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. In each year since, we've had a handful of students accept and compete the challenge. In 2023-24, ten students completed the challenge.

The Challenge

Learn 40 pieces to completion between June and May. 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! Often, we'll make an audio or video recording or play along with an accompaniment track. 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 significant learning objective won’t improve your skill! With this in mind: pieces that are so easy they can be mastered in just a few repetitions as well as exercises built from a single technical element shouldn't count towards the challenge. 

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 have always completed 40+ pieces in a year!