Elissa Milne

In the Studio: When a Student Presents You a Challenge…

At this very moment, treasured Australian composer, pianist, and educator, Elissa Milne, is talking to American piano teachers about the 40 Piece Challenge at the MTNA conference in San Antonio.

For those not in the know, the 40 Piece Challenge has become somewhat of a curio in modern Australian pedagogy. The objective is clear – learn 40 pieces (or more!). They can be of any style, any speed, from any period, etc. and do not have to stay strictly in the grade the student is currently studying. I have had multiple successes with the challenge in my studio; I’ve seen it inspire and push even the most stubborn student, and I’ve seen my best students take off running to exciting new levels of pianism. It’s a wonderful initiative with many a success story attached to it. You only need to look at prominent online pedagogy blogs to read similar success stories which are being shared from studios across the world.

It is this 40 piece challenge concept that has had me thinking lately: we are always presenting our students with various goals, challenges, and tasks, but rarely are they setting them for us. Many a teacher will chime in with “but the challenge is in the teaching!” or “they are teaching us as we teach them”, and while these adages are true, rarely do I see evidence from colleagues of them having a ‘tangible’ challenge, like the 40 Piece Challenge, set to them by one of their pupils.  One teacher (herself, a renowned Australian pianist) has recently told me of how she always learns the pieces her students are learning. It doesn’t matter what grade – from a Bach Prelude to a Chopin Scherzo – she will learn it along with them. This intrigues me as it is something I’ve never really considered before: would I better understand what I was teaching if I learned it alongside my student? Is there time to do this along with my own repertoire?

Well, I’m going to try!

I have two students who are hard working, disciplined kids, who show great promise with their piano playing. They share a love of all styles of music, have both completed the 40 Piece Challenge, and had a great time doing it. One of them, a grade 6 student, is working through the 24 Etudes Op. 636 (Preliminary School of Finger Dexterity) and my AMUSA student is working through the 40 Etudes Op. 299 (the famed School of Velocity) – both by Carl Czerny. After a lengthy discussion, it was decided that it would be “fun” for myself to learn the Czerny studies alongside them. As I have mentioned in another blog post, I did indeed learn all 40 of the Op. 299 studies at the con – but, well, let’s just say it has been a while *cough*

Each study will be uploaded onto my YouTube channel. I will post the video links here on the blog as well. It will also be a good reference point for them as they are learning. We have decided to call it “The Czerny Journey” – which they think is hilarious and completely ridiculous.

As for the 40 Piece Challenge, I urge you to give it a go (even if just for yourself) and also encourage your students to set you a challenge as well! I was pleasantly surprised at how they leaped at the opportunity. I’m excited…

For more information concerning the 40 Piece Challenge: http://40piecechallenge.com.au/

For more information concerning Elisa Milne, follow her fantastic blog here: https://elissamilne.wordpress.com/