they’re doing. Are they wanting to slow down? Speed up? Swing harder on a particular section? Play more legato on a particular section? Pay attention to what your partner is doing with their body and you can communicate musical ideas without saying anything. This is an imperative skill to have on any bandstand.
  • New Ideas. If you read something you like…remember it, keep and develop it!
  • Intonation. This is more for wind players. Tuning to a single pitch does not mean you are in tune as an ensemble. Adjustments need to be made depending on a note’s context in time. Another important skill to have when playing in any type of ensemble.


There are a few good jazz duet books written that are available. However, in my opinion,  The Ultimate Collection of Jazz Duets Complete by Rich Willey is one of the best out there. If you and a friend (or your students) need a good jazz duet book-this is it. They start fairly easy and get progressively more difficult so they’re perfect for any musician at any stage in their development.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tip and that it has added value and benefit to you in some way. Go out this week and play some duets!

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