Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning

( 9 )

Overview

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Gary Marcus, a renowned scientist with no discernible musical talent, learns to play the guitar and investigates how anyone—of any age —can become musical. Do you have to be born musical to become musical? Do you have to start at the age of six?

Using the tools of his day job as a cognitive psychologist, Gary Marcus becomes his own guinea pig as he takes up the guitar. In a powerful and incisive look at how both children and adults become ...

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Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age

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Overview

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Gary Marcus, a renowned scientist with no discernible musical talent, learns to play the guitar and investigates how anyone—of any age —can become musical. Do you have to be born musical to become musical? Do you have to start at the age of six?

Using the tools of his day job as a cognitive psychologist, Gary Marcus becomes his own guinea pig as he takes up the guitar. In a powerful and incisive look at how both children and adults become musical, Guitar Zero traces Marcus’s journey, what he learned, and how anyone else can learn, too. A groundbreaking peek into the origins of music in the human brain, this musical journey is also an empowering tale of the mind’s enduring plasticity.

Marcus investigates the most effective ways to train body and brain to learn to play an instrument, in a quest that takes him from Suzuki classes to guitar gods. From deliberate and efficient practicing techniques to finding the right music teacher, Marcus translates his own experience—as well as reflections from world-renowned musicians—into practical advice for anyone hoping to become musical, or to learn a new skill.

Guitar Zero debunks the popular theory of an innate musical instinct while simultaneously challenging the idea that talent is only a myth. While standing the science of music on its head, Marcus brings new insight into humankind’s most basic question: what counts as a life well lived? Does one have to become the next Jimi Hendrix to make a passionate pursuit worthwhile, or can the journey itself bring the brain lasting satisfaction?

For all those who have ever set out to play an instrument—or wish that they could—Guitar Zero is an inspiring and fascinating look at the pursuit of music, the mechanics of the mind, and the surprising rewards that come from following one’s dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, can a 38-year-old tone-deaf professor of cognitive psychology get a guitar and learn how to make it talk? That's the question Marcus (Psychology/New York Univ.; Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, 2008, etc.) asked himself a few years ago, and this intelligent, educational and exuberant book is his answer. Marcus approached his lifelong dream from both a personal and professional level; he wanted to play, but he also wanted to challenge the "critical periods" theory of learning, which suggests that you should learn music early or not at all. The author threw himself into mastering his ax, pushing the limits to see just how far a new trick could take an old dog. In the process, he explores how the senses reorganize to adapt to new information and investigates where music comes from, what evolutionary function (if any) it serves and why some people have rhythm and others don't. Marcus asks eternal questions on which the jury is still out: Where does talent come from? How far will sheer hard work take you? Why are there countless obsessive, 24/7 guitarists, but there's only been one Jimi Hendrix? Why do the most dedicated composers of rock and pop songs fall far short of what Bob Dylan or the Beatles accomplished in their 20s? Is it genetic? Nature or nurture? The author sought opinions and advice from people across the music world--e.g., jazz impresario Pat Metheny and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine--and even attended rock-band camp, humbling himself to audition for a band of 11-year-olds who needed someone on bass. Whether or not readers (aging or otherwise) will profit by the author's example, this enjoyable blend of music appreciation, science and personal exploration commands a new respect for how the brain and body responds to the promise, and shock, of the new.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203176
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/19/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Marcus studies evolution, language, and cognitive development at New York University, where he is a professor of psychology and the director of the NYU Center for Child Language. The editor of the Norton Psychology Reader and author of three books about the origins and development of mind and brain, Marcus has written articles for The New York Times, Wired, Discover, and The Wall Street Journal, and has appeared on radio and television programs around the globe.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    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.

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  • 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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2012

    Read like a thesis

    Guitar Zero was not what I expected. There were some references to books used to learn guitar, but a little too much on the scientific side.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Exactly what i was looking for

    As a 41year old who played guitar as a teenager and recently decided to pick it up again, i found this book fascinating and inspiring. Exactly what i was looking for.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2012

    Fair at best

    I felt it was lacking. I was expecting more motivational, but it was more of a history of music and less of how an adult learned guitar.

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  • 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.

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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