Introducing the 40 Piece Challenge: Background

You won’t become a competent English reader if each year you learn to read and recite just a few poems each year. Likewise, you won’t become a competent and well-rounded pianist—and you won’t have the skill to play on your own after your lessons have ended—if you learn just a few recital pieces each year. The phrase “40 piece challenge” was coined by the Australian piano teacher Elisa Milne. In 2018-19 we offered the Challenge to a few students for the first time. Eight students attempted the challenge and five of these finished it; two others came close. 

The Challenge

Learn 40 pieces to completion between June 2019 and May 2020. Pieces must be started after the summer recital (early/mid June) and completed before Memorial Day.

Completion Means

 First steps 
 Appropriate tempo 
 Expressive basics 
 Memorization is not required


First steps: notes, rhythm, fingering, articulation. 
Appropriate tempo: playing at the composer/editor suggested tempo with good steadiness and continuity; or, another musically appropriate tempo. 
Expressive basics: always includes dynamics. Often, balance, pedal and phrasing require attention as well. Less commonly, voicing and more advanced concepts need to be addressed.

Celebrating Success

When a piece is completed, we’ll celebrate your success, most commonly with an audio or video recording. We’ll record your progress in a chart. Students who complete the challenge will receive a lovely certificate.

What Counts?

Almost anything that sounds like a piece counts. Recital and festival pieces do count, but in order to meet the 40 pieces goal, most pieces will need to be easier than typical recital/festival/competition pieces.

What Doesn't Count?

Completing pieces that require no real attention or that have no learning objective won’t improve your skill! With this in mind:

♭ Most pieces should be 16 measures or more. A few shorter pieces are ok, especially for students in Levels 1 and 2 of most method books.

♭ Mirror image pieces count as one piece.

♭ Pieces that are purely technique exercises and pieces built from a single technical element.

♭ Pieces from a Technique book which set up a Lesson Book piece with no substantially new/different material.

♭ Pieces that can be fully mastered in fewer than six repetitions.

Yes You Can!

If you finish one piece most weeks and two pieces every once in a while, you will be on track to complete 40 pieces in a year. Summer practice and/or summer lessons will make the goal much more attainable. Our most successful younger students are already completing 40+ pieces in a year! Our Bright Starts 2 class students complete about 70 pieces in a school year. Our Bright Starts 3 students complete about 50 pieces in a school year.