During your wedding reception, great music is essential for setting the mood and bringing the energy. While most couples select a live band or DJ to get their guests on the dance floor, these aren't your only music options. If you're looking for something fun and unique, dueling pianos are a classic alternative guaranteed to wow your guests. According to Dave Damm of HiFi Productions, dueling pianos are a type of entertainment that involve two piano players who take turns performing songs that the audience requests. “The show is very interactive with the crowd, often involving lots of participation, including singing along and clapping along with the music,” Damm explains. Although these performances bring everyone together, you don’t even have to leave your seat to enjoy the music.
The dueling pianist notes that the main objective of dueling pianos isn’t to achieve a crowded dance floor. Instead, adding this gig to your reception will produce an upbeat atmosphere without pressuring non-dancers to break a move, so they're an especially good option for cocktail hour or as dinnertime entertainment. With that being said, this is your wedding and if you love the idea of dueling pianos as your primary source of entertainment, you should go for it.
Whether you’re thinking about having dueling pianos carry your entire party or as a supplemental musical act, we asked the experts to share their very best tips for success. Here’s everything you need to know about having dueling pianos perform at your wedding reception.
Meet the Expert
- Dave Damm is a DJ and dueling pianos artist and the owner of HiFi Productions based in Wichita, Kansas. He’s been working in the wedding space for 10 years.
- Nate Rodriguez is a piano performer and the regional booking director of Felix and Fingers Dueling Pianos, a nationwide dueling pianos company. He’s been playing at weddings for four years.
Book the Right Talent
Finding the perfect duo of pianists for your event is similar to booking a band or DJ, Damm says, but since dueling pianos are a bit more obscure than the latter, you might need to cast a wider search net. You can try asking family and friends for recommendations, but doing a Google search or exploring social media is probably a better route to find a company located near your wedding venue. You can also ask your wedding planner if they know of any dueling pianos in your region. If so, they’ll provide trusted and vetted contacts that will surely elevate your reception. Once you have an idea of which talent you’d like to hire, refer to reviews online or watch live clips from past performances (if available) on their website to finalize your decision.
Choose a Show That Fits Your Event
Although hiring two pianists to perform at your affair is the traditional approach, you can customize the lineup in a way that suits your preferences. Damm explains that you can select a solo show with dueling pianos that lasts 30 to 45 minutes and then move on to a standard form of musical entertainment, like a band or DJ, for the rest of the night. Another option, according to the pianist, is to hire dueling pianos for half of the reception and another musical group for the second half. “This might be a good idea if you’re planning a particularly long reception,” he notes. “It would help your guests keep the energy up and not get burned out on one type of entertainment.” Finally, you can talk to your dueling pianos team about integrating additional instruments to maintain the buzz. “I typically have a drummer at every dueling piano show,” Damm says. “Drums help keep the energy up, especially if you want dancing.”
Understand the Song Selection Process
Before your dueling piano team takes the stage, they will place request slips and pencils at each table. If your friends and family members have a particular song they want to hear, they’ll fill out these slips with the name of the tune and the artist who sings it and place the piece of paper on the piano. Whether you select oldies or contemporary hits, chances are, your dueling pianists will probably be able to play it. “You might be surprised by the variety of songs that can be played,” Damm shares. “Do you want to hear some hop hop? Write it down and put it on the piano.”
Although these musicians will play virtually anything requested, couples can also curate a “do not play” list before the event. “The songs we play depend on the couple’s preferences and what gets requested,” Nate Rodriguez of Fingers Dueling Pianos says. If one of your friends or family members recommends a song that you don’t want to hear, the artists will abide by your preferences and skip the tune altogether.
Pay Attention to the Layout
Dance floors are typically a core component at traditional receptions, but if you’re hiring dueling pianos, you’ll want to think strategically about the size and placement of your dance floor within your floor plan. For most couples, Damm recommends settling on a small dance floor and arranging it next to the dueling pianos, not in front of them. That way, you’ll have a designated space to do formal dances and offer guests a spot to show off their moves without blocking the musical duo. “Having a big gap between us and the audience makes it more difficult to interact with the crowd, and interactions are what we do best,” Damm notes. To maximize engagement, he advises working with your planner to arrange the tables close to the performers. Rodriguez adds that he and his team can set up shop at any venue, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, so you don’t need a fancy setup or a grand stage for the musicians to work their magic.
Focus on Designing the Space
Décor is a necessary part of any reception, regardless of whether you enlist dueling pianos. Not only can you use decorations to reinforce your aesthetic, but you can also add finishing touches that will amplify the atmosphere that your dueling piano artists create. If you’re hiring a duo of pianists to play all night at an indoor space, like a hotel ballroom, consider a dimly-lit room and supplement with string lights or chandeliers to cast a warm glow. For setups on a stage, try dressing it up with flowers and greenery for a garden aesthetic or place pink drapery in the background for a romantic affair. Maybe you’re using dueling pianos for a portion of your evening and want to station them outside. If that’s the case, create a cozy vibe with lounge furniture and a fire pit.