where the writers are
On Reading "Guitar Zero" by Gary Marcus (appearing in SF today, February 27!)

I just finished reading Guitar Zero: the New Musician and the Science of Learning, a new book by the eminent cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus.  

Several people told me about the book after hearing his recent interview on NPR.   They figured I could relate to the story of a musically-challenged psychologist who takes up an instrument in midlife and lives to tell the tale! 

They were right.  It's a wonderful book: scholarly, wry, personal, and eloquent.  It took me back to the beginnings of my own crazy passion for the accordion, and my frustration at my own limitations.   I wish Guitar Zero had been around then,  to offer encouragement that is grounded in personal experience but also in solid cognitive science.  

Marcus debunks the notion of "critical periods" without minimizing the challenges facing older learners.  He doesn't deny the role of talent, but believes that virtually anyone can learn to make music in a satisfying way with the proper learning strategies--and with practice.  Lots of it.  (He devoted his sabbatical year to learning to play the guitar.) 

I started the book last night, and finished it today, on a plane ride back from New York, where I had the pleasure of visiting with Gary.  I'm too jet-legged to offer a proper review, so maybe I'll just mention a few favorite lines:

"Music is a perfect storm for the human mind: beautiful in form, intricate, and eternally new."

"What really matters is not how many chords you know, but how you use the ones you do know."

"If reading music is optional, hearing music, and being able to connect what you hear with what you play, is not."

And a particular high point:  When Gary attends his first music camp, anxiously waiting for an invitation to join one of the jam bands.  His fellow musicians are aged 8-13. 

____

For anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area:  Gary will be doing a book-and-music presentation this Monday night, February 27, at The Booksmith (1644 Haight St, SF) from 7:30-8:30.

He will also be joined by a few local musicians--including me, as well as my fiddler-husband. (That also takes me back. . . to my own book launch for Accordion Dreams, at the very same spot, three years ago.)

 

To learn more about Guitar Zero go here: http://garymarcus.com/