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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus

At 40 years of age, Gary Marcus had no music training and no apparent musical talents, but he loved music. With the excuse of testing the learning capacity of adults, he decided to commit to really giving music a try for the first time. In his 2012 book Guitar Zero, he tells of his experience. More significantly, he somehow managed to condense a vast overview of diverse research in music psychology and the psychology of learning into a fun read for all audiences.

If you assume this to be an instructional book, you will be overwhelmed. To follow the path of Professor Marcus, first become a tenured faculty at a well-funded institution; then get a paid sabbatical. As Marcus clarifies, the lack of dedicated time is the primary obstacle for most adult attempts at learning new skills. So, now that you have time, funding, and professional connections to call on, the next steps are simple: Make arrangements to meet some of the most famous living musicians; go take lessons with several of the very best teachers; and get the top experts in music psychology and theory to personally answer your questions and advise you on what research to read. With these simple steps, you too can become an adequate amateur musician!

Of course, Marcus is not suggesting that others could follow in his steps exactly. Instead, this book is more about the science of music and the science of learning, as told through a quirky personal story. Simply put, there's been no way to test theories about adult learning versus child learning. Children regularly put in persistent commitment over many thousands of hours; and researchers can't find adult beginners able to do the same. So Marcus decided to be subject number one.