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Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Four Stages of Competency

We all go through those periods as music producers where we may not have writer's block, but our ideas, what we are putting into our DAW, are second rate. This leads to a viscious circle where you start censoring your ideas because they don't sound the way you want them to. You won't allow happy accidents to occur, and nothing except second rate ideas come through because you can't develop anything. So what's the best way to deal with second rate ideas? The answer dawned on me the other day when I was watching sport on TV. There was a player who was facing a similar problem, he was severly out of form and he wasn't playing well. He was consistently off target, the crowd was making fun of him, and his performance was consting his team. He became too conscious of what he was doing and couldn't get in the zone, so to speak.

It was at this point that one of the commentators, a man of good stature within the game and who also often struggled with form, started talking about his performance. He stated something that resonanted with me, which was that when you're in a slump of that kind the best thing you can do is simply play as much as possible. Get to the point where you're again no longer conscious of your actions when playing, where it's automatic, an instinct. Looking into this idea and doing some research, I found online a formal way of describing what's going on here. These are the four stages of competency.

1. Unconscious Incompetence: 

The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

2. Conscious Incompetence:

Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognise the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

3. Conscious Competence:

The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

4. Unconscious Competence:

The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

In a musical sense, you simply want to be making as much music as possible. Go for quantity over quality. Skecth out as many rough ideas as you can, maybe aim for 1-2 per week. They don't have to be super polished, use things like breaks / loops from sample packs to hold the idea together. Get the core parts down, a basic intro of 8 to 16 bars, a drop, and a main idea / rollout section and a variation if you can manage it. After this process has been completed a few times, you should be getting back into the swing of fitting the peices of the puzzle without too much conscious thinking. Stick to the five or ten minute rule if you have to, whereby if you can't get an idea to work in that timeframe you should chuck it out. After a while you can come back and examine which ideas are worth pursuing, and polish these until you are happy with them. By this stage you'll be back in form, you won't be censoring your ideas and you'll be hopefully putting a fair few pieces of music out. Just remember that you don't have to upload or release every piece of music you make. It's better to make 10 tracks and get one signed than limit yourself to working on a few mediocre ideas that have flawless mixdowns. No matter the quality of the mixdown if the idea isn't captivating you won't generate any interest. 

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