Gary Marcus grew up thinking he had no musical talent. The thought of learning to play the guitar was almost inconceivable to him. Until one day it wasn't.
In his book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, Marcus describes how he hatched the idea to pursue guitar as an adult and how he painstakingly carried it out. He even spent a week as the bass player for a music camp band of 11-year-olds called Rush Hour, where he and his bandmates composed and performed their own song.
Woven throughout his personal narrative of guitar lessons is the latest research about what scientists currently think about how we learn music (they used to think you had to learn young to really get it), the pros and cons of various learning techniques (no, the Suzuki method is not the only way — cute 3-year-old violin virtuosos aside) and what parts of the brain are involved (there's no one music lobe).
Marcus tells Think Out Loud's Allison Frost that the band camp experience gave him both more confidence as a musician and insights into the differences between how kids and adults learn complicated new skills. "Kids have a lot more patience," he says. "They can play the same lick over and over until they get really good at it."
Adults may have a longer path to developing mastery, but they bring more life experiences and abstract thinking to the process. "I had a better sense of composition — presumably because I've heard a lot more music than the kids had — so I was instrumental in helping to put the piece together."
The band camp was Marcus' first experience jamming with other musicians. After that, he was hooked on improvising and the feeling of being able to express himself through music.
He stopped by the OPB studios to talk about how he learned to improvise and the "flow" of playing music. Later that day, Marcus jammed with two local "later learner" groups (TaborGrass and Steer Crazy) during a reading at Powell's books.