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Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
#3012679 08/11/20 01:28 PM
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An article just came out in the Aug/Sep 2020 issue of "American Music Teacher" entitled "The 4-Piece Challenge - Questioning the Culture of Speed in Music Lessons". The author is Karen Gerulus, a doctoral candidate at the University of Calgary. She has a website: Gerelus Music. AMT is a peer-reviewed periodical of the Music Teachers National Association in the US.

I hesitate to bring this up, since I haven't been able to find the article online for free, so you are relying on my understanding of the article.

Although the author doesn't mention the 40 piece challenge in the title, the synopsis does.
Quote
The '40-Piece Challenge" has enthusiastically been taken up by music teachers around the world, but without much critical thought to the potential drawbacks of this approach. This article offers a contrasting view and presents the 4-Piece Challenge, which seeks a slower and more mindful approach to music learning.

The author does cite some studies in favor of slower learning, but none of them are from the music field. She objects to quantity over quality.

She describes her 4-piece method like this:

Quote
You and your student, together, will choose 4 pieces and work on them over a long period of time until they can be played at any speed, on any instrument, and for anyone at any time. Supplement those core pieces with other material as the year progresses, but do not move past this special set.

The author does not address adult music students at all.

I know a lot of people here have gotten a lot of good out of the 40-piece challenge. I think the 4-piece challenge the author is advocating is nothing new - teachers have taught this way for generations now.

Sam

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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012683 08/11/20 01:35 PM
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I never participated in the 40-piece challenge offered here because it would not have worked for my personality. The need to complete a certain number of pieces in a certain timeframe just doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t like to feel rushed to complete pieces.

HOWEVER, I understand that it works for some people and is a good motivator, so why not? There’s something “right” for everybody.

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 08/11/20 01:37 PM.

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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012697 08/11/20 02:12 PM
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I don't think I'd ever have any interest in trying to learn 40 pieces in a year because I think I'd just pick 38 pieces below my level and get burnt out on them. Is this a common practice, do a lot of people take on 40 pieces in a year?

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012701 08/11/20 02:19 PM
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Personally, I don't like the goal of learning 40 pieces per year, or even the idea of measuring my progress by the number of pieces that I have learned. I mean, it is not for me. However,

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You and your student, together, will choose 4 pieces and work on them over a long period of time until they can be played at any speed, on any instrument, and for anyone at any time.

this sounds incredibly boring to me, and also taking slow learning one giant step too far. Once I have learned from a piece what I need to learn from it - and of course I am willing to give this the time it needs - I usually want to be done with it, and move on. As a beginner, spending so much time on a single piece that I can play it at any speed, or even more impossible, on any instrument, is simply not something I would enjoy.

And I practise and play the piano for my enjoyment! smile


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sebs #3012702 08/11/20 02:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Sebs
I don't think I'd ever have any interest in trying to learn 40 pieces in a year because I think I'd just pick 38 pieces below my level and get burnt out on them. Is this a common practice, do a lot of people take on 40 pieces in a year?

Look at the thread in this forum entitled "40 Pieces a Year Club for 2020". It goes back several years now.

Sam

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012703 08/11/20 02:25 PM
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I thought the idea behind the 40 piece challenge was to consistently keep reading new music (material below your current comfort zone). As opposed to perfecting just 4 pieces in a year. You can do both!

Last edited by bSharp(C)yclist; 08/11/20 02:26 PM.

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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012704 08/11/20 02:27 PM
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Sam, thanks for posting this, I'll take a look. I have never participated in the challenge here at PW, but the idea is compelling.

In other pedagogy areas (foreign language pedagogy, for example) there are curricula for extensive reading (i.e., read a lot and read widely, perhaps a level below your current reading level, don't look up words you don't know, read of overall gist etc.) vs. intensive reading (read something just at or above your current level, look up words, aim to have a deep understanding.

It seems like this is a good corollary...

I have recently started taking lessons again, and we're working on sightreading, but rather than "pure sightreading" (play something once and then never again), my teacher has me approach a little more like the "extensive reading" or 40-piece challenge: play the piece every day for 1-2 weeks, then play it for the teacher at my lesson, then move on to the next piece. The idea is to move through a lot of music quickly, while at the same time spending enough time with each piece to get it up to speed, basically polish the piece as much as I can in that 1-2 week timespan. The music we're using is below my level.

Anyway, I am going to go read this article, thanks Sam!


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012705 08/11/20 02:38 PM
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Depends on the level of the piece you work on. If it's an easy piece with a few lines on a sheet, I can read through it in half an hour. A challenging piece like a Bach fugue with 4 voices I'd be working on it for a month to get the right notes and the piece up to tempo.

To get to 40 pieces a year, a person needs to be playing 3-4 pieces a month or almost 1 piece a week. Don't think anybody would learn a fast movement of a Beethoven sonata from scratch in 1 week. Do you count a movement of a Sonata as 1 piece or do you include all the fast & slow movements?

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012706 08/11/20 02:42 PM
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I keep going back and forth about whether to join that challenge here. I haven't counted up the number of pieces I've been working on each year....but even though the "club" seems casual, I still think I would feel like I "failed" if I didn't reach 40 pieces. I certainly wouldn't feel like I accomplished anything if I rushed through a bunch just to reach the goal. Which I would totally do (I like hitting goals!). It's kinda like getting the last ~500 steps towards my FitBit goal just from beating up hamburger in the frying pan for dinner. blush

I'm basically doing what others have mentioned already...work on easier pieces that I can "complete" and move on from within 2 weeks (currently Burgmuller), and then usually 2 more challenging pieces that I might work on for 6-8 weeks (or more). I also read new music every week just because I love to. That approach keeps me happy.


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012709 08/11/20 02:56 PM
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I'm more likely to submit pieces for the PW quarterly recitals than to learn 40+ pieces / year for the sake of it.

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012712 08/11/20 03:14 PM
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I think 40 pieces a year is only for beginners or low intermediates. It's not possible once the pieces get longer and more challenging. Also, what's considered a "piece"? My impression is these pieces are generally extremely short. And what's considered learning a piece? This method clearly works or is motivating for some, but it's not how the overwhelming majority of pianists beyond a certain level work or think about learning music.

Four pieces a year seems equally extreme to me and not reasonable at any level unless a major concerto is called a piece. Again, no pianist would spend a year learning four concertos only. They would be working on solo rep.

This sentence in the description sounds very silly:
"You and your student, together, will choose 4 pieces and work on them over a long period of time until they can be played at any speed, on any instrument, and for anyone at any time." I can't imagine the supposed importance of the part I put in bold.

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012716 08/11/20 03:22 PM
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I do participate in the 40 piece challenges and it has advantages and disadvantages. The ability to learn a piece quickly does come about from learning a lot of pieces. You unconsciously develop a system that helps you master a piece more quickly. Reading definitely improves. One the down side, to meet the 40 piece number, I find myself leaving a piece before it is polished to my standards a lot of times. That does not feel good. I think a lot depends on one's stage of pianistic development. For beginners, I think it is excellent. It moves someone through a lot of music quickly, developing reading skills, and developing familiarity with different genres. For the intermediate/advanced student I think it is less valuable. I would rather learn 10 or 15 pieces at my level, than a bunch of lower level pieces. I believe I have benefited from the challenge, but it requires a lot of time if you are also learning longer pieces at a higher level to continue to develop your skills.

The original goal of the challenge was to change the exam centered teaching that meant many students only learned three exam pieces and the required scales every year. That clearly is a pretty thin musical diet for the early grades. After grade 5 (ABRSM) the quality required in an exam does require students to spend more time with their pieces. Still, I would hope they would learn more than the required pieces. By grade 8, the number of pieces that can be learned outside of the exam pieces drops down a lot to maybe 10 or so.

Obviously the value of exams can be debated. Still it is an indication of the level, and the number of pieces that can reasonably be completed with quality in a year.

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012717 08/11/20 03:27 PM
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I like long term pieces if I like them.
I am satisfied learning short term pieces, and they can be pretty much anything.

But seriously, when I work on a piece for a year (or more) it better be interesting, and it is best if I love it. (It is also good if my husband doesn't mind it!)
For one day, I wouldn't involve my teacher.
For a month, I can put up with just about anything.

Any time that I spend reading anything new is good for me.


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012721 08/11/20 03:37 PM
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I also wonder what a "piece" is and what "learning a piece" mean? I guess that's up to the person taking the challenge. I imagine this would improve reading skills a lot just seeing so many patterns, etc.

Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012738 08/11/20 04:20 PM
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I participated in the 40 pieces a year challenge a few years ago. My goal was to learn and perform around 30 short pieces within 2 weeks. Performance pretty much meant recording and posting them on SoundCloud. Because I didn’t want to be embarrassed by a poor performance, that additional rule I made for myself meant I had to step up my game. I also counted the regular pieces I was working on too, which I figured would be about 10 pieces.

I made it to 26 pieces for the year. First of all I found it stressful, even though I picked pieces that were easier than what I would usually play. Learning a piece in 2 weeks only gets you to 25 pieces a year unless you are working on multiple pieces at that same rate. But the good part of the challenge was that my sight reading and analysis skills increased because I had to figure how to play pieces quickly. It also introduced me to some different composers and styles.



Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
pianoloverus #3012739 08/11/20 04:25 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think 40 pieces a year is only for beginners or low intermediates.

I don't think that necessarily has to be true, I think it depends on how one wants to approach it. If the goal is to improve one's reading ability and overall recognition of patterns etc., it makes a lot of sense to me to have below-current-level pieces that you work on and move through quickly, while also working on more challenging pieces. This is my current approach to "sightreading" (loosely defined), I'm moving through easy (for me) pieces that I spend 1-2 weeks on. But this is only one portion of my piano activities, I also do scales, technique exercises, and repertoire-building pieces which are much longer and more challenging, and which I aim to perform or record. (Before covid, I was also doing duet/ensemble music, but that's all gone for now)

BTW to everyone saying "what is meant by a piece" -- my interpretation is that it's a complete piece of music, as opposed to a portion. So if you're playing below-your-level pieces, they are probably 1-2 pages. And that's what my sightreading pieces are.

Re this:
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This sentence in the description sounds very silly:
"You and your student, together, will choose 4 pieces and work on them over a long period of time until they can be played at any speed, on any instrument, and for anyone at any time." I can't imagine the supposed importance of the part I put in bold.

I noticed that too! What on earth does she mean by "on any instrument"?? I am pretty sure that none of the pieces I play are conducive to being performed on the clarinet.... And I'm not interested in playing them on other instruments anyway. I'm a pianist, not an instrumentist.

Could she mean "on any keyboard"? And if so, big deal!

(Guess I need to go read her article before I complain anymore...)


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
PianogrlNW #3012741 08/11/20 04:26 PM
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Originally Posted by PianogrlNW
My goal was to learn and perform around 30 short pieces within 2 weeks.

I first read that to mean, you learned 30 pieces all at once in one two-week period! crazy


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
Sam S #3012756 08/11/20 05:15 PM
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Her 4-Piece system sounds like the exam system, give or take. I guess I'm not seeing anything innovative there.

40 pieces is too many; four is not enough. Going by the Goldilocks Principle, 22 should be just right. smile


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Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
SwissMS #3012762 08/11/20 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by SwissMS
The original goal of the challenge was to change the exam centered teaching that meant many students only learned three exam pieces and the required scales every year. That clearly is a pretty thin musical diet for the early grades.
IMO no good teacher thinks it appropriate to teach only three pieces per year to a beginning or even intermediate student.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 08/11/20 05:34 PM.
Re: Article "against" the 40 pieces a year movement
pianoloverus #3012775 08/11/20 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by SwissMS
The original goal of the challenge was to change the exam centered teaching that meant many students only learned three exam pieces and the required scales every year. That clearly is a pretty thin musical diet for the early grades.
IMO no good teacher thinks it appropriate to teach only three pieces per year to a beginning or even intermediate student.

I also had an issue with that statement..that exam takers learn 3 pieces per grade and that’s it. I think that’s a misconception that gets perpetuated. I think it is definitely possible that some people will do this, but I don’t think it’s the norm, nor the intention of the exam boards.

I’m doing RCM grade 1 and I’ve completed to a high standard at least 30 pieces since January. And I’m not even done yet...maybe a couple more before I move onto grade 2. I understand that RCM has a lot more pieces in their books than the ABRSM but even so, I don’t think it’s the norm for students to do just 3 pieces.


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