Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning
“Anyone can pick up an instrument in the middle of his/her life and gain enough proficiency to enjoy playing favorite songs. Learning music is not limited to any class or race of people. Any and all are welcome to nurture their latent abilities and become good musicians. . . . Great musicians nurture the nature with which they were born —going from Guitar Zero to Guitar Hero.”
Nature vs. nurture. It is an argument almost as ubiquitous as chicken vs. egg. Are highly talented and creative people born with these impressive skills or are they products of excellent teaching and years of hard work? Or maybe both?
Gary Marcus is a scientist who specializes in language and cognitive development at New York University. When he turned 40, Mr. Marcus decided to learn about music (most specifically playing guitar), even though he had never previously shown any aptitude or musical ability. He chronicled his undertaking in his latest release Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.
His endeavor accomplished two goals: 1) He got to learn how to play guitar, which was apparently something he’d been wanting to try for a while, and 2) by using himself as a measure (in addition to several other studies), Mr. Marcus set out of further either the case that “Yes, music can be taught” or “No, musical talent is inherent.”
Mr. Marcus’s book reads a bit like a scientific paper, which makes sense because that is where his background lies. It can be a little dry and overly explanatory in places for those of us creative types who want more poetry than prose. Advanced musicians may think some of his musical explanations are childish (see Tyranny of Twelve Against Seven), but novices new to the musical game will probably feel right at home with Mr. Marcus and agree with his statement that “[Music] don’t come easy.”
The author may come from seemingly unrelated fields when it comes to writing a book about music, but the development of language and the development of music have very similar pathways in the brain. As someone with almost 30 years of musical practice and experience, this reviewer found Mr. Marcus’s journey enlightening because he had to struggle with things I cannot remember not knowing. For those in the lucky minority who have grown up with music, it truly is a second (or third, or fourth) language for us.
Music is a gift. Anyone, anywhere, and at any age can learn to appreciate music, either through playing, singing, or just listening. Mr. Marcus proves that “Yes, music can be taught” to a certain extent, taking over a year to get comfortable playing his guitar.
Anyone can pick up an instrument in the middle of his/her life and gain enough proficiency to enjoy playing favorite songs. Learning music is not limited to any class or race of people. Any and all are welcome to nurture their latent abilities and become good musicians.
Yet the truly great musicians, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Coltrane, or Paul McCartney and John Lennon, were born with some innate ability to understand music. As Mr. Marcus points out, there has not, as yet, been a portion of the brain identified strictly correlating to music. True musical ability is more about how the performer sees something, or how they think and work through difficult passages. Great musicians nurture the nature with which they were born —going from Guitar Zero to Guitar Hero.