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Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning
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Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  1,364 Ratings  ·  186 Reviews

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? I
Kindle Edition
Published January 19th 2012 by The Penguin Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Mar 10, 2012 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 01, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Luiz Felipe
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 ...more
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
Jan 11, 2012 Angie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 07, 2014 Michael rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Erin Almond
Jan 22, 2013 Erin Almond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Gloria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jan 31, 2012 Orea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Peter Evans
Oct 28, 2013 Peter Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Bob Collins
Jan 30, 2012 Bob Collins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 21, 2012 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Dec 17, 2014 Len rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Oct 07, 2014 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 27, 2015 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jack Oughton
Nov 04, 2013 Jack Oughton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!! -
East Bay J
When I first heard about this book, I was excited to get my hands on a copy and give it a read. I thoroughly enjoyed Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music and Oliver Sachs’ Musicophilia and I thought Guitar Zero would be right along those lines.

Turns out, it is. Marcus sets out on a journey to learn guitar and takes us along for the ride, making plenty of stops along the way to discuss music psychology, learning and practice styles, musical taste and much more.

Particularly fascinating to
Feb 06, 2013 Kerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Can a nerdy psychology professor (who studies evolution, music and language) learn electric guitar at 40 and in the process become a male Jewish rock god with superior mating opportunities? Can older people still learn as quickly as the young? Well, Professor Gary Marcus is going to take a sabbatical and find out. (Cue...Hendrix guitar riff.)

On the whole, Marcus's book reads like a combination mid-life memoir (albeit from a generally unexciting sensible educated suburban white married male) and
Malin Friess
Dec 26, 2012 Malin Friess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you have to be born musical to become a musician? Do you need to start playing the piano by age 6? How many hours does it take to become a Master? Gary Marcus, a cognitive scientist, at age 40, with no musical talent takes up the guitar to see how anyone can become a musician. This book Guitar Zero (named after the widly popular video game Guitar Hero) traces his musical journey.

Marcus notices...

Even infants have a sense of tone. They wince when hearing sounds of dissonance but smile when hea
Nuno Vargas
Enjoyable and spanning a wide range of topics, this is in my opinion a book to be read by anyone that enjoys music and the science of learning.
Jan 01, 2014 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology, has written an account of his quest to learn to play the guitar. As a child, he'd been deemed "amusical" by a teacher, but he'd long wanted to make music. Playing the Guitar Hero video game reignited his urge to become a musician, and a sabbatical gave him the time to learn. He decides to use his professional background to help him learn, but as he explores popular conceptions about learning and music, the reader is surprised to discover that the area of a ...more
Apr 22, 2014 Prakriti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gary Marcus has written a beautiful book about his journey to learn the guitar starting at age 40. Gary is a professor and a scientist, and the text is peppered with his honest hunger to know more and beyond about music, about music and the brain, and about hundreds of questions you never knew who to ask. Gary is charming in describing his own journey, his passionate build up towards learning further skills and his rapture at each stage. I love the tone of the book, and it taught me, a musical n ...more
Dan Downing
May 30, 2015 Dan Downing rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
We could make a case for this being two or three books. As it is, Marcus takes an autobiographical project, blends it with neuroscience, music theory, pedagogy and wit to give us a marvelous story about learning how to become a musician at an 'advanced' age. We learn about neurological mechanisms, evolutionary ideas about music and a wonderful time at "Band Camp" with some talented young teens.
Playing on the title of the game "Guitar Hero" and the use of "Zero" to mean a starting point, Gary Mar
Jan 06, 2013 Felix rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Music Lovers, Aspiring Guitar Players
Shelves: music
Really enjoyed reading this book. I empathized
with the author being a family man in my late 40's
who suddenly had an urge to learn how to play the guitar.

When I started, I had no idea what this book was all
about except for some descriptions about it being the
experiences of the author trying to learn how to play
the guitar with zero experience.

After reading a few pages of the book, I realized
the book is also a mirror of my experiences as I
too laboriously try to learn how to play the guitar.
Feb 12, 2013 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve wanted to learn the violin for a very, very long time now but I keep talking myself out of it. I figure I won’t be very good since I’m starting so much later in life, ok, not that much later but I’m no longer a kid. I fear that I’ll give it up right away because I’m certain I have no natural musical talent. So when I happened upon Guitar Zero: the science of becoming musical at any age, I thought I’d find out how someone who was about to turn 40 handled learning the guitar. Gary Marcus, a c ...more
Jan 05, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book by a 40 something brain scientist who decides to learn to play guitar and writes this book about his experience.
The scientific approach and description of the learning process is interesting, but gets a little dull at times. The descriptions of music's complex relationship with language is ok as is the scientific description of how the brain responds to practice and different learning processes.
However, the author is at his best when he slips in momentary glimpses of what pla
Nov 03, 2012 Seany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On the appeal of musical structure... Familiarity (repetition) + Novelty (an altogether new section or a new take on previous theme) gives the brain a double reward... points for correctly anticipating what's coming and points for discovering something new.

A good book. The guy gets it. Whereas Bernstein asked "Whither Music?", Gary asks "Why Music?" the simplicity of the answer evokes Occam's Razor and a tidy summation by Zappa "[because] music is the best".

Inspired me to shut up n play my guita
Apr 09, 2012 Matt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found the premise intriguing at first -- that anybody at any age and ability level can, through dedicated study and practice, become a reasonably proficient musician. The neurological and psychological underpinnings were instructive, as was a sidebar about how innate talent matters, but not as much as one might think. However, my interest waned as the book progressed. This may have had the makings of a great case study that was elongated into full-length book. It reminded me of an SNL skit tur ...more
Feb 07, 2015 Chuck rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Gary Marcus, who describes himself as suffering from chronic arrhythmia (musical, not cardiac), decided to take up the guitar in his late thirties. His book chronicles his personal project, but that account is interspersed with discussions of brain function (Marcus is a cognitive scientist), the relationship between music and language, nature vs. nurture, music and evolution, the effects of age, differential approaches to teaching and practicing, the value of computer resources, etc. All ...more
the second book I have read about one man trying to emerge triumphantly from a period of learning an instrument ,the first being will hodgkinson s excellent guitar man.
this book takes a different approach to guitar man which was essentially a travel through styles and meeting up with grand masters of the guitar world,this book looks more at th psychology of playing and whether those attempting learning later in life are at a specific disadvantage.
this is pretty much of interest to me as I have b
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Gary Marcus is an award-wining Professor of Psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Center for Child Language. He has written three books about the origins and nature of the human mind, including Kluge (2008, Houghton Mifflin/Faber), and The Birth of the Mind (Basic Books, 2004, translated into 6 languages). He is also the editor of The Norton Psychology Reader, and the author of ...more
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“But nobody is born being able to hear [intervals], and many people never master them. Some people never even notice that "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "The Alphabet Song" follow the same melody (and hence consist of the same sequence of intervals).” 0 likes
“Repetition sometimes works in poetry, but rarely in prose. The musical provocateur John Cage once wrote a lecture in which a single page was repeated fourteen times, with the refrain "If anybody is sleep let him go to sleep" (Cage, 1961). Midway through, the artist Jean Reynal stood up and screamed, "John, I dearly love you, but I can't bear another minute.” 0 likes
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