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Posted February 1, 2012
thought-provoking and insightful
Almost 40 year-old professor of psychology Gary Marcus decides to learn to play the guitar even though he had been previously told he has no sense of rhythm whatsoever. Marcus really desires to play guitar, and so he embarks on a quest to find out if he could learn to play even at his age and with no previous or innate musical talent. He sets out to explore the questions of whether music is built into the brain and how we learn to become musical. I am always fascinated with the topic of the science of learning and this book was right up my alley. I really liked the fact that Marcus not only shares with us the latest studies on the human brain with regards to music, meets with and relates the views of scientists, teachers, famous musicians and other experts, but he also applies this knowledge to himself as a new musician. This personal aspect of the book prevented it from being a dry account of scientific literature. His fun experience of attending DayJams, a rock-and-roll summer camp for kids where he got to play in a band with 11 year-olds made me smile as Marcus relates his innermost and honest feelings about it. I especially liked reading 1) about the differences in the way children and adults learn music and that one is not necessarily better than the other, 2) why learning music is hard–it has to do with our memory, 3) that music taps into two different brain reward systems at the same time rendering music as cocaine for the brain–explains the rush musicians get, 4) that both talent and practice matter, and finally, 5) that learning a new skill such as music makes us happy. Having said all this, Marcus explores man's physical and mental nature in relation to music, which I found thought-provoking and insightful, but fails to acknowledge the spiritual nature of man in relation to it. The closest he comes to expressing it is when he talks about the pleasure we get from music that can be derived from a single note. He states, “...in the right circumstance, that resonance can bring a sublime, almost unearthly sense of connectedness to the universe.” (p.130) Essentially, though, Marcus' theories stem from the belief that man has evolved. From my experience in reading scientific literature, evolutionists are baffled by the fact that man has a consciousness, pursues music and art, and has moral values. The book Life Ascending, while favoring a mere biological explanation admits: “When we ask how a process [evolution] that resembles a game of chance with dreaded penalties for the losers, could have generated such qualities as love of beauty and truth, compassion, freedom, and above all, the expansiveness of the human spirit, we are perplexed. The more we ponder our spiritual resources, the more our wonder deepens.” Indeed. When it comes to music and man's love of everything it encompasses—composing, playing an instrument, and deriving pleasure and awe that makes our spirits soar from listening to it—it seems logical to me that this awareness and attraction to music is placed in humans by an intelligent Creator in whose image we are created and who wants us to worship him with music and song as understood in Ephesians 5:19. I couldn't help thinking of this as I read this book. However, even though I don't know much about the mechanics of music, I was impressed by how much Marcus learned in such a short time and how well he told it all in his new book. I sometimes struggled to understand the technical guitar jargon but it did
5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 29, 2012
Hope for Old Dogs learning new tricks
As a beginning guitar player, long-time music lover and armchair psychologist, I found this book a fun, interesting read. The book is a bit of an oddball blend of history, sociology, psychology and memoir -- I almost think it would have served Marcus better to go further in one of these directions to make the narrative a little less hodgepodge. It didn't quite offer an in depth look of any aspect and instead served as an overview of the topic. Personally, I found the anecdotes about Marcus actually learning the instrument to be the most engaging and his attempts to delve into whether music is an evolutional step for humanity a little underdeveloped.
But overall, I recommend this book to any adult embarking on learning a new musical instrument. Overall, the book is encouraging -- particularly for this grownup who worried that I was lagging far behind the younguns in terms of how slow I was improving my skill.
Endnote: I was lucky enough to see the author play in NYC after a book reading -- he didn't embarrass himself when he accompanied some seasoned musicians. Bravo, Mr. Marcus!
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 7, 2012
Fun read with lots of science and personal experience
I have found this book to be pretty engaging, but it can skip around a lot. One moment you are learning about the authors personal experiences and the next you are off on some notes(no pun intended) about how music has been associated with this or builds the brain in that way. Its all very informative but the structure seems a bit odd. Learning about the authors experience though is pretty interesting and I enjoy the stories about his successes and failures. I would definitely recommend this book if you want to read about the authors experience along with learning about scientific studies done around music and people.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
For all the people giving negative reviews due to the research side, it IS in the title "the Science of Learning". Not sure why you didn't expect this.
Posted December 13, 2012
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