Four stages of competence/levels of learning a new skill/levels of teaching

Overconcentration can seriously harm our results when studying. People/teachers always used to say “just concentrate harder” if things weren’t going as planned. That was always the answer, just focus more. In other words, work harder, you lazy bum! These days we know better than to assume it’s this simple to fix. On the other hand it doesn’t have to be much more difficult to fix either. It takes a bit of effort and analysis and a different approach. Read on and find out how.

I’ll start by telling a story of a lesson I did with a student, about two years ago. By the way, this is why you should take the time to write down events which strike you as remarkable, they may come in handy one day..

This is a cool example of how a drum lesson can be beneficial to a person in many areas. I had a student today, let’s call her Rose. She came in for a drum lesson but we hardly even touched them. Instead we spent 45 minutes talking about how to study. Not about what to study, because quite frankly that’s irrelevant, but how to study.

How are YOU doin’

I asked Rose how she was doing. “Great”, Rose replied. “I just had a day off from school, so I had lots of time to practice drums!” Soon after she continued: “I managed to write down some combinations like you asked of me. But I still find them difficult.” “Okay, can you tell me what exactly it is you find difficult?” “Well, it takes me so much time to learn these things by heart. I have the same issue with learning things in school. I read things over and over again and the next day I don’t remember them.”

RRRRRRRIIIIIINGGG

This is the point where alarm bells go off in my head as an educator. This is an issue regarding much more than drumming and music alone. Solve this and she’ll get a better life in all regards. Rose will be able to store and retain informatin better and as such will be getting better grades. She’ll also save time because she’ll learn faster and more efficiently. 

And above all, Rose will gain self confidence! 

She’ll feel better about herself which gives her a better chance of getting out of life what she wants. And if Rose achieves a higher level of happiness she’ll be of more value to her surroundings and ultimately to all of us. Did I convince you of the fact that this trumps learning or improving your Flamacue already?

Examples please

So it was obvious. If we were going to fix this, we had some talking to do. First I asked Rose to give me a more specific example of what it was exactly which gave her so much trouble in school. Specific classes like math and physics, languages, or history and geography. She said it was pretty much the same across the board. Rose thought her inability to remember anything was proof her brain wasn’t working like it should. Virtually by herself she arrived at the point where she would be able to fix this.

No books

When I asked her how she studied she explained to me she didn’t really have a system. It’s more or less a matter of reading things over and over again. That is if what she had to learn was in a book. I asked her “Sorry, what do you mean by that, do you have no books to use for some classes?” “No some of the subjects are dealt with in class, we make notes and we study our notes.” I was baffled.

Rose is a 13 year old girl who attends 7th grade in junior high of a modern so-called ‘Free School’. This school has a strong preference for letting people of all ages think for themselves. By itself this is a wonderful idea of course. But what if you have too little knowledge of something to start thinking about it for and especially, by yourself? I told Rose of the universities in The Netherlands having classes like this. So this method is perhaps more appropriate for people who are age 18 and over…

Imitate, then emulate

Next I gave an example of my beautiful 6-year old daughter who had given her mom and dad a hard time that morning by ‘thinking for herself’. When 6-year olds think for themselves they’re mostly either incredibly funny, or pigheaded little brats. Her behaviour that morning fell into the category of the latter. Within 35 minutes she refused to try on a new pair of pants, brush her teeth, and get a new braid in her hair. The result was we were late for school, and all three of us were not in the best of moods anymore. And of course there were only upsides to doing these things: she got to keep the pants and wear them to school that day, had clean healthy teeth and nice looking hair. 

Moral of the story: Don’t try to think for yourself before you can understand. As in don’t try to run before you walk. When you’ve given extensive thought to the way something is being presented to you and you disagree or you can come up with a better solution: great! Otherwise, shut the hell up and listen so you can learn and get things done. 

I consider the ability to create new things, to form your own opinions and to philosophise over everything one of the greatest things we as human beings can achieve. But it needs to be very clear that these are things we develop over time. It should be an option, not obligatory. If you ask me, this compulsory “having to think for yourself” takes all the fun out of learning how to think and feel for yourself and exploring your own mind.

Core business

So in a few minutes we got to the root of the matter. By simply chatting and doing some deduction we came to the following set of causes: 

  1. Over-concentrating. By focusing too much on the fact that something had to be learned, the brain shut down. Malfunction by overheating. 
  2. Information overload. There was simply too much going on at the same time to be dealt with immediately. 
  3. There was also one issue way beyond my jurisdiction. The way Rose is being taught at school may not be the best method for her. But this is of course for Rose to talk about with her parents and teachers or headmaster at school. 

Now it was time to prove what the issues were exactly, so we could move on to the how to repair these. Let’s see if we can do this regarding the first two points on the drums.

The proof is in the groove

Rose has been playing for about five months and is progressing nicely. We’re dealing with G5.1.6 of the 3D Drumming System (check out the free sample version here). 

G5.1.6 is about a bass drum combination of a double stroke followed by a single stroke in 16th notes over a right hand 8th note ostinato with the snare on 2 and 4. After a short initial struggle she played this nicely. Now let’s move the right hand to the ride. Almost immediately this went fine as well. This time move the right hand to the floor tom. Not a problem.

Then I upped the ante. Or so it seemed: “Now play the right hand on the rim of tom 2, the left hand stays on snare on 2 and 4. Do you remember the melody of the bass drum?” A pause occured. Then I saw doubt taking over as she started to reiterate the instructions. “Wait.. Right hand goes over here to the second tom. Left hand stays on the snare. – Pause – What was I supposed to play?” 

What just happened? We moved the right hand to another sound source, just like the previous two times. That’s the only real change. But I gave two more instructions. They were redundant, but Rose could not conclude this right away. 

This is a clear example of two problems:

  1. Information overload – Too much information is being given at once.
  2. Too much focus causing a short circuit in the brain.

The solution – How to deal with this

How do we fix this? First of all I always like to make a distinction between the technical and the conceptual. You can practice the technical things in a practical manner: just do it. The conceptual are things which require time to be thought out. (Yes, you can practice the technique of conceptualisation, and yes, you may think about technical issues as well.)

Technical

Here are some practical tips to give your brain what it needs and deserves. These may solve much more than problems with overconcentration alone.

  1. Rest – The obvious one but make sure you get enough rest. Or at least make sure you have as solid a rhythm as possible. 
  2. Fluids and nutrition – Drink lots of water and stay well hydrated. Start every day with two to three glasses (2 oz or 600 ml) of water so you’re immediately good to go. 

As far as nutrition goes, you could opt for some Omega-3 fish oil which is especially good for our brain. And you could also go for some good quality multivitamins. Aaaaaand here’s the obligatory disclaimer: supplements are an addition to, not a substitution for a healthy diet. 

  1. Pauze – Go for a walk, play with the dog, listen to some music, etc. Whatever you do, set a timer for how long you may take a pause, and take yourself up on it. Seriously! I would stay away from watching t.v. or YouTube or any kind of Social Media. This may seem to relax you and it will certainly take your mind of things. But it feeds you different kind of information and it’s highly doubtful you need more. On the contrary, it’s highly likely you need less.
  2. Relaxation methods – Yoga or meditation can be brilliant, but simply concentrating on your breathing can work miracles as well. Maybe doing some stretching along with it will do something for you without going to yoga classes. At least the muscles getting stretched will thank you..
  3. Visualisation of the information you’re trying to digest – Try to create a visual part alongside the information so can watch it instead of just reading quickly about it. When doing history this is relatively easy, just create a movie. If you have trouble doing these things you can create actors or scenery around difficult passages or facts which are funny to you. This way you’ll surely remember it. When doing math or physics this can be done almost exactly the same by making visual experiments of the theory. In other words, make it practical. 
  4. Use audio or talking to yourself to further internalize the material – When studying a language you can have small conversations with yourself in the language you’re studying. By hearing yourself talk you can not only hear it back and work on your pronunciation. You also get to internalize it quicker because you’re saying it AND you’re hearing it. You can apply the same principle to internalizing rhythm by counting and/or singing the groove or fill etc.

Conceptual

Next up are some things you can spend some time thinking about. If you feel you have too little knowledge on this subject simply ask the Master of All Knowledge.

  1. Avoid having to – We all have a built in sense telling us not to do something when we’re told we have to. “You have to do this!” “Now do I???” Try to convert things into being able to, being allowed to, wanting to, or simply doing. This may seem like semantics but it can truly turn around the way you feel about something. I hated doing paperwork, my numbers so to speak. That was until I thought of it as keeping my business organised and well structured. I still have to do it, but I try to look at the positive side of things. So you no longer have to study history or math. From now on you get to learn stuff which will make you smarter!
  2. Always start with what you know – If you’re overwhelmed, stop, start over. Don’t remind yourself of what you don’t know. Instead ask yourself what you do know. Write it down if you have to. This is always your starting point. Now go further step by step. Does it feel awkward again? 
  3. Use books – It helps to see words and having to think about them for yourself without having someone explaining them in a particular way. Why isn’t Level 1 an app (yet :P) or why haven’t you just made all video lessons? First of all, the easy road isn’t for me. Tried it, but it didn’t stick. I’m getting comfortable with the fact that things have to be hard and a challenge for me. But second of all because by seeing it in a digital book you see it structured and organized, but you get to make the journey by yourself. You have a guide, helping you with every step along the way, but it’s you doing the legwork.
  4. Learn how to ask: “Excuse me, could you repeat that for me please?” Don’t feel dumb because you can’t handle all this information at once. Feel smart for clearly indicating someone is not teaching you to their best abilities. And instead feel dumb when you let someone cloud your understanding with too much detail without telling them to stop in time.
  5. Learn how to say: “That’s too much information.”

Conclusion

First and foremost, learn from this story: try to determine in moments of overconcentration/unwanted hyperfocus/system overload if you’ve taken or been given too much information at once. Trying to analyze new material can be daunting, let alone taking into account our response to the new material. That’s why I highly recommend studying out of the 3D Drumming System, regardless of your current level of experience. I work with it daily and Ihave been playing for over 30 years. I also use it to teach starting drummers from day 1. So far I’ve gotten pretty awesome results with it and it never hurt anyone to start with decent structure right away.

Self fulfilling prophecy

If the issue of overconcentration isn’t adequately dealt with it can easily become a self fulfilling prophecy which can and will hinder development. It may even hinder the desire to progress. We learn by repetition. So if we experience not being able to do specific things often enough we accept this as truth. This is exactly why to me it’s not only important to be active in the field of education, but to be able to teach people how to start studying smarter!

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For more information on how to fix problems with overconcentration, please log in and see Motivation – Global Overview – Miscellaneous – Four Stages of Competence Applied to Drumming.