On the eve of his fortieth birthday, a professor of no discernible musical talent learns to play the guitar and investigates how anyone of any age might master a new skill.
Just about every human being knows how to listen to music, but what does it take to make music? Is musicality something we are born with? Or a skill that anyone can develop at any time? If you don't start piano at the age of six, is there any hope? Is skill learning best left to children or can anyone reinvent him-or herself at any time?
On the eve of his fortieth birthday, Gary Marcus, an internationally renowned scientist with no discernible musical talent, becomes his own guinea pig to look at how human beings become musical- and how anyone of any age can master something new. Guitar Zero traces his journey, what he learned, and how you can learn, too. In addition to being a groundbreaking look at the origins and allure of music, Marcus's journey is also an empowering tale of the mind's plasticity.
In a quest that takes him from Suzuki classes to guitar gods, Marcus investigates the most effective ways to train your brain and body to learn to play an instrument. How can you make your practice more deliberate and effective? How can you find the best music teacher for you or your child? Does talent really exist? Or is hard work all you need?
Guitar Zero stands the science of music on its head, debunking the popular theory of an innate musical instinct and many other commonly held fallacies. At the same time, it raises new questions about the science of human pleasure and 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 those who have ever set out to learn a musical instrument-or wishes that they could- Guitar Zero is an inspiring and fascinating look at music, learning, and the pursuit of a well-lived life.
©2012 Gary Marcus (P)2012 Penguin
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the intersection of neuroscience and music.
The author does a good job of weaving in interesting summaries of the current state of the science of things like language acquisition and musical talent vs. practice.
The author is a good narrator, which is not always the case.
This book delivers a number of ah-ha moments, such as debunking the myth of 10,000 hours.
This audio book not terribly long, and some will probably complain that it's not technical enough, but it makes for a thoroughly enjoyable tour through the science of musicality. The author is good humored, and tells entertaining stories about his visit to music camp (for kids because he is such a lousy guitarist). If you've ever wondered whether music is somehow innate in humans, this book does a good job of walking you through the answers from a neuroscientist.
I'm basically a musical ignoramus, but I enjoyed listening to this book. Gary Marcus is an engaging writer, but I REALLY would have liked to hear music interspersed with the writing (so as to illustrate the points Marcus was trying to make, or to give examples of songs written by the musicians he was mentioning in the text). Still, that's asking a lot from an audio edition.
The book covered a wide range of topics within music, so the coverage was necessarily superficial at times. But I'm now reading another, more-detailed book about music, so Marcus inspired me to read more.
A note about the narrator: He isn't among the better readers I've encountered in audio books. His pronunciation and diction could be be better.
The book was enjoyable but lacked in substance. I kept waiting for it to start and come to some concrete conclusions and pointers but it never did really.
In a similar fashion to, Joshua Foer's Moonwalking With Einstein, I enjoyed the personal narrative this book goes through as the author discovers 'how to' learn to play the guitar.
Not being a muscian, I found it harder to relate to the thread of the book at some points, then my guitar playing friends who also enjoyed (and related) to the book.
I found this book more about the "journey of learning", with very little practical and transferable "how to learn" lessons.
This book might be enjoyed more by a person seeking general information about learning.
The author's personal experiences about seeking to learn music were entertaining. But the book never really gets off the ground. It simply goes around and around about his seeking learning without telling you how to improve your guitar playing.
I feel like I wasted my credit. I listen to detective mysteries or science fiction or a multitude of other choices for entertainment. What I wanted here was some tips on how to more effectively learn the guitar. This book provided neither to my satisfaction.
Book is a mix of science and the author's personal experience. The science is unsurprising. Description of the author's personal experiences is vague and self-indulgent. And there is absolutely nothing that would help with learning the guitar.
If you want to learn about the human mind, learning, and the role of practice, listen to _Moonwalking with Einstein_. If you want to learn the guitar, buy a guitar book and maybe some lessons. Either way, skip this book.
I would recommend it to anyone interested in music, especially if they are considering taking up a new instrument, and most especially if they are past the age at which taking up a new instrument is considered advisable or "normal."
I most enjoyed the sections in which Marcus dovetailed his own ongoing story about learning a new instrument with the science behind music. Are we evolutionarily wired to be musical? Probably not, it turns out. Is the common assumption that children can learn an instrument faster (and with more aplomb) than a middle aged person true? To some extent, perhaps, but the old saw that you can't teach a dog new tricks is not backed up with much science, and adults are actually better at the attainment of some types of knowledge than their younger counterparts. I love this kind of stuff!
I really enjoy listening to authors read their own books. Marcus's voice is not "professional"-sounding, but it is pleasant and personable... kinda like Ira Glass in "This American Life." He occasionally garbles a word or two, but it's never a problem figuring out what he's saying, and I sort of found the minor perfections endearing, and totally in keeping with the theme of the book.
N/A (It's hard to imagine this ever becoming a film.)
This book caught my attention because I, like Marcus, also took up the guitar at a later age than one conventionally takes up a new instrument. (I'm actually 10 years older than Marcus.) I found less here specifically about being a middle aged learner than I had hoped... but a lot more about the fascinating science behind the music. There are also lots of anecdotes about famous guitarists that I really enjoyed... and even a section on songwriting that I found very helpful.
Marcus's approach to guitar is completely different from mine: he sought out to learn the theory behind the fretboard, for example, and to learn scales and the different keys and such. I, like many guitarists, started scrappily, by learning a few chords and going from there. (Learning music theory before playing a new instrument is a bit like learning how to repair an engine before driving a car, in my book.) In any case, I enjoyed the book.
For more on the subject of late bloomers (a subject near and dear to my heart), check out Malcolm Gladwell's excellent article "Late Bloomers," from the October 20, 2008 edition of The New Yorker.
I found this surprisingly enjoyable, although probably more so because I am a former musician and it gave me a nice shot of nostalgia while teaching me a few things I wish I knew 25 years ago.
just one more book lover
If you have always wanted to play guitar and you feel you have aged beyond your window of opportunity, this is the book for you.
Gary Marcus does not just cite research in music learning (which is scant for post-teen or -20s age groups), but he takes the journey for you. He was 38 with no discernible talent when he picked up guitar.
His book is an exciting melange of musical memoir, music history, music theory and music psychology. Interspersed are anecdotes from classical, jazz, rock and blues. How did Dylan go from hardly writing any songs on his first album to writing most (all?) on his second? What is up with Keith Richards's alternate tunings? Can anyone be Hendrix?
The author also investigates the role of practice, age and talent on ability. You will be glad to hear that practice (the number of hours and type) singles out the dabbler from the real deal.
So pick up your guitar. Stop procrastinating. Log those hours and for about the little voice that says you are too this or that to succeed. That is what our man Marcus tells us.
As a musician and a student of brain mapping, neuro-plasticity and the like, I thought this book could be very interesting. It turned out to be an almighty effort to get to the end. I stuck at it diligently but can honestly say that my life has not been enriched by listening to it. The book basically alternates between two areas.
One: the author describes his efforts to learn the guitar. I am not sure who would find this interesting. As a musician I can remember those early days. I think one's learning experience is a very personal thing but trying make that into a great read/listen takes a great story and equally great skill. I'm not sure even listening to Keith Richards learn his first G chord would actually be that riveting.
Two: The science behind learning, practicing, listening etc. The author does mention a few other books along the way, e.g. 'the Talent Code' amongst others. Simply I would just say that those other books do the job of explaining the hows and whys of practice superbly. This book just doesn't do it.
"Music and Education Theory - what's not to like?"
My interest in this may be a little niche; I'm studying adult learning and I'm an enthusiastic if untalented guitar player. So this book ticks a couple of boxes for me and the fact that the author reads it himself also adds something in terms of conveying a sense of immediacy in how the tale is told. It's possible that for other readers this may be too much of a minority interest but the central messages about how, as adults, we can still master skills that might be considered challenging once we're past childhood are clearly and helpfully spelled out. Marcus also strikes a nice balance between the theory; which he knows well from his day job as an academic; and the practice of sticking his neck out and trying to learn an instrument. The section where he has to audition in front of a bunch of 11 year olds to see if they'll let him into their band at "band camp" is a great example of the latter quality.
"Painless and informative."
A biographical narrative moves this book along as the author relates his expert knowledge of neuroscience to the joy and pain of learning to play the guitar. He comes across as a likeable chap although I found his voice is a bit irritating to listen to at length. Worth the effort if you have a passing interest in music or the science of learning a new skill from scratch in middle age. I have now decided not to attempt guitar. Thanks for that Gary.
"Not sure who this book is pitched at..."
Having started playing the guitar just before my 40th birthday I thought this might be an interesting and motivational read. However, author started his guitar playing with a 1 year sabbatical so no common ground for somebody like me with a day job and family struggling to fit in 30 minutes of practice a day. Title is misleading, it implies popular content for an aspiring guitarist starting late in life but in reality it's a long scientific ramble. Author's rambling, monotonal style and geeky Bill Gates voice made for a difficult listen. I stuck it out to the end but couldn't recommend this book.
Geeky Bill Gates voice and rambling academic style.
Yes, author's application and dedication for learning the guitar was impressive as was his musical and scientific knowledge. Incredibly bright guy.
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