AlN thin films were grown by reactive sputtering on amorphous SiO2 thin films. Film texture, x-ray rocking curve width, mechanical stress, and the clamped piezoelectric constant d33,f were studied as a function of rf bias power and substrate roughness. A high d33,f of 5.0 pm/V was achieved at low substrate roughness and low mechanical AlN film stress. Increasing substrate roughness and stress leads to a deterioration of d33,f, which is correlated with a higher density of opposite polarity grains detected by piezoresponse force microscopy. Extrapolating to 100% uniform polarity, a d33,f of 6.1 pm/V is derived as highest possible value, probably corresponding to the d33,f=e33/cof perfect single crystalline material. Growth mechanisms are proposed and underlined by high resolution transmission electron microscopy to explain the observed phenomena.