The Four Stages of Learning

As is the case when learning any new skill, you will go through various stages of competence, awareness and motivation during the learning process; each with their own unique challenges and rewards. Understanding these stages, what to expect and how to handle them will help you stay motivated, persevere through the tough times and hopefully prevent you from giving up when things get difficult. Whether you are learning to play the guitar or piano, these stages apply. There are four stages of learning, here are the details:

Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence

This first stage of learning is blissful ignorance (without the bliss). Simply put it is when you do not know what you do not know. This wears off pretty quickly and you soon realise the difficulty of the skill you are starting to learn, and reality starts to sink in. It sucks but stick with it, things get easier (just kidding – it will be a while before you are tickling the ivories like Stevie Wonder or working the fretboard like Jimi Hendrix, but you are on your way)!

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence

They say knowledge is power. In this stage of learning, the power can be overwhelming; becoming aware of the gap between where you are and where you want to be can seem like a journey of a thousand steps (or scales) and therefore it is considered by many as the most challenging stage of learning and it can be difficult to keep your motivation levels up, but the good news is that is it during this stage that you start to make progress, because, like we said ‘knowledge is power’.

Stage 3: Conscious competence

During this third stage of learning things start to get real; you start to realise that you know what you know, and with practice, perseverance, concentration and an unfailing level of passion you are making great strides on this journey of becoming a musician!  It is during this stage when the players and separated from the ‘players’; those serious about their instrument and the dream get serious.

Stage 4: Unconscious competence

Eureka! This is where the bliss kicks in. While Stevie and Hendrix are still years ahead of you, this final stage of learning sees you performing your skill naturally without having to think too much or concentrate too hard.