Some of you may not know that my undergraduate and one of my graduate degrees was in the field of music. I had a lot of training in music education because them that can do and them that can’t teach. I was never a great performer, so I hoped to perpetuate my mediocrity by teaching others!
I always admired performers, however. To see someone like David Martin who can sit down and not just play a piano but command a piano. He doesn’t just play music, he makes it. And there’s a huge difference. We learned about that at Middle Tenn State University. In fact, I still remember one of the professors there talking to us about the four levels of musicianship. The first level was unconscious incompetence. That’s when you’re terrible but you don’t know it. You experience it whenever your 3 year old performs for you on the piano. You encourage them, perhaps, but you know it’s really bad. They, however, do not. That’s unconscious incompetence.
But then your 3 year old turns 9 and begins to take piano lessons. After a year or so, they suddenly realize that playing the piano is extremely involved. In fact, they may get discouraged with all the practice and want to quit. That’s conscious incompetence. That’s when they are terrible, and they know it.
But they do not quit, they keep practicing and going to piano. They learn a piece for their recital and they can play it perfectly, the only thing is they haven’t really developed a mastery of the keyboard. They have to think about what they are doing and they sweat bullets every time they play. It’s a competent experience, but it wears them out to perform. That’s conscious competence. They are good, but they have to think about it.
The highest level of performance is unconscious competence. Your child becomes an adult, attends Juliard School of Music and becomes a concert pianist. They don’t just play the notes, they have mastered the keyboard. They fly around on the keys with a freedom that gives them joy and brings you great pleasure. They are good and they don’t even stop to think about it anymore. They have absolute confidence when they sit down to play.
Here’s the question: How do you get from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence? You have to experience great growth as a musician. How do you experience great growth as a musician? Through the discipline of hours upon hours of practice. But the result of all that practice and all of that growth is the freedom and joy of performance.
It’s like that in our lives. If we are to have joy, it will come at the end of a similar process of growth.