A duet is a musical composition for two performers in which the performers have equal importance to the piece, often a composition involving two singers or two pianists. It differs from a harmony, as the performers take turns performing a solo section rather than performing simultaneously. A piece performed by two pianists performing together on the same piano is a "piano duet" or "piano four hands".[1] A piece for two pianists performing together on separate pianos is a "piano duo".

The Duet (1628), by Hendrick ter Brugghen

"Duet" is also used as a verb for the act of performing a musical duet, or colloquially as a noun to refer to the performers of a duet.

A musical ensemble with more than two solo instruments or voices is called trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, septet, octet, etc.


When Mozart was young, he and his sister Marianne played a duet of his composition at a London concert in 1765. The four-hand, described as a duet, was in many of his compositions which included five sonatas; a set of variations, two performers and one instrument, and a sonata for two pianos. The first published sonata or duet was in 1777.[2]

In Renaissance music, a duet specifically intended as a teaching tool, to be performed by teacher and student, was called a bicinium (see Étude).

In operaEdit

Duets have always been a part of the structure of operas. Early 16th-century operas such as L'Orfeo and L'incoronazione di Poppea involve duets throughout the performance. In 17th-century Italy duets were often used in comic scenes within serious operas. In Baroque France the duet was popular in tragedies, such as songs of vengeance and confrontation. The love duet was characterized by singing in close harmonies of 3rds and 6ths, symbolizing unity after conflict.[3]

Famous operatic duetsEdit

In pop musicEdit

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, duets have been common in the popular music of their respective eras. In addition to a standard vocal duet, some songs have been written to be heard as conversations; for example, "Baby, It's Cold Outside". Other songs are performed around a theme; for example, New York City in "Empire State of Mind". Occasionally, duets are an improvisation between artists; for example, "Under Pressure" by Queen and David Bowie. Bowie and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury reportedly composed the lyrics in a day by improvising together.[4] Duets are also common in musical movies and musical theatre; for example, the cinematic version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from the 1994 movie The Lion King, or "Fit as a Fiddle" for the 1952 movie Singin' in the Rain and its corresponding play of the same name.[5]

Virtual duetEdit

In addition to traditional duets performed live or in the studio, a so-called virtual duet can be created by having a singer (or musician) perform over the top of a pre-existing recording. Such a duet is a form of overdubbing. A virtual duet is sometimes done when the singer (or musician) of the original recording is deceased; for example, a live performance by Paul McCartney on "I’ve Got a Feeling" with an isolated vocal recording of John Lennon from The Beatles' famous rooftop performance,[6] or a recording of Judy Garland being dubbed over by her daughter Lorna Luft on "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".[7] It can also be done with an earlier version of oneself (such as Yusuf / Cat Stevens on "Father And Son");[8][9] incidentally, Ronan Keating did his own virtual duet with Yusuf on the same song.[10] Virtual dubbing may also be done live via video link or be constructed manually from two pre-existing recordings, generally where each singer/musician can have their own isolated audio channel in the form of a stem. Theoretically, a duet could be formed from two prerecorded singers or musicians so long as there are isolated audio channels from each artist.

Notable pop duetsEdit


  1. ^ Christensen, T. (1999). "Four-Hand Piano". Journal of the American Musicological Society, 52(2) 255–298
  2. ^ Miller, H.-M. (1943). The Earliest Keyboard Duets. The Musical Quarterly, 29(4), 438–457.
  3. ^ Tilmouth, Michael. "Duet". Grove Music Online. Retrieved 2014-10-12.
  4. ^ "The Making of Queen and David Bowie's 1981 Hit "Under Pressure": Demos, Studio Sessions & More". www.openculture.com. Retrieved 2015-01-10.
  5. ^ Top 10 Best Movie Musical Duets, retrieved 2022-12-01
  6. ^ Paul McCartney- I've Got a Feeling (Virtual Duet- John Lennon) 6/4/2022 Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY, retrieved 2022-12-01
  7. ^ Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas Lorna Luft Music Video, retrieved 2022-12-01
  8. ^ "Father & Son: A Duet 50 Years in the Making". Yusuf / Cat Stevens. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  9. ^ Martoccio, Angie (10 September 2020). "Yusuf/Cat Stevens Duets with His Younger Self in 'Father and Son' Video". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 19 April 2021.
  10. ^ Ronan Keating, Yusuf - Father And Son, retrieved 2022-12-01

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