As you already know, I’m a huge advocate for having my students learn as many pieces as possible each year, with a studio benchmark of 40 pieces for all students.
In fact, I have no hesitation in saying that playing LOTS of repertoire is probably the most crucial element in a music student’s development and I’m reminded whenever I get a transfer student just how important this is.
How many times have you taken on a student who, while they may have been learning for 5 years, is still struggling to read at even a basic level purely because they only learnt 3-5 pieces each year previously? It’s happened to me four times in the last 6 months which reminds me of how important it is that we spread the word about introducing students to large amounts of repertoire in order to improve their sight reading, stylistic interpretation, rhythmic comprehension and general musical ability.
I’ve been really excited by how many other teachers have taken-up the 40-piece challenge after my blog post was published in the Australian Piano Teacher’s Magazine published by Hal Leonard at the end of last year. There is now a 40 piece challenge website to which I encourage everyone to contribute comments and ideas as the year progresses. There is already lots feedback from teachers on the website and some great ideas too.
After reading about one teachers’ idea for keeping track of her students’ pieces with a “coffee card”, I decided to make one up myself. The students reckon it’s a great idea and much more fun than writing down the title and composer of each piece as they learn them.
You can download the doc file here if you’d like to modify it for your own students.
For students who have an A4-sized notebook that’s bigger than the card, I get them to glue the coffee card page onto a separate A4 piece of card and cut around the edges so that it’s the same size.
Of course, you need lots of repertoire on-hand if your students are going to complete this challenge and asking parents to suddenly buy 10 new books when they’ve previously only bought one might be a bit of a hard sell.
For this reason, I like to use compilations like Elissa Milne’s “Getting to…” series, and some of the great compilation books by Dan Coates and Dennis Alexander which have lots of music in them.
The “Joy of First Classics” is another gem for lots of easy classical arrangements. I also like the new Piano Adventures Sight Reading books – I count one week’s worth of effective sight reading as one piece on the card (make sure you pick a piece to hear and/or quiz them on!). You can also use method books and books like Czerny Op 823 or Czerny Op 777 which is a whole compilation of pieces that sit under 5 fingers in the RH – great for easy reading and learning. Also try duets – these are great fun for student and teacher (check out my post on Diabelli Duets).
In addition, there are plenty of places to find free legal sheet music online. Most people are aware of IMSLP.org, but did you know about sites like these?
There are plenty more out there – just Google it! You can also check the links down the left sidebar of my blog.
Remember, the pieces don’t have to be at the student’s ‘current level’ to count. It’s just about reading as much as possible. I love giving 5 of these beginner level pieces each week to my more advanced students to keep up their sight-reading and rhythmic comprehension.
Every extra piece counts. Students become more confident, better readers and start trying a wider range of music. Even if you don’t want to jump to 40 pieces right away, at least try doubling your current number and check out the impact.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.