Guitar playing is a skill.
Or at least we can all agree, skill is a major part of it.
There are 4 distinct mental stages everyone goes through when learning any long-term skill. Those 4 stages are called the “Levels of Competency”.
There are also 4 corresponding stages of motivation. Here are the descriptions of each stage:
Stage #1. Unconscious Incompetence – Uninformed Optimism
This the the beginner’s stage. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you knew it would take you 3 months to master that one riff, or that one barre chord… you might not even start.
This lack of understanding is a GOOD thing. Ignorance is bliss as the saying goes. It allows you to dive in and get started.
The beginner is optimistically uninformed. Optimism will get you pretty far in the beginning stage. But eventually that gives way to…
Stage #2. Conscious Incompetence – Informed Pessimism
This stage appears when you’ve been playing and practicing for at least a few months. You become aware of how far you have to go in order to play like the greats. This is where you will watch someone like Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen and feelings of smashing your guitar will arise. In short, you become aware of how much you suck.
The key at this stage is to remind yourself that those great players were all where you are now. Everyone goes through this stage. We all sucked at one point. As far as I know, there has never been a case of a guitar playing baby, born shredding.
Hang on, it gets worse before it gets better…
Stage #3. Conscious Competence – Crisis of Meaning
You can play simple songs. Maybe even solo a little. But you have to concentrate HARD to do it. And you always sound wayyyy better in a practice session than you do playing for someone. This is because you have to consciously focus on everything you are doing to make it happen.
You start to wonder if you are “cut out” to be a guitar player. You hit the plateau, the rut, everything starts to sound the same. And you start to lose motivation.
This stage can be lonnnggg. Years even. Heck for some people it’s decades.
This is where 90% of people quit. What most people don’t understand, and now you do, is that you are more likely to succeed here than you were in stage #1. You know a LOT more than you did and you have built up considerable skills.
The key to moving beyond this stage is PERSISTENCE and PERSEVERANCE. Jimi Hendrix said it best…
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix
Stage #4. Unconscious Competence – Informed Optimism
This is the holy grail for us guitar players. We don’t even have to think to play what we feel. Fluidly playing up and down the neck effortless. Even guitar players that studied theory in their formative years are able to forget it all and focus on the moment.
This is the stage that pro guitar players are in.
That’s the macro, here’s the micro:
What I just described is the guitar player’s journey. But actually, we go through these stages for every single skill on guitar as well. Barre chords? Check. Fast, clean alternate picking? Yup. Economy Picking? Yes.
Virtually every technique you aspire to master will take you through these stages.
The key takeaway hopefully for you is to KNOW which stage you are currently in (overall and per technique) and not get frustrated or discouraged.