What Is Dueling Pianos?

Dueling pianos is a fun, high energy musical act featuring lots of improvisation and audience participation. Two or more pianos – and players – belt out song requests, with a truly impressive repertoire that spans decades and multiple music genres. There’s also a lot of joking banter between the entertainers – and maybe even a few jibes with the audience.

Like music itself, the concept of dueling pianos continually evolves and changes. And the dueling piano entertainers of today bear only a slight resemblance to the original item. In this article, we look at the origins of dueling pianos, how the medium has changed, and what you can expect at one of these events today.

The History of Dueling Pianos

Billy WardIf you’ve ever attended a dueling pianos performance, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a relatively new phenomenon. The experience relies heavily on audience participation and the music mostly features Top 40 hits from the 1950s through today.

In reality, the first recognized dueling piano entertainers date back over 120 years ago to the 1890s. Of course, in those days, they weren’t playing Elton John and Billy Joel tunes. Instead, they played a style of music known as Ragtime that hit a few years before that first piano duel.

Ragtime Gives Birth to Dueling Pianos

Ragtime is hard to define. It combines syncopation (think jazz) with a steady rhythm (like the driving beat provided by the percussion section of any band). This YouTube video does a great job describing – and demonstrating – Ragtime music.

When you watch that video, you can see that Ragtime would be challenging. The left and right hands are doing totally different things. The first dueling piano players were literally competing to see who was best at playing Ragtime music. For reference, picture that scene from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” where Donald and Daffy play piano (but with fewer cannons).

Dueling Pianos in the 20th Century

Americans got their first taste of a dueling pianos bar in December of 1933, when Pat O’Brien’s Bar opened in New Orleans. One room of the bar featured two pianos. Two entertainers, one at each copper-topped piano, took turns playing and singing songs the audience requested.
More than 50 years passed before the next piano bar, Dallas Alley, opened in, of course, Texas. This is the first piano bar recognized as featuring the kind of improvisation and audience interaction we know and love today.

What's an Amazing Pianos Show Like?

In a word: Fun. In a few more words (according to our customer reviews): Amazing. Hilarious. Outstanding. Incredible. Audience interaction on steroids.

We perform an incredible blend of oldies, classic rock, ’80s pop, country. Name any song you want and, even if we don’t know it, we’ll play it. And the more the audience gets into it, the more we do! Whether you’re looking for dueling pianos, our Elton John/Billy Joel tribute, or a solo performance, Amazing Pianos guarantees people will be raving about your event for years to come.