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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 p 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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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 p 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.

30 review for Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    You may remember a video game named "Guitar Hero". You watch a screen go by with color codes, and you press the appropriate color-coded fret on a small mockup guitar. When you press the correct fret at the right time, a cool riff plays, and you continue. At each level, the difficulty increases. Not exactly like playing the guitar, but for the non-guitar-player, it can be a thrill. Well, this book begins with the opposite dilemma. Gary Marcus began his journey as an adult, without any musical abil You may remember a video game named "Guitar Hero". You watch a screen go by with color codes, and you press the appropriate color-coded fret on a small mockup guitar. When you press the correct fret at the right time, a cool riff plays, and you continue. At each level, the difficulty increases. Not exactly like playing the guitar, but for the non-guitar-player, it can be a thrill. Well, this book begins with the opposite dilemma. Gary Marcus began his journey as an adult, without any musical ability whatsoever, but he really wanted to learn to play guitar. He had a long, upward battle. He struggled for a couple of years to the point where he brought his musicianship to the point where he was pleased. His first gig was with a rock band consisting of himself (as an adult) and several 11-year-olds at a summer camp. The description of the learning, rehearsing, and performance is wonderful! Gary Marcus is a psychology professor, so this book is about the science of learning, primarily about learning to play music. Gary Marcus has some interesting points of view, some of which you will probably have some reservations. For example, he writes that music is a technology. It is not a language. He gives plenty of examples of how new sounds are driven by new technologies. Of course, singing might not be considered a technology, but singing harmonies, in a sense, is a technology. Five hundred years ago, harmonies were rarely heard in music. Marcus disagrees with Darwin's theory of music evolution, that guys play music to attract girls. He gives some carefully considered reasons for his disagreement. For example, he cites the lack of dimorphism in musical ability. He claims that people pursue music out of passion, not necessarily to become rich or popular. He argues that music stars didn't exist thousands of years ago. And, there is no specific module in the brain devoted to music. Marcus covers a lot of ground in this book. He asks (but does not really answer), what makes good music? He writes about music theory; non-musicians do not know music theory, but they subconsciously understand the principles. The purpose of music theory is not to forge new ground, but to supply a language for sharing between musicians. Marcus has enormous esteem for Jimi Hendrix, who had both technical and creative abilities. Hendrix did a lot of experimentation with his guitars, modifying them in order to discover new sounds. This is a very engaging book, and it is written on a very personal level. For me, as a composer, I found it very thoughtful and provoked me to think in new terms. For example, just as progress in science is very much driven by new technologies, it seems like music is also driven by new instruments, approaches, and technologies. I recommend this book to anyone interested in how we learn music.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    3.5 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I was disappointed with this. The writing is fine but . . . It didn't have much to say that didn't seem fairly obvious. Some of the most interesting information wasn't about learning to play an instrument but comparing how musicians and non-musicians appreciate music. He obviously had a really good time researching the book and meeting and becoming friends with musicians - that's great, but no guarantee of a good book. Perhaps I'm being unfair - I took lessons on mandolin a few yreas ago and eve I was disappointed with this. The writing is fine but . . . It didn't have much to say that didn't seem fairly obvious. Some of the most interesting information wasn't about learning to play an instrument but comparing how musicians and non-musicians appreciate music. He obviously had a really good time researching the book and meeting and becoming friends with musicians - that's great, but no guarantee of a good book. Perhaps I'm being unfair - I took lessons on mandolin a few yreas ago and eventually became frustrated with the results and stopped. I thought this book might give me some hints or insights in that area, but I didn't find anything here. The jacket blurb says that Marcus "debunks the popular theory of an innate musical instinct while simultaneously challenging the idea that talent is only a myth." that just seems like semantic blather - the book admits that some can become great musicians, albeit of widely different sets of skills, much more easily than other people - but why exactly this is isn't much discussed. (I was reminded of a kind of learning I know much better myself, the study of foreign languages - and there are clearly people who are gifted and then there are the rest of us . . . )

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    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 scien 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 not detract from the book's overall topic at all. A guitar player or any musician for that matter would have been able to relate, I'm sure. After reading Guitar Zero, I have a new-found appreciation for music and musicians. I recommend it to all musicians, parents, and anyone interested in the science of learning, guitar playing and music in general. Marcus states, “Music is the perfect storm for the human mind: beautiful in form, intricate, and eternally new.” (p.145) I wholeheartedly agree.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Pipo

    Interesting book, though not quite what I wanted to read. Gary Marcus is a PhD in cognitive psychology who decides to pick up the guitar (and to learn music) later in life. The part of learning music and learning to play an instrument late in life is what drew me to this, since it's pretty much my own story. Marcus writes precious little about his personal journey and much more about the scholarly, cognitive aspects of the endeavour, which were interesting to read about. I got to understand bett Interesting book, though not quite what I wanted to read. Gary Marcus is a PhD in cognitive psychology who decides to pick up the guitar (and to learn music) later in life. The part of learning music and learning to play an instrument late in life is what drew me to this, since it's pretty much my own story. Marcus writes precious little about his personal journey and much more about the scholarly, cognitive aspects of the endeavour, which were interesting to read about. I got to understand better how humans are (or rather, how they are not) wired with a music instinct, how our brains evolve as we are trying to learn an instrument, how one can be an expert musician without knowing how to read music, and many other interesting points on cognition. Although all this material made for a very interesting intellectual read, I fear that the lasting lessons for my journey as a musician wannabe can be summarized in few words. In short, it's an interesting work in making psychology more accessible to the masses, but not terribly helpful to a guitar student.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Navigating through my own guitar lessons this book is timely and interesting.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cav

    This was an interesting read. Author Gary F. Marcus is an American scientist, author, and entrepreneur who is a professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University, and was the founder and CEO of Geometric Intelligence, a machine learning company later acquired by Uber, according to his Wikipedia page. He mentions that he worked closely with Steven Pinker during his time at grad school. Author Gary Marcus: I came across this one by chance, and am always interested in reading b This was an interesting read. Author Gary F. Marcus is an American scientist, author, and entrepreneur who is a professor in the Department of Psychology at New York University, and was the founder and CEO of Geometric Intelligence, a machine learning company later acquired by Uber, according to his Wikipedia page. He mentions that he worked closely with Steven Pinker during his time at grad school. Author Gary Marcus: I came across this one by chance, and am always interested in reading books about music. In this case, the author writes about his desire to learn how to play the guitar at a relatively advanced age (he was 39 when he began learning the guitar). As someone who picked up the guitar at a fairly late stage as well, I was excited to read what he had to say. The writing here is very interesting and thought-provoking, and Marcus proceeds with an easy, engaging style that is accessible to the layperson. Good stuff! The formatting of the book is also excellent; chapters are nicely divided into succinct paragraphs that make easy work of absorbing and compartmentalizing the information presented here. Very effective communication. Marcus takes the reader through his musical journey here; from practicing up at his in-law's cottage in Quebec, to receiving lessons from different teachers, to joining a band. Along the way, he also talks about the origins of music, famous musicians and their techniques, and many other things music-related. I did disagree with some of the theories he puts forth (and/or dismisses) here. Namely, he argues against the concept of music as it relates to evolutionary biology in a few ways: *He dismisses the "social cohesion" theory of music, which is that music partially evolved as a means to unite groups of people together, in shared social rituals. Author Nicholas Wade writes about this in detail in his 2009 book "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures" in a more convincing manner, in my opinion. Basically, Wade argues that music is a proto-language. Although Marcus doesn't see any individual fitness benefits to musicality, he is neglecting to see the group-level fitness benefits; ie - the increased social cohesion and social capital generated that kept societies cohesive before the advent of religion or the nation-state. *He also dismisses the theory of music as a product of sexual selection, citing a lack of dimorphism between the sexes with regard to musical proficiency as evidence. But there is a dimorphism in musical proficiency, however, as historically most musical prodigies have been male. Marcus mentions some famous female artists like Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey, but I think he is fallaciously using anecdotes to disprove a trend. The musicians occupying the uppermost echelons of technical proficiency on musical instruments are disproportionately represented by males; which follows the old evolutionary biology maxim that: "Men are more interested in things, while women are more interested in people"... *I also have to disagree with this bit of reasoning from him, talking about the inborn nature of language vs. music: "...Meanwhile, language is ubiquitous, acquired by essentially every normal human being, yet nearly 5 percent of the population is tone-deaf, and many people can’t reliably sing on pitch. When one considers the trouble that children — and untrained adults— face in extracting even simple musical intervals as opposed to the gifts that toddlers have in stringing syllables together, the story in which music served as a direct precursor to language seems deeply implausible..." While language is universal to all humans; so is music. However, if children are not exposed to language at a critical age, they will grow up unable to speak for the rest of their lives. In other words; people need to be taught language, in an ongoing process that takes many years towards verbal competence; even more time for written proficiency. Without steady and early instruction, they will literally only make animalistic grunting or primitive, nonsensical wordings going forward. Music, on the other hand, is automatically appreciated and engaged with - by babies too young to even speak, without any training or instruction. Babies will readily respond to music; dancing and bopping to the rhythm. And although most people never receive any formal music training, they can often inherently hum along with a song, and even anticipate the chord changes to the bridge or chorus in a song they've never heard before... Still, these contentions didn't affect my enjoyment of most of the writing here, and the story Marcus was telling. You don't have to agree with everything an author writes to enjoy a book, after all... I would recommend this one; as a life-long fan of music, as well as a musician who is interested in social psychology and psychology, in general. 4 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I was a little disappointed. My interest is that somewhere around age 55 I took up the guitar. I have no particular musical talent but I can strum chords consistently enough to sit in on an Old Time Jam. I had hoped for a more nuts-and-bolts description of how a middle-aged person with no discernible musical learned an instrument. He discusses his struggles with rhythm, but doesn't have much about how he actually learned to play. Oddly, for the first 99 pages of the book he largely avoids the top I was a little disappointed. My interest is that somewhere around age 55 I took up the guitar. I have no particular musical talent but I can strum chords consistently enough to sit in on an Old Time Jam. I had hoped for a more nuts-and-bolts description of how a middle-aged person with no discernible musical learned an instrument. He discusses his struggles with rhythm, but doesn't have much about how he actually learned to play. Oddly, for the first 99 pages of the book he largely avoids the topic of talent altogether, claiming that anyone can learn to play. It was literally on page 100 that he acknowledges that, yes, Jimi Hendrix began playing relatively late and was playing professionally a year after picking up the instrument. People like Hendrix do not need to be taught. They are born with an innate ability to comprehend the architecture of music, a mystery to someone who often has trouble hearing where chord changes come even though I know what the next chord to be played is. It is true that practicing and playing help develop your ear. But after a brief discussion of the truly talented, Marcus almost immediately wanders into the weeds of music theory -- interesting, to be sure, but not why I had originally picked up the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erin Eileen

    Warning: if you ever wanted to play an instrument, or if you played one as a kid and wonder if you could do it again, this book will make you want to ditch everything else and devote your life to music. Or at least have the happy fantasy of embarking on a musical journey as unexpectedly fulfilling as the author's. Gary Marcus is a pretty well known cognitive psychologist, a dude at the top of his field, who decides at the age of 38 to try to learn to play the guitar. He approaches his subject bo Warning: if you ever wanted to play an instrument, or if you played one as a kid and wonder if you could do it again, this book will make you want to ditch everything else and devote your life to music. Or at least have the happy fantasy of embarking on a musical journey as unexpectedly fulfilling as the author's. Gary Marcus is a pretty well known cognitive psychologist, a dude at the top of his field, who decides at the age of 38 to try to learn to play the guitar. He approaches his subject both like a scientist -- there's plenty of research in here about how the brain responds to music, and how our bodies actually change through learning an instrument -- and like an unabashedly gleeful kid. Along the way he interviews musicians like Pat Metheny and Tom Morello, sits in on a variety of music lessons, from Suzuki to rock camp, and writes his first song. A fun read that satisfies the itch for story with the desire for intellectual inquiry, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to play (or in helping someone else learn to play) any instrument, but especially the guitar.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Well done book about the psychology of making and listening to music, combined with the author’s personal experience in learning to make music in his late thirties. Good musings on the roles of talent and practice.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Interesting read Interesting read, was hoping for more usable info that I could apply to learning and teaching. Learned a few points, but feel like it fell short of its potential.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Xenophon Hendrix

    It's not a bad read, but I wish there were more nuts and bolts stuff about how the author learned to play the guitar as an adult.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Lennon

    I also took up learning to play the guitar late in life, actually later than the author's 40 years, so I was intrigued by what insights he had to offer. As a developmental psychologist, Marcus combines his knowledge of the science of the brain with his beginner's experiences learning something as complex as making music with the guitar. To boot, he admits to having a poor sense of rhythm as his biggest challenge. This book includes a number of references to scientific studies, offered in a palata I also took up learning to play the guitar late in life, actually later than the author's 40 years, so I was intrigued by what insights he had to offer. As a developmental psychologist, Marcus combines his knowledge of the science of the brain with his beginner's experiences learning something as complex as making music with the guitar. To boot, he admits to having a poor sense of rhythm as his biggest challenge. This book includes a number of references to scientific studies, offered in a palatable way and without overdoing the particulars. It is also buoyed by the author's interviews with noted musicians and covers a range of music genres, particularly as learning them requires their own unique approaches. There is also a engaging recap of a "playing with the band" experience Marcus has an adult participant at a kids music camp. So all of this was fine and helpful for me, who is currently about 20 months into learning to play the acoustic guitar without cutting corners. I had some difficulty finding credible the author's declarations of achievement, even as it is given with much humility. He implies that over the 18 months of his taking up the guitar that he also wrote the book. He talks about how for some 6 months, he mostly immersed himself in learning while being self-taught--reading books, watching online videos, and the like. He declares that he practiced many hours each day which brooks no doubt. But he leaves the reader with the impression that he's pretty good at playing, even though there are things he struggles with. It's fair to say that I believe that learning to play an instrument means respecting with all humility the instrument itself, the essence of all that it represents in the history of music, and the personal discoveries that players reap from the challenge. What I missed from this book was that touch to the soul that a new musician needs to appreciate and harvest that magic of the music to be played.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    This book wasn't quite what I had expected, but I wasn't disappointed. Cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus, who clearly has a history of being "challenged" musically, decides as he approaches the age of 40 to master the guitar. A serendipitous sabbatical from his usual gig teaching at NYU gives him enough leisure that he feels motivated to take on the project seriously. Guitar Zero (a pun on the popular video game Guitar Hero, for those like me who didn't get it)recounts his adventures, which inc This book wasn't quite what I had expected, but I wasn't disappointed. Cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus, who clearly has a history of being "challenged" musically, decides as he approaches the age of 40 to master the guitar. A serendipitous sabbatical from his usual gig teaching at NYU gives him enough leisure that he feels motivated to take on the project seriously. Guitar Zero (a pun on the popular video game Guitar Hero, for those like me who didn't get it)recounts his adventures, which include playing in a rock band with 11-year-olds at a music camp and MANY MANY hours of practice. I had expected a memoir of a middle-aged scientist observing himself learning a new skill, which I got, but Marcus also explores many facets of the science of music, such as whether talent or practice is more important, what kinds of music people like and do not like (I was pleased to have my own preferences supported by finding out that the "most unwanted song" would be sung by an operatic soprano.), and how experts and novices differ when they listen to music. No knowledge of music theory is necessary to enjoy this book. Marcus does a good job of explaining the theory needed along the way, but I do not believe he spends so much time on it that it would annoy a reader who does not need the explanation. As someone who is a contemporary of Marcus' father, I was a little at sea when it came to many of his references to musicians I genuinely had never heard of, and I would have appreciated definitions of pop music guitar terms like "riff" and "lick", but he does talk about Bob Dylan and even mentions the Andrews Sisters. I picked up a lot of fascinating information from Guitar Hero and was incredibly impressed with what Marcus accomplished as a guitarist. Maybe I should pull out that guitar that has been sitting in the closet for the past 30 years....

  15. 5 out of 5

    JDK1962

    I encountered this book back in 2013, and marked it as abandoned; unfortunately, I didn't add any review notes, so I picked it up again. Having recently developed my own guitar habit (practicing every day for the past ~20 months or so), this book would seem to be in my wheelhouse...I'm older than I'd perhaps like to be as a beginning/intermediate guitarist, and following someone else on a virtually identical journey interested me. Which leads to the problem with the book, and (I think) the reason I encountered this book back in 2013, and marked it as abandoned; unfortunately, I didn't add any review notes, so I picked it up again. Having recently developed my own guitar habit (practicing every day for the past ~20 months or so), this book would seem to be in my wheelhouse...I'm older than I'd perhaps like to be as a beginning/intermediate guitarist, and following someone else on a virtually identical journey interested me. Which leads to the problem with the book, and (I think) the reason I abandoned it initially back in 2013. The book isn't about that. That aspect is just a hook to get people to pick up the book. Sure, there are some asides in which he speaks about his personal journey, or a few beginner things he found challenging. But virtually the entire book is about either (a) the nature of music and why people react and relate to it as they do, or (b) the academic research behind music learning. If you are, for example, an adult interested in learning music, the knowledge that you can might be cheering, but that's pretty much all you're going to get out of this book. There's virtually nothing that's going to help you identify the best path for learning an instrument, and nothing actionable that will help you make progress. Maybe it was just me, but I didn't find it "an inspiring and fascinating look at the pursuit of music" (back cover text). I'm not sure what I was expecting...it's not that what is here is bad by any means (and I especially liked the drop-ins from interviews with Pat Metheny), but as an adult music learner, I felt like I didn't get anything out of this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Orea

    I read this book because a few months ago I started learning to play the guitar. The author of Guitar Zero, Gary Marcus, started playing guitar before his 40th birthday and took a year long sabbatical from his day job at NYU as a psychology professor to study guitar and write about the process. I thought this book would be more of his story but it was more a study of how the brain learns. He asked a lot of questions such as is it harder for adults to learn an instrument than children, practice v I read this book because a few months ago I started learning to play the guitar. The author of Guitar Zero, Gary Marcus, started playing guitar before his 40th birthday and took a year long sabbatical from his day job at NYU as a psychology professor to study guitar and write about the process. I thought this book would be more of his story but it was more a study of how the brain learns. He asked a lot of questions such as is it harder for adults to learn an instrument than children, practice versus natural gift, and what does it take to become musical. The best parts though were when he talked about his own struggles and successes. He is funny and it comes through in his writing. I found this book particularly fascinating and if you like Malcolm Gladwells writing you will enjoy this book also.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gloria

    At the risk of oversimplifying, this is a book trying to answer an age-old question, can an old dog learn new tricks? Middle-aged man decides to pursue a lifelong dream of learning music. Can it be done? About half the content focuses on how the brain works (author is a psychologist) and the other is on music itself and why it can be hard to learn. The author chose to focus on music because of his personal interest. If music had not been the topic, however, this is still a valid exploration of b At the risk of oversimplifying, this is a book trying to answer an age-old question, can an old dog learn new tricks? Middle-aged man decides to pursue a lifelong dream of learning music. Can it be done? About half the content focuses on how the brain works (author is a psychologist) and the other is on music itself and why it can be hard to learn. The author chose to focus on music because of his personal interest. If music had not been the topic, however, this is still a valid exploration of brain activity and resilience. This was not so much about reciting studies and facts. Many of his examples were simply famous people and thus not especially scientific. Overall, this is a positive message about the continued learning process whether your choice is music or a new language or skill.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Bob Collins

    Cognitive Psychologist Gary Marcus decided at age 39 to pick up the guitar. He discusses his experience and relates it to cognitive psychology and what we know about the brain and learning. I was prepared to really enjoy this book - it is about guitars, cognitive science, guitars, music, guitars, learning - and did I mention guitars? However, I didn't think it was well organized and I didn't find much in there that I could use to improve my own playing or use in other endeavors. I also found Marcu Cognitive Psychologist Gary Marcus decided at age 39 to pick up the guitar. He discusses his experience and relates it to cognitive psychology and what we know about the brain and learning. I was prepared to really enjoy this book - it is about guitars, cognitive science, guitars, music, guitars, learning - and did I mention guitars? However, I didn't think it was well organized and I didn't find much in there that I could use to improve my own playing or use in other endeavors. I also found Marcus to be a little pessimistic in his outlook. That is a pretty subjective opinion, but that is what I felt while reading the book. I gave up on an earlier book by Marcus, Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind for similar reasons. It didn't have guitars, so I liked it even less.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter Evans

    Interesting factoids and useful tidbits for songwriters, instrumentalists and listeners are scattered throughout Marcus' personal quest for adequacy as a guitar player. The transitions between his narrative and the psycho-cognitive explanations are not always smooth, but the story and the information are both compelling. Most of all, if you are a guitar player, the book offers the ultimate in encouragement and praise. Guitar playing is an extremely complicated and intricate neurological process. Interesting factoids and useful tidbits for songwriters, instrumentalists and listeners are scattered throughout Marcus' personal quest for adequacy as a guitar player. The transitions between his narrative and the psycho-cognitive explanations are not always smooth, but the story and the information are both compelling. Most of all, if you are a guitar player, the book offers the ultimate in encouragement and praise. Guitar playing is an extremely complicated and intricate neurological process. It takes dedication and practice to become good. It takes great genes and enormous commitment to approach and to maintain a level of virtuosity. Lastly, music in general and guitar playing specifically strengthens the brain. At any level. How encouraging is that?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Interesting mix of cognitive psychology topics with the difficult things almost all beginning guitarists struggle with e.g., the weird 2nd string is tuned one fret lower than the rest, you can play the same note in several places on the fretboard and how this affects chord formations, etc. A little too much emphasis on the cognitive psychology parts in proportion to the music stuff but some of the concepts like memory "chunking" and declarative v. procedural memory are fascinating. Great glossar Interesting mix of cognitive psychology topics with the difficult things almost all beginning guitarists struggle with e.g., the weird 2nd string is tuned one fret lower than the rest, you can play the same note in several places on the fretboard and how this affects chord formations, etc. A little too much emphasis on the cognitive psychology parts in proportion to the music stuff but some of the concepts like memory "chunking" and declarative v. procedural memory are fascinating. Great glossary. When you are struggling to learn the guitar and some music theory at an "advanced" age - anything that helps you realize there is a faint light at the end of the tunnel is worthwhile!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Len

    This book inspired me to pick up my guitar after many years and start playing again. If you have ever wanted to play an instrument and thought you had no talent or ability, then do yourself a favor and read this book of one man's journey. The author was convinced he had no talent though he always loved music, decided to learn after researching the subject of learning to play a musical instrument, in his case a guitar.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    A very enjoyable read. A nice view on the makings of a musician. The book was very easy to read and understand. It was written to be read by many different types of people not just musicians or scientists. I also want to give it an extra star because it kept me amused and entertained during jury duty lol. Thank you for writing this book Mr Marcus.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Impressive that the author just decides to try to learn an instrument relatively late in life. I enjoyed the combination of both his story and the research that he did about music. Very readable.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I really liked the concept of this book, but didn't like some aspects of the execution. I am about the same age as Gary Marcus was when he started learning to play the guitar and I also have very little musical knowledge or talent but I have always had (like many people) some vague interest in improving my understanding of music and hopefully even playing an instrument at a basic level( piano in my case). So the aspects of the book that directly addressed his experience as an older learner where I really liked the concept of this book, but didn't like some aspects of the execution. I am about the same age as Gary Marcus was when he started learning to play the guitar and I also have very little musical knowledge or talent but I have always had (like many people) some vague interest in improving my understanding of music and hopefully even playing an instrument at a basic level( piano in my case). So the aspects of the book that directly addressed his experience as an older learner where very interesting to me. Points that stood out to me: (1) Contrary to popular belief, there is no research that says adults can't learn to play a musical instrument at a competent level. (2) In fact adults have some advantages over kids: (i) Greater ability for dealing with abstractions, which can help when learning music theory (ii) Great variety of experiences to draw from, for example in finding different ways to learn, figuring out how to overcome plateaus, etc. But the kids have advantages too: (i) Better manual dexterity (perhaps better ability to memorize muscle movements?) (ii) Greater ability to relentlessly practice the same boring thing over and over without getting bored (perhaps due to a lack of a job or other responsibilities?) (3) Learning to play well really requires developing your musical ear, for example. being able to instantly tell how far apart two notes are. I didn't realize this was so important, even for just basic playing. (4) Expert musicians represent a piece they are playing differently from beginners. Beginner think of individual notes, but experts will instantly categorize it as a larger structure, whether in terms of its keys and chords, or even in larger units, like a part of a concerto. (5) I liked the idea that "music = repetition + variation". Humans seem to like repetition in music, much more than in other art like literature or painting, but we want to see the repetition varied each time it comes up. In general, after reading this I have a better idea of how expert musicians think about music and what it might feel like to be able to play really well or to compose a new piece. But the part that was a bit disappointing is that I wish he had dwelled more on his own experience and less on the general theories. I was more interested in learning about his own journey, not the speculations on how much of musical achievement is talent vs practice. And he treats most of those general topics in a rather shallow way, without really bringing much depth, which makes it feel like he was just padding the page count. The book would have been (in my opinion), if he had focused more on his own progression, and had fewer digressions to the general stuff. And finally I was VERY disappointed that there are ZERO videos online of Gary Marcus playing the guitar. This must mean he still doesn't have confidence to play in public, which is a bit strange as he doesn't seem to be a shy person in general (he is a very successful professor and CEO). It would have been fun to see what he can actually do. CONCLUSIONS: (1) You (yes, you!) can learn to play an instrument at ANY AGE! (W00t!) (2) But it will take an intense motivation and probably a couple of years and a couple of thousand hours of practice before you start sounding somewhat decent and can play in public or jam with other musicians.

  25. 4 out of 5

    AP

    A very quick read on several topics, esp on whether a highly motivated, intelligent adult with minimal musical talent, can learn how to play a musical instrument. Prof Marcus uses himself as a guinea pig, as a sample size of 1, to explore research and test theories on acquiring musicianship and musicality. He learns to play guitar competently, to improvise on guitar, to write a song. It's an inspiring story of how dedicated deliberate practice and excellent teachers can lead a 39 yr-old psycholo A very quick read on several topics, esp on whether a highly motivated, intelligent adult with minimal musical talent, can learn how to play a musical instrument. Prof Marcus uses himself as a guinea pig, as a sample size of 1, to explore research and test theories on acquiring musicianship and musicality. He learns to play guitar competently, to improvise on guitar, to write a song. It's an inspiring story of how dedicated deliberate practice and excellent teachers can lead a 39 yr-old psychology professor to come closer to becoming a real life guitar hero. I'm an older female professional with a busy work & family life, on a similar journey to learn guitar and songwriting. I have been learning guitar since 2016, writing music and learning music theory since 2017. I just taught myself how to play & sing The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" earlier this month. I had tried to teach myself the song last yr without getting too far, but I just persisted this time. Johnny Marr, the chief songwriter & guitarist of The Smiths, is a virtuoso musician, songwriter, producer. Marr is also my all-time favorite guitarist. I never thought I could play any of his songs until last month when I slowed down his song "Down on the Corner" to 25% speed and then taught myself how to play it. From there, I learned The Smiths' "There Is A Light," "How Soon Is Now?" Last wknd I taught myself how to play The Smiths' "Half A Person." That's how it went- I started slowly with one seemingly impossible song, learned it. But once I figured out Marr's signature guitar moves, most common chord voicings, chord progressions, I was able to learn more of his songs. So even an old lady like me can learn some cool guitar moves. Other memoirs written by middle aged men on learning music at their age include: Play It Again by Alan Rusbridger https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Never Too Late by John Holt https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ray Benson

    This presented some promise - a late learner in music who has struggled to learn an instrument now determines to succeed and to explore the process from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and with insight provided from top players and educators. Sadly the result is all too obvious. Who would deny that talent exists or that with practice skills can be developed? But there's little enlightenment here into that complex web of nature and nurture, nor details on how to weave a path to success i This presented some promise - a late learner in music who has struggled to learn an instrument now determines to succeed and to explore the process from the perspective of a cognitive scientist and with insight provided from top players and educators. Sadly the result is all too obvious. Who would deny that talent exists or that with practice skills can be developed? But there's little enlightenment here into that complex web of nature and nurture, nor details on how to weave a path to success in developing a skill. How and what do you practice? How do others go about it? In this case the author applied intensive practice (no details), read loads of books, got a teacher, got tips from experts (no details), and wrote a book about it - all in two years, now that's talent for you! The detail in this book is more in the way of cognitive science but I suspect of insufficient depth for the specialist and could be broadly summarised as (not wishing to sound facetious) "the brain changes as you learn" for the non-specialist. Personally, as a late learner myself I was most interested in the section on educators and I would have welcomed details on how best to practice, how best to develop our abilities, but you'll find little of that in this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marco Morgan

    This was an enjoyable mix of pop science and memoir that occasionally leans a little too hard on the memoir angle. Regardless, it is an interesting perspective on the process of learning to play an instrument and both the concrete and more nebulous advantages that come with pursuing music as a hobby. Gary Marcus thinks deeply about his belated foray into music and provides these thoughts in an accessible and fluid way. I would recommend this if you play (or have an interest in playing) an instru This was an enjoyable mix of pop science and memoir that occasionally leans a little too hard on the memoir angle. Regardless, it is an interesting perspective on the process of learning to play an instrument and both the concrete and more nebulous advantages that come with pursuing music as a hobby. Gary Marcus thinks deeply about his belated foray into music and provides these thoughts in an accessible and fluid way. I would recommend this if you play (or have an interest in playing) an instrument as it might reveal some interesting aspects of the process you may not have considered before or seen covered elsewhere - it certainly did for me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dillon

    I never thought learning about music could be bring so much enjoyment. This book brings you on a magical journey of a middle-aged, arrhythmic neurolinguistics scientist who decides he wants to learn to play the guitar. The knowledge and insights he shares in this book—not just about his experience, but the experience of many others before him—are enough to make any person desire to pick up the guitar (or any instrument you've been dying to learn) and dive head-first into it. Learn about the brain, I never thought learning about music could be bring so much enjoyment. This book brings you on a magical journey of a middle-aged, arrhythmic neurolinguistics scientist who decides he wants to learn to play the guitar. The knowledge and insights he shares in this book—not just about his experience, but the experience of many others before him—are enough to make any person desire to pick up the guitar (or any instrument you've been dying to learn) and dive head-first into it. Learn about the brain, music, and life in this amazing story and change your life because of it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    The title is a play on the game title “Guitar Hero” and that zero means the Gary Marcus started learning the real guitar with no more musical training than the game. Can Marcus overcome his poor sense of rhythm? Marcus is a neuroscientist, so along with sharing his experience of learning the guitar he explores how the brain responds to music. He interviews a lot of interesting musicians who give us an insider’s perspective how such pros learned their instrument. I only wish the author had given The title is a play on the game title “Guitar Hero” and that zero means the Gary Marcus started learning the real guitar with no more musical training than the game. Can Marcus overcome his poor sense of rhythm? Marcus is a neuroscientist, so along with sharing his experience of learning the guitar he explores how the brain responds to music. He interviews a lot of interesting musicians who give us an insider’s perspective how such pros learned their instrument. I only wish the author had given us even more details of his own musical journey. A fun read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    It's interesting but not as useful as I imagined and like with many other books regarding science, it basically lists many studies and their conclusions, some of which are pure speculation. I did, however, buy a book on playing the guitar that the author mentioned, so perhaps it will ultimately bear the fruit I was hoping for. That aside, if you'd like a light, easy introduction to music theory and neuroscience, this would be a good choice.

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