4 stages of competence in singing

4 stages of competence to improve your singing and help you to sing better

4 stages of competence to improve your singing

Incompetence in singing – just a stage you’re going through

Gillyanne gives advice on how to avoid singing extra syllables and shows you how to use the 4 stages of competence when you learn to sing

In traditional singing lessons the teacher gives vocal exercises, demonstrates, and guides the student to make the sounds he or she is looking for.

Although a time-honoured method, this approach has an important pitfall – the student learns to make the sound under this careful guidance but doesn’t necessarily know how they got there. This means they may not be able to reproduce it on stage.

NLP has a learning model called the 4 Stages of Competence, which identifies 4 stages of skill acquisition that we all go through when learning new things:

UNconsious incompetence (you are not aware of the skill that you need, and so do not use it);
Conscious INcompetence (now you know you can’t do something, now you know that the skill is lacking);
Conscious COMpetence (you’ve learned the new skill but you have to put your conscious attention on it in order to carry it out);
UNconscious competence (the new skill becomes ‘second nature’).

Getting your students into conscious competence is the VITAL stage that allows them to repeat the new skill and truly master it.

Here’s a practical example of what I’m saying. Let’s suppose your student is having difficulty with finishing a note, where the word ends in a nasal consonant. An example would be the second syllable in the word ‘belong’.

The TARGET is to finish the word ‘neatly’ without creating and extra syllable at the voice offset – giving us belong-uh. This usually happens if the singer associates onset and offset of sound with a jaw movement.

The STRATEGY is to find out which part of the mechanism makes the ‘ng’ and to start and finish notes with those structures in position. Monitor for extraneous jaw movements either by looking in the mirror or putting one finger in the mouth (up to the first joint) and keeping the jaw still.


Feel how the ng is made in speaking voice, using any word that finishes with an ng (such as ‘sing’), then making the ng alone
Sing the ng on any comfortable pitch, stopping and starting the sound 2/3/4 times as needed
Sing the whole words on any comfortable pitch 2/3/4 times as needed
Repeat steps 2 and 3 on the target pitch of the song
Then sing the whole word on the target pitch
Then sing the entire phrase in which the word appears.
Decide how many repeats are needed to embed the new skill, how many days to practise it and so on.

VERY IMPORTANT! Do not move on from any of the stages until each one is mastered. Don’t be fooled by concept people who have ‘understood’ the target and therefore want to move from step 2 to 6 right away. They will be in danger of frustration when the new skill is not recalled next time they rehearse the song

Use this strategy in your next lesson. You’ll find your student moves much faster, will interact better with you, and has more competence!


To find out more about good teaching practice and how to fix vocal problems, check out our online training seminars