Performance Workshop Review
Have you heard of ‘Four Stages Of Competence’? It’s a learning model that describes the steps you go through to become good at a skill. It’s something that we like to teach our clients as early as possible in their music learning journey. FSC is a great tool for understanding how to learn skills as quickly as possible. Learning music takes time, but we want to help our clients to use that time efficiently.
What’s important to remember is that these levels apply to very small skills. It won’t help you to rate skills like ‘playing the guitar’. What’s more helpful is understanding what skills are required to ‘play the guitar’ and to move those skills up through the stages.
The four stages are:
Where you don’t know what you don’t know.
You may be unaware of a bad habit you have on your instrument or in your voice. There may be something that you’re not doing that could help your playing or singing a lot.
You become aware of a skill that you don’t have.
You might unable to play a piece of music smoothly, or not get the sound you want out of your instrument. You may stumble across the reason why by youself.
Most often you reach this stage by having a good mentor diagnose a problem. They’ll then prescribe an exercise or a physical habit for you to carry out to fix it.
You can perform a particular skill.
After working on the skill for a while, you can do it. Although you still have to think about it. That verbal part of your brain is still running the show when you’re using the skill.
You’ve practised the skill enough that you no longer have to think about it. The skill has become completely automatic.
If you have a look at the Wikipedia definition for Automaticity. You’ll see the line “(Automaticity) … is usually the result of learning, repetition, and practice.”
That means that there’s only one way to get something into this stage, and that’s via repetition.
All of us have skills spread across all the stages. I’m very confident that there are things about guitar playing that I don’t know. When I find out about them and start to practice those skills they’re going to be very useful to me.
So don’t think that you’re on one level or another. There are things that you can do automatically already, and things that you don’t know about.
As we’ve all got limited amounts of time, we want to keep the number of repetitions we have to do as low as possible.
The best way to keep the number of repetitions down is to focus on one small skill at a time when you practice.
Here’s how I visualise the whole process:
I think of the levels as a series of shelves. The ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ level being the floor. This floor is littered with things I can’t really see clearly because of all of the mess.
Once I discover a skill on the floor that I didn’t know I needed. I’ll move it up to the next shelf (Conscious Incompetence). It’s a matter of “Hey, I can’t do that thing! Let’s put it up here so that I can start to work on it”.
I select that one small skill, devise a way to improve it and include it in my daily practice. I’ll do that one thing that I need to work on with a metronome. I’ll usually play at around 30–40 BPM for at least 5 minutes without stopping.
Once I start working on it, it’s going to eventually get moved up to the ‘Conscious Competence’ shelf. I’ll be able to do the skill, but I’ll still have to be concentrating to carry it out. At this point, I really focus on relaxing while repeating the skill. This takes my mind away from conciously carrying out the skill and helps push the skill towards being automatic.
Once it’s there, it’s not too many more repetitions until it makes its way up to the ‘Unconcious Competence’ shelf. I won’t need to think about it anymore. It may need occasional fine-tuning, but it’s probably going to stay with me for the rest of my life. Now that I’ve got the free headspace, I can start again with another skill.
The important part of this process is that the skills that you’re moving up the shelves should be very small. You should move only one skill at a time. Also, you should practice the skill very, very slowly. I can’t stress that enough.
On guitar, for example, I’ll focus on one very small thing. Making sure that I place my fingers exactly up against the fret wire (but never on top) is a good skill. I’ll practise this skill until I just start to place my fingers there automatically.
Trying to move a bunch of skills up through the levels is slow and ineffective. You’ll get there eventually, but it’s definitely the slowest route possible. It’s a bit like learning plate spinning and starting off with 8 plates at once.
The brain doesn’t care what speed you carry out a motion, it learns it just the same regardless of speed. So why slow? So that you can learn the skill perfectly.
There’s no point in making an imperfect skill automatic. That’s the very definition of a bad habit. The other reason for going slowly is that it gives you an opportunity to practice being completely relaxed.
There’s much research on how much more effective learning is when you’re relaxed. You’ll also find that if you practise your new skill slowly and perfectly that it will become automatic quite quickly.
The big trick, of course, is finding out what you don’t know. The slow way is to keep guessing by yourself. You’ll probably get there in the end. It certainly won’t be easy or the best use of your time. The faster method is to find someone who’s been where you’re headed and can help you avoid the pitfalls along the way.
A good mentor can spot the skills you’re missing quickly, help you work on them in the right order and get you playing the music you want to player sooner.
Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.
It has been discovered that short bursts of activity during your day can significantly increase the amount of energy that we have available.
Researchers Dr. Janet Nikolovski and Dr. Jack Groppel have named these short activities ‘Micro Bursts’. Details are in their whitepaper “The Power Of An Energy Microburst”.
Microbursts can be:
For many of us, music fulfils not one, but all of those categories. Considering that “Music Is Like A Full Body Workout For Your Brain. Setting aside a few, two to ten-minute sessions a day for some playing or singing is a good idea. These sessions are not just for good for your health, as the above TED-Talk describes. They’re also for your productivity and energy levels at home and work.
Can you keep an instrument in the office or do you work from home? Do you have a place that you can go to have a sing to yourself? If you can, great! Schedule in some break time and do some playing.
If not, try doing some practice in your head. You’ll be surprised at how effective it is. There’s much research confirming the effectiveness of mental practice. So don’t be afraid to take some time out and simply imagine yourself playing through a piece of music or exercise.
Alternatively, instead of scheduling in some time. When you start to feel tired or unfocused, just grab your instrument and have a quick play (or do the mental equivalent).
Playing music can be a great way to achieve a quick ‘recharge’ during the day.
Knowing now that you only have to set aside a few minutes a day to learn music. Not only do you no longer have the excuse that you don’t have time for playing music. You have the added bonus of knowing that playing a little music every day could be making you more effective at work and home.
If you’re not making music already, get started now! Not only is it fun, it’s really good for you.
IMA Music Mentoring – Brisbane’s Premier Music School.
Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.
Why you should record yourself all the time.
As performers and writers of music there is an important question that we need to constantly ask ourselves – “Is what I am doing really any good?”
Is the song that you have just written a good song?
Is that groove really as funky as you think?
And now I’ve got this great riff, when I play it, does it sound as good as it could?…
How can you tell what you’re doing is any good?
A great solution is to record yourself.
Record everything. Record all your rehearsals, all your gigs, all your demos, all your song ideas, everything.
Something happens when you put things on tape. We can all listen to the radio and say “That’s crap” or “That’s great”. We’ve had lots of practise listening to and judging music we hear. But when we play our own music, our eyes (and ears) glaze over with dreams of rock superstardom (or whatever) and our brain can’t hear what we’re really playing. Putting it on tape allows you to listen with that critical part of the brain that you’ve used all your life to choose music you really like.
Once you’ve recorded your song or idea, you can listen back and hear that the instrumental section takes away the impact of the chorus, the guitar part is fun but destroys the mood of the song, the busy bass part is distracting or that ‘lose’ and ‘obtuse’ really don’t rhyme. (Listen for good ideas that you may have missed too – musical accidents have made hit songs).
Then listen to your actual playing.
You’ll hear where the drummer is slowing down, how the bass and drums are out, how the riffs lack impact because they’re sloppy or how the singer can’t reach that note…
This requires a lot of honesty with your band mates and with yourself. If you’re convinced that your material and playing can’t be improved, compare it to a recording by an established artist. Don’t make excuses or settle for near enough.
And every time you play on tape (which should be every time you play) imagine that you’re keeping it forever and make it good.
You have a lot of choices for gear to record with. Make it simple to use, portable and quick to set up.
Simple to use because you don’t want to have to think about it – you’re busy being creative, portable because it has to go where you go and quick to set up because when inspiration strikes you have to be ready.
I use ProTools LE (with an Mbox) and a very cheap laptop. The laptop won’t even run the ProTools demo but it meets all my other needs (and I’ve used it for tracking commercial recordings).
There are lots of options available like hard disc recorders and even hand held mP3 recorders. Even a cassette 4-track is something!
Take the plunge and then use it all the time – it will be one of the best career
investments you make.
As always, if you have any questions, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to our contact page to organise a free, no obligation introductory lesson.