There is a concept called the four stages of competence, which applies to learning. I first heard about it in the context of golf, but thought it might be interesting to discuss how it relates to violin. Here are the four stages:
1. Unconscious Incompetence: The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.
2. Conscious Incompetence: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.
3. Conscious Competence: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of conscious effort.
4. Unconscious Competence: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes "second nature" and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply).
Tiger Woods, one of the greatest golfers who ever lived, said in an interview that during big tournaments, he could not remember hitting the most critical shots. It was as if he was on autopilot, having an out of body experience. Clearly, he performs at the highest level of "Unconscious Competence."
One of my former violin teachers, a very accomplished violinist who started playing solo with orchestras at age 12, said he was only completely satisfied with one performance in his life. His description of the performance was surprisingly similar to Tiger Woods. He remembers walking on stage and finishing the piece, but hardly anything in between.
As an advanced amateur violinist, I would put myself somewhere around the level of "late 2, early 3." Playing difficult repertoire requires a tremendous amount of mental concentration on my part.
So, here is my question as it relates to the four stages of learning. Does it get any easier? Virtuoso violinists make it seem so easy. Is it really easy for them? Are they operating at level 4? What level are you at? Have you ever reached level 4 in a performance?
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