40 Piece challenge: end of year review

At the beginning of the 2019 teaching year, I introduced the idea of the 40 Piece Challenge to my students. (You can read all about it here).

The response was generally positive, with a few students opting out, some opting for a reduced number of pieces, and 1 going for the full 40 pieces. As we draw to the end of 2019, and music teachers the world over are collectively counting down to the sound of Jingle Bells, let’s take a look at how the challenge went.



There was actually only one person who completed the challenge, and that was the same person who opted for the full 40 pieces. Yep, we got through 40 works in a year. Most of them were 1 week pieces, or works that she had done before, with new works making up about ¼ of the total. This student also benefitted most from the challenge. I saw her note reading and musical knowledge grow exponentially as a result of playing so much music. At the same time her confidence and engagement grew as she added more works to the list.



Universally, the students who started on the challenge but then didn’t complete it were caught up with other goals. While the road ahead looked clear at the start of the year, and the Challenge looked like a great thing to aim for, as time went on, new challenges arose. A chance to play in the school orchestra. An exam. A piece they’d come across and really wanted to spend time on. A new technical issue that diverted attention elsewhere.

As new goals arose, and with only so much time in the lesson and in the student’s life, something had to give, and the 40 Piece Challenge was it.



On reflection, the idea of setting the goal of playing a certain number of pieces in a given time is an excellent one. There was a real sense of accomplishment for each student as the number of pieces on the list grew. For those who struggle with their musical worth, to see written down just how much they can play and to feel that they had a body of music at their disposal was invaluable. Other students who used the extra pieces to work on specific trouble spots such as note reading or arpeggios definitely saw improvement.

But it really felt that the year was too long.

Moving forward into the 2020 teaching year, I will definitely be introducing the idea of a Challenge to my studio at some point. But I will be making it only a term long challenge with a correspondingly smaller number of pieces. This would enable students who have other external challenges to either pass this one by, or opt in dependent upon other commitments. Each term I try to issue a studio challenge to all my students, be it composition, sight reading or ensemble pieces. The (reduced) 40 Piece Challenge will make a great addition to this.



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