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30 and 40 Piece Challenge Charts, Cards, and Checklists!

Last year, many of you started the 30 Piece Challenge in your studios! This idea, inspired by the brilliant pedagogue Elissa Milne, was very successful in my studio in helping my students learn much more music, become better readers and helping them advance more quickly in their skills. It’s been one of the best ways to help my students learn more repertoire, become acquainted with different styles, become better sight readers, and advance more quickly. What’s not to love about the 30 piece challenge?

Free 30 and 40 piece challenge charts from composecreate.com

Here’s how the 30 and 40 piece challenge works.

I am challenging each of my students to learn 30 or 40 new pieces this school year. [The original idea was a 40 piece challenge but we have adapted this to our U.S. audience for a 30 piece challenge.] There are so many great reasons for this challenge, and Elissa certainly has articulated these quite well in her article which you should read. But here are the most important and exciting results of this challenge:

  • Students will gain a wide and practical knowledge and experience in a variety of music forms. Instead of learning 1 jazz piece, they may learn 5. Instead of 1 Baroque piece, they might learn 4.
  • Students will become more astute sight readers. The best way to improve sight reading is to not only do it, but read a variety of styles and formats of music frequently. The more repertoire that is “under their fingers” and “in their ears,” they more they can predict patterns and harmonies and improve their sight reading. Students also playing music from different composers and publishers will see a wide variety of notation styles and will keep them from getting “locked in” to a specific method.
  • Students will play more musically in part because these pieces will be learned well. The better students are at sight reading, the faster they learn the details of music, and the more time they have to spend developing the fine art of communicating their music through their musicality.
  • Students will be happier. The more music they can play, the more confident and proficient they feel, leading to a generally happier student.

How will you make the 30 and 40 piece challenge work?

Again, I am following the great ideas expressed by Elissa.

  1. The piece will be added to the list when it is first introduced. This rewards starting something new.
  2. The piece will be removed if the student chooses to stop learning the piece or not learn it in a musical way.
  3. Pieces will need to be at least 16 measures (8 for beginning students) and at a variety of levels. Students should be learning pieces of three different level varieties: 1. Challenging, 2. At their level, 3. Easier, fun to learn pieces. They should also be learning pieces of differing styles.
  4. Students may choose and begin pieces on their own (especially older students concerned with learning too long of repertoire and not meeting their goals) so long as they are learning them with correct notes, rhythm, musicality, etc.

30 piece challenge chartNew Charts, Cards, and Checklists to Keep Track!

I print the 30 or 40 piece challenge chart on card stock and put in each of my students’ binders. You can download these student piece charts plus a 30 or pieces challenge grid below for displaying your students’ progress in the studio.

This year, I’ve also created a new stamp card for students to keep in their notebook. Click the button below to download ALL the charts!

The Rewards Are Different This Year

Last year, I was a little wishy-washy with my rewards. So this year, I decided to be specific:

  • 10 pieces – Students will be awarded with a free ice cream cone certificate (or drink from a coffee) from a local business. I’m still working on this and will blog about it soon.
  • 20 pieces – Students can choose from 8 colors of the Pilot erasable Frixion Gel Pen! Whoever gets there first gets first choice at the colors. These are great incentives because students then use them in home practice!
  • 30 pieces – Students can choose from a $10 gift card from iTunes or Target! (They were ALL excited about this and yes, it’s an expensive prize, but if they all make it, I’ll just take it out of my registration fee which helps me pay for incentives.

However you do the challenge, learning more repertoire should be good for each student! And I think you’ll be surprised at how motivating and easy this program is. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter so that you get all kinds of creative ideas like the 30 and 40 piece challenge delivered to your inbox!

Get Great Repertoire Immediately:

  • “You Don’t Scare Me Now!” – This piece will get elementary students excited about how BIG they can sound!
  • Drastic Measures – Get your intermediate students pumped about learning repertoire with this exciting piece! Get the studio license and you can use it for all your students in your personal studio!
  • Carol of the Bells (elementary) and (intermediate versions) – Yes, holiday music counts! And these pieces will be the talk of the recital.

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  1. Kerri August 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Perfect timing!!!! I have been planning to start this challenge today and needed just a few more ideas. I love your reward ideas. I am tempted to go to the 40 piece challenge, though. What are your thoughts? It appears you were pleased with the 30 piece challenge as you are repeating it. Is it just more do-able for our 9 month school year?

  2. Barbara August 26, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    This is great, Wendy. Thanks so much for sharing it. I think the incentives are wonderful ideas and I think the kids will love the punch cards. Whenever I do these types of incentive programs the kids LOVE to look at the Studio Checklist to see who is “winning.” It definitely makes piano more fun. Thanks again!

  3. Jane August 27, 2014 at 11:51 am

    We have been doing the 30/40/50 piece challenge this year. For 30 pieces they get a bronze medal, 40 the silver and 50 the gold. I couldn’t believe how this motivated them to go for the gold. Either I am a softy or this is amazing because I have students who have passed the fifty and are aiming for the trophy I promised them for 100 pieces. For older students I give a credit for 16 bars. Now students who always wanted a one page piece are insisting on longer pieces.

  4. Kerri August 29, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Yay! You added the 40! Thanks so much!

  5. Cynthia McCaffety June 17, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    What counts as having learned a piece? Play with no errors? Play with expression? Play from memory?

  6. Wendy Stevens June 17, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Cynthia,

    There is certainly some leeway in what you determine as having learned a piece! I’d suggest exploring Elissa Milne’s writings on the 40 piece challenge (it was her idea!) and see what she thinks. https://elissamilne.wordpress.com/tag/40-piece-challenge/ I definitely know that you do NOT have to have the student memorize the piece. I say that a piece is learned when they can play it well and with no major issues. But again, that’s relative. Students are not perfect and we all make mistakes, so I don’t think a slip or occasional issue should keep them from saying that a piece is learned.

    I hope that helps!

  7. Regina Ziliani August 6, 2018 at 11:43 am

    I would very much like to do the 40 Piece Challenge at my music school, but I cannot quite figure how to make it fair for everyone. Younger, more elementary level, students fly through short pieces, while our advanced students may only accomplish 6-8 larger repertoire works per year. We also have students of many different instruments, including voice. I would love to hear your ideas on how we might make this a fair challenge for all students. Thanks so much!

  8. Wendy Stevens August 8, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Hi Regina,

    That’s such a great question. One of the things that I’ve done is to only all 16 measure pieces to qualify for the younger or more elementary students. That at least eliminates the really short ones. But one of the keys to this program is to give your more advanced students more literature that is “beneath” their level so that they can learn many more pieces. The benefits that you get (especially sight-reading imporovement and exposure to more music) only happen if they read through and learn more literature. So, for my more advanced students, I would give them an easier book of pieces that they could master in 1-2 weeks.

    I hope this helps. You might visit Elissa Milne’s articles on her site to see if she has other suggestions!

  9. […] #2 In light of the power of social incentives, employ a studio-wide incentive plan that shows progress of others. Perhaps like what I describe in my program above or a 40-Piece Challenge Wall Chart? […]

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