Take the 30 Piece Challenge!

Inspired by the brilliant pedagogue Elissa Milne, I am challenging each of my students to learn 30 new pieces this school year. There are so many great reasons for this challenge, and Elissa certainly has articulated these quite well in her article which you should read.

30 piece challenge - how to make it work plus FREE charts from composecreate.com


For the sake of brevity, I’ll just summarize what I think will be 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 we do this?

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 challengeHow Will You Keep Track?

Well, you know me. I can’t just use a plain piece of paper! You can download the fancy 30 and 40 piece challenge sheets that I will print on card stock and put in each of my students’ binders. I will be using one of the sheets in each student’s notebook, one of the charts in the studio so everyone can see everyone’s progress, and may use one of them as a card to stamp.

Is There A Reward?

We all know that the reward in a challenge like this will be that students will learn all kinds of wonderful music that they will want to play and will be able to play. But in the end, yes, I will give the students who complete the challenge something special at the spring recital. Elissa suggested a medal.

What Next?

Well, now I’m off to searching for great music for my students! I love that I can choose music at their level and significantly below as well to help them meet their goals and have fun playing. I will most especially be having some of my students work out of Elissa Milne’s Pepper books (here’s the Late Elementary Pepper Book, the Early Intermediate Pepper Book, the Intermediate Pepper Book) and Pepperbox Jazz – oh so fresh and fun!

Download the FREE 30 and 40 Piece Challenge Charts Here:

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  1. Corrie Anne August 29, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I saw this idea over the summer and loved it!! I’m planning to give it a try, but I don’t have all the details worked out yet.

  2. […] US teacher, composer and pianist, Wendy Stevens (of Rhythm Menagerie fame) is adapting the 40 Piece Challenge to suit the American teaching year (nearly three full months of summer holiday!), and she details her plans here! […]

  3. Lydia September 4, 2013 at 10:16 am

    This sounds like a great idea. Are the 30 for pieces that students will be learning on their own? not just sightreading? Do the pieces you teach also count? How do you verify that the pieces are actually learned if they learn them on their own? Do you provide them with music to choose from? Thanks.

  4. Kay Lowry September 4, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    I saw this idea on Tim Topham’s blog! He has written some helpful articles about the challenge. I adapted it for use in my studio this year. I just started the challenge- and will continue through the end of March. I chose 25 pieces, which is basically one a week. I chose the end of March as a completion time, because I want to give those students a trophy at the end of year recital. I don’t know about your area, but everyone is ordering music and sports trophies in the spring, and I wanted to give myself some extra margin 🙂

  5. Sheila September 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for taking this great idea and putting feet on it! Your charts are great. I love the “Practice Wiser” advice, too. I have a large contingency of boys in my studio this fall who have inspired me to combine this with a Lego theme (stolen from another creative teacher). Each student has a Lego meme who will advance on the grid with each piece learned. I’ll mark off 10, 20 and 30 (as you have on your chart) with colored tape (the flat green platforms are just the right length). I figure if any student learns more than 30, they will get put on a Lego pedestal – kind of like getting kinged in Checkers. It’s not really a competition, but a fun peer pressure nudge.

  6. The 10 Easy Piece Challenge | eliza says February 17, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    […] about The 30 Piece Challenge and The 40 Piece Challenge got me thinking. Thirty  or forty pieces a year seemed too much for the […]

  7. Joyce A Wilcocx July 7, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Loved this idea – am thinking instead of a medal, how about a new book of music?

  8. Wendy Stevens July 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    Yes, yes! Definitely a great idea, Joyce!

  9. […] got over-enthusiastic after reading a post by Wendy Stevens, on “The 30 Piece Challenge” and got started on more than one piece at a time. My goals were still fairly small – just to […]

  10. […] practice? Your students might want to Become a Musical Superhero. Is building repertoire a focus? A 30 Piece Challenge might be perfect. Do you want a longer incentive to keep your students motivated? Check out Musical […]

  11. Joyce August 7, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    How do you “invite” the children and their practice parent to participate in the 30/40 piece challenge? I started talking with several parents and they got a little concerned that this was a lot of work or what happens if they don’t reach the goal? Of course I dealt with it but I would love to hear how you actually verbalize the challenge. Thanks for the help.

  12. Wendy Stevens August 8, 2018 at 9:51 am

    I believe Elissa Milne has written something about this before. I’m not sure where, but here are some of the articles on her site about the 40 piece challenge: https://elissamilne.wordpress.com/category/40-piece-challenge/ I’ll see if I can find it but I wanted to at least start by giving you that. Stay tuned…

  13. Wendy Stevens August 8, 2018 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Joyce,

    I just checked with Elissa and here’s the post she wrote that applies directly to helping parents understand the importance of investing in music. I hope this helps! https://elissamilne.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/the-price-v-the-value-of-music-books/

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