Continuing with the 2018-2019 school year, our studio will be taking the 40 piece challenge this year. This challenge started in Australia with a teacher named Elissa Milne to get students to learn more new music. As she describes it, the origins of this program arose as follows:
"Once upon a time I was a teacher in Australia teaching my students the way teachers in exam-oriented and competition-oriented culture have always taught – spending between 4 and 9 months working with students on their exam/competition repertoire (the 4 month kids were doing two exams/competitions each year rather than one) and then having a few months per year for “fun” pieces that weren’t “for” anything. Students working this way would be learning between 6 and 10 pieces a year total, as a rule. The more students progressed in degrees of difficulty the more their sight-reading skills lagged behind. And at the end of about 10 years of serious study throughout their childhood the students would cease lessons with a slew of certificates and awards and probably never really play very much again."
To read more about this challenge, click on the link below:
As you can see, this started around 2003 in Australia and it has recently become a hit with U.S. piano teachers as well. We will start this studio-wide challenge with the 2017-2018 school year. At our spring recital, certificates and awards will be given to students who achieve various levels of the 40 piece challenge. The rules? See below for common questions:
1. What is good enough to be added to my achievement list? Ask yourself -
Can I play through the piece/song without stopping or pausing or redoing a section/measure/note?
Am I playing with the correct rhythm?
Am I playing with a consistent tempo throughout the piece? No slowing down in the hard parts or speeding up in the easy parts.
Am I playing mostly correct notes? For this requirement, it is acknowledged that it is nearly impossible to play with absolute perfection of notes from start to finish. However, depending on the difficulty of the piece, notes should be 95-100 % accurate.
Did I play with the correct dynamics/articulation/balance and voicing?
Memorization is encouraged but not required.
2. How do I let my teacher know I have completed my piece so that it can be added to my list? We will certainly be covering many of your pieces in your lessons, so I will be able to assess your performance and then decide whether to add the piece to your list or not. Also, if you would like to record your performance at home and send me a video or link, I will be happy to review it. In fact, I will be setting up a YouTube channel for us to highlight some of our performances (optional). I think it will be fun to see ourselves in performance videos as well as have an opportunity to see other students in the studio playing as well. Ultimately it will be up to me whether your performance achieves the elements listed above sufficiently to be added to the list and, ultimately, uploaded to our YouTube channel.
3. What pieces qualify for consideration? For my beginning and early elementary students, most of the pieces you learn on a week to week basis should be sufficient. For my intermediate and more advanced students, other considerations will have to be made. Obviously, the more advanced you are, the more difficult your pieces are and the longer they take to learn. I have no problem with you picking out new (never played by you before) material which is not as difficult as pieces you are currently working on. I find the following description from Elissa's site particularly relevant to this question:
"Expect a high level of achievement with each piece.Near enough is good enough, but near enough means at tempo and with flow and with communicative intent, not a bald reading-through without any sense of what the music means. So performances need dynamics, articulation, voicing and balance, used of pedal and so forth! If this seems too big an ask you need to be looking at easier material, not at lowering your standards."
More advanced students should be prepared to work on pieces that are easy enough to learn in a week as well as pieces which will require 2 or 3 weeks or even a couple months to learn. The idea is play play a lot and with musicality. If you need repertoire suggestions or want to borrow some of the books in my library, please let me know. I am happy to loan out materials for this program.
Additionally, for this first year, to "dip our toes in the water," I will also allow performances of Piano Maestro pieces to qualify. However, because the Piano Maestro app only assesses your performance of notes and rhythm, a maximum of 5 Piano Maestro pieces or 10 percent of your total pieces (whichever is lower) will be allowed. You will have to check with me to see if the song is difficult enough for you to include it in your list and you will have to get 3 stars on your performance. Remember, Piano Maestro sends me weekly reports on what everyone plays, so it will be easy for me to see if you have completed a song and received 3 stars.
In order to encourage everyone to participate, I will also be taking the 40 piece challenge myself. To keep me honest, I will upload videos of my performances as I polish my pieces. Some will be more difficult than others and I think they will help students see what will qualify as something to add to the list.
I am very excited to begin this journey with my students. So, let the challenge begin!