The concept of conscious vs. unconscious is essential when it comes to understanding the developmental stages of learning the bass guitar from practice to performance. A conscious mind needs to be in place in order to effectively learn a skill and then further evolve that skill into an unconscious action. The developmental stages for the bass guitarist fall into three categories: the physical aspects of command, mastery and control of the instrument; learning and understanding the musical language as applied through the bass guitar and then finally internalising these components into an unconscious reality where no thought takes place- just the ability to respond within a musical scenario interacting and improvising with other musicians through performance. This process of no thought or no mindedness is referred to as the state of Mushin in Japanese martial arts. Reaching the state of ‘No Mind’ is achieved through absence of ego and judgemental self talk. At this stage, you would not be concerned of thinking consciously about what your next move will be, but rather what comes naturally or intuitively through your training. Of course, developing the state of ‘No Mind’ is only developed through consistent conscious practice which takes place is the state of ‘Know Mind’.
The developmental learning process is broken down into four categories:
1. Unconsciousness Incompetence
Most people when they begin to learn the bass guitar fall into this category. Not only do they not know how to play the bass guitar, but they are totally unaware that they don’t know how to play or have any awareness for the needs or relevance for the skills required to play the bass guitar effectively.
2. Conscious Incompetence
It is at this stage where the learning process begins. Very soon you will realise serious limitations in your ability. You suddenly see the need for some bass lessons and begin the process of developing your musical skills. It demands all of your attention and efforts to feel as though you are getting anywhere; you are not competent yet, so you keep practicing while maintaining a thinking paradigm in order to develop your skills effectively. Although this stage is extremely uncomfortable, by embracing this feeling, this is the stage where you learn the most!
3. Conscious Competence
Ultimately, this will lead you into the stage of conscious competence. You can play the bass, but it takes all of your concentration; you have learned some of the skills, but haven’t absorbed and functionalised them yet. At this level a skill is only performed through thinking, which is a very important aspect of learning any set of skills. However, to be successful in a performance scenario you will have to take it to another level.
4. Unconscious Competence
Finally and the main goal of the exercise is to reach the stage of unconscious competence. This is where you are able to synthesize the technical command and mastery of learning the bass guitar with the language of music and personal convictions encompassing the performance of the music you are playing. This is where skills learned are internalised into the unconscious part of the brain. If you practice something long enough you will reach the stage of unconscious competence and in the process form certain habits. However, sometimes you may not have formed the most effective habits for the skills that you are trying to learn. In these cases, you may have to go backwards through these learning stages to unconscious incompetence in order to unlearn bad habits before relearning more effective methodologies. All in all, we have to explore the whole know mind-no mind-know mind cycle for continuous improvement, development and growth as a modern bass guitarist.
All the Bass!