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Think Out Loud

Guitar Zero

Pete Springer/OPB

Have you tried to learn an instrument, perhaps a guitar, as an adult?

If so, you may well have encountered a video like this one on YouTube.

I watched a few of these kinds of videos in my mid 30’s — even got some free lessons from my very talented musician brother — but ultimately, I wimped out. My fingers hurt. Shouldn’t I be able to play “Stairway to Heaven” or at least “Puff the Magic Dragon” by now?  Had I known then the lengths that psychology professor Gary Marcus went to in order to learn to play, I might have been a little more motivated.   

Gary Marcus grew up thinking he had no musical talent and the thought of learning to play the guitar was almost inconceivable. Until it wasn’t. In his book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, he describes how he hatched the idea to pursue guitar 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.

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 three-year-old violin virtuosos aside) and what parts of the brain are involved (there’s no one music lobe.) He’ll join us with his guitar to play a lick or two, tell us more about the book, and maybe even give some hope to people who thought their musical window had already  closed.

Have you tried to learn to play guitar or another musical instrument? What was the hardest part? What were the results? How much of a role do you think age or natural aptitude played?

Editor’s note: After his appearance on our show, Gary Marcus will be jamming with two local “later learner” groups (TaborGrass and Steer Crazy) and reading from “Guitar Zero” at Powell’s Books at 7:30 pm.

And OPB’s Arts & Life spoke with Marcus about learning to jam — check out that short video here.

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