The Conscious Competence Learning Model

As music teachers we find it helpful to be aware of the learning model that defines students as at one of four stages:
Stage 1 unconscious incompetence
Stage 2 conscious incompetence
Stage 3 conscious competence
Stage 4 unconscious competence
The model explains the process and stages of learning a new skill


Teachers commonly assume “students” to be at stage 2, and focus effort towards achieving stage 3, when often trainees are often still at stage 1. We find that when we do one day training courses in churches often people who have been playing an instrument for many years and consider themselves relatively able are quite often unconsiously incompetent. This is no slur on them, simply that they need to develop an awareness of the level of their playing and understand where they might be able to improve in order to have any knowledge of progressing beyond their current ability. It is from this self awareness that real progression and learning can begin.  Its not that these students aren’t able, its just that while they think they are doing just fine, they don’t have the mindset to do anything differently.

We’ve just come back from running some classes at a worship conference and I had several conversations with an older guy who has been drumming for some years. After much humming and harring he decided that our intermediate drum dvds had little to teach him. Now this may well be the case, but I do know from others who have actually watched the DVDs that there is plenty for even very experienced drummers to get their teeth into. All our intermediate DVDs are designed to move you out of your comfort zone – taking you from whatever stage you are at to the next. There is always something new to learn in whatever skill you have.

I’m at conscious incompetence about so many things in my life right now and I think that’s a pretty good place to be when you are looking to learn something new. The key is to develop a level of reflection about your genuine abilities and ultimately find a way of moving forward – that may be through a teacher, through practise or some other form of training. Remember, many professional musicians still get lessons.