Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Three Stages of Learning

Have you ever thought you learned something only to find out you have no idea what you are doing?  Here is how it usually happens.  You are trying to play something for someone else, and all of a sudden you draw a blank.  You are dumbfounded.  You played it perfectly at home 100 times, and now you can't get through it.  Or you can only play it one speed.  Fast.

There are actually three stages of learning, and going through all three stages will make you a better player, and is also the hallmark of a good teacher.

Stage 1 - The first stage is what I call "Manual Mode."  This is when you are actually learning the song.  Whether you use tab, music, or listen and learn by ear, you are very aware of every note and fingering you perform.  You generally play songs in this stage at a slower pace.

Stage 2 - This is what I call "Automatic Pilot."  In this stage, you are able to pick up the pace and play through the song without a lot of mistakes.  It is this stage where many people stop learning.  It is easy to assume you know the song really well because you can play it faster and more accurately.  However, it is also in this stage that if you start thinking about what you are doing, you become incapable of doing it.  People in this stage of learning are unable to play the song slowly anymore.  When a student comes in for a lesson and has trouble playing through a song, I will ask them to slow it down.  When the student tells me they can't play it slow, then I know they are in Stage 2 of learning.

Stage 3 - This is actually a repeat of Stage 1, and is a return to Manual Mode.  It is in this stage of learning that a person is able to play the song at any speed up to the fastest that they are personally capable of (or that the song requires).  This is also the stage that good teachers need to attain.  A good teacher is capable of playing the song up to speed, incredibly slow, or any speed in between.  A good teacher not only can play the song at a very slow speed, but can also spot mistakes that a student is making when they are playing the song.  That's because in Stage 3, you regain the ability to think about every single note and fingering.  You are now capable of playing in Automatic Pilot and Manual Mode.

What will this help you accomplish?  It helps assure that your performances go smoother.  It ensures that as you get nervous and start thinking about what you are doing that you will actually be able to remember what you are doing.  It doesn't mean you won't ever blank out or forget something, but it will certainly cut down on that.  It will also give you more confidence in your playing.

So how do you know you have reached Stage 3?  Well, for one, you can play the song VERY slowly.  I mean painfully slow.  You can also describe what you are doing to someone else.  You can probably even "see" all your movements inside your head.  For instance, when I imagine playing fiddle, I go through bowings and fingerings completely in my head.  I imagine what string I'm on and what direction my bow is going.  When I imagine banjo in my head, I can imagine what rolls I'm using, what chords or fingerings I'm using, and even what fret I should be on.

How do you get to Stage 3?  You may have to play the parts of the song fast and then slow again.  The fast speed allows you to figure out what you are doing.  Playing it slowly cements it into your head.  If you can't figure out what you are doing, you will have to go back to the beginning of learning the song.  Get out the tab, music or CD, and go through the motions of relearning the song.  It won't take you long this time, and it is well worth the effort.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's amazing!