This year I'm challenging all of my students to take part in The 40 Piece Challenge!
What is The 40 Piece Challenge? Well I'm pretty late to the party on this one - piano teachers worldwide have been going mad for it since Australian piano teacher Elissa Milne came up with the idea year ago and it went global in 2013 - you can read about the backstory here. But basically the idea is to challenge piano students to learn a LOT more repertoire than they would usually do. Traditionally, once students start preparing for exams, or getting into harder repertoire, they tend to learn less and less pieces - often less than 10 in a year. This means that whilst those pieces end up getting polished to (almost) perfection and technique often improves - sight reading skills drop off and students only play a limited amount of music. This can lead to boredom, and doesn't really make for well-rounded musicians. So the 40 Piece Challenge aims to counteract this problem by encouraging students to learn 40 pieces in a year - roughly a new piece each week.
What are the benefits of taking part in the challenge?
- Better sight-reading skills - the more music you read, and the more unfamiliar music you read, the better you get at it. Even if the music is easier than the level you would usually play at, your sight-reading skills get a work-out. Sight-reading is a very important skill to master for all musicians, but especially pianists.
- A deeper understanding of musical styles - You can't possibly understand jazz music if you only ever study 5 or 6 pieces in a year. You can't possibly get a feel for Classical Romantic music if you only ever play 5 or so pieces of it across all of your piano exams. When you play more music within a style, you get to know it more. And the more different styles you play, the more versatile you are as a piano player (and you'll probably find playing more interesting, too!)
- Motivation - We all know that we work harder when we set ourselves a goal and can see ourselves making progress. So having the numerical figure to aim for can be a motivating factor - even though we know making music and improving as a musician isn't about the numbers - it can help when we get a bit slack with our practice habits!
What are the rules?
There's not too many really. Each piano teacher in the challenge makes their own up. These are my rules:
1. Pieces must be finished off properly before they count
You must be able to play the piece up to speed, with dynamics/pedal/articulation/expression.
2. Pieces do not have to all be as hard as you are used to.
If you are sitting your Grade 5 exam this year, it doesn't mean all of your 40 pieces have to be Grade 5 level. In fact, most won't. This is because it will simply take you too long to learn that many! We want this goal to be achievable. You can still get a lot of benefit from playing music that is below your usual playing level.
3. If you don't get to 40, that's okay - aim for 20 or 30 instead.
Or even 10, if you normally learn 5 pieces in a year. The goal is to simply increase the number of pieces you learn in a year.
What's the prize?
The prize is that you'll be a much, much better musician by the end of the year!
Oh, and I'll have some medals too :-)
Gold for 40 pieces, Silver for 30 pieces and Bronze for 20 pieces. Who says medals are just for sports?
Good luck with the challenge!