28 February 2012

Review of Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus

Guitar Zero is a book that tells the story of professor of cognitive psychology Gary Marcus' as he turns himself into a living experiment to investigate the question "Can a 39 year old with no previous musical background learn to play guitar?"


How Does Someone Become Musical?

Gary Marcus harboured a dream of creating music with the guitar. But his attempts had all led him to believe that he could never do it, until one day after a success at the Guitar Hero video game he came to wonder "Could persistence and a lifelong love of music overcome age and a lack of talent? And for that matter, how did anyone of any age become musical?"


Guitar Zero describes his quest to answer these questions and provides two main things to those interested in music in general and in the guitar in particular.


The Science of Learning Music

Gary Marcus has undertaken a thorough survey of the complexities of learning music. He describes the physical and mental reasons that make learning to play music such a complex task for the human mind and body. He compares the processes of mastering music and language and also investigates the the genetic and cultural origins of human music making.


Hope and Inspiration

Secondly, for would-be or budding guitar players of any age Guitar Zero provides hope and inspiration.


The book throws new light on some of the ideas, or excuses, that make adults think they can't learn music or learn to play guitar if they didn't start when they where six years old. Gary Marcus guides us through research evidence that shows that there is little real proof that our ability to learn something new declines significantly with age.


He shows via research and his own experience that it is indeed possible for a sufficiently motivated learner to learn guitar - or other skills - at any age.


But It's Not a Practice Book

Not surprisingly, his research indicates that the most important factor in learning the instrument is practice. But some kinds of practice are more valuable than others. Gary Marcus observes that effective practice focuses on playing weaknesses; you must always keep working on something new if you want to improve instead of just repeating what you know already.


The book doesn't offer a detailed practice program to show you how to learn the guitar step by step though. If this is what you are looking for then you might be disappointed.


You will discover lots of information about the general approaches to success with the instrument that will be helpful and inspirational to many learners. It also investigates guitar teachers and teaching methods in a way that will help you to identify good teachers and work with them to get the most from your time.



In conclusion Guitar Zero is an interesting and entertaining study of the mental and physical processes behind learning to make music with the guitar. The author's enthusiasm for the instrument and his wonder at the simple joys of learning to master new skills are obvious throughout the book and should help to inspire you to try and learn the guitar or any other skill that you've always dreamed of but never thought possible.



Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for taking the time to read and review this book for the tour!

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was a 30 year old with no musical background, except for that 4th grade year with what Homer Simpson calls the "saxamaphone." 1 year later I can play a good handful of songs by heart, along with a metronome. Now working on finger picking which is a whole 'nother animal...

Gary Fletcher said...

@Heather, it was my pleasure to read the book.

@Anonymous, way to go. Good luck with the finger picking.

Subscribe in a reader

Not Playing Guitar

All content copyright (c) 2007-2018, Gary Fletcher. All rights reserved.