For as long as I can remember, I've loved music. As a child I discovered that music had the power to brighten my outlook (O-o-h Child, Joy to the World) or move me to tears (ballads by The Jackson 5, The Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix). As I matured, music became more important to me, and I learned that music could affect my mood or state of mind in a variety of ways, often indescribably so. Although I couldn't work up my nerve to try out for the glee club in elementary school, and didn't learn to play an instrument (except for the accordion, very briefly), I have a deep appreciation for music, and enjoy listening to all kinds of music. I was interested in reading Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning because of my profound appreciation for music, which continues to enhance my life.
Written by NYU psychology professor and author Gary Marcus, Guitar Zero will be released to the public on January 19, 2012. I felt quite fortunate to have the opportunity to be one of the first to read his new book. Guitar Zero is about the author's attempts to learn how to play guitar as he approaches his fortieth birthday. He initially wonders if it's possible to learn to play an instrument at his age. Does the brain possess enough plasticity to take on such a daunting task? Many people believe that learning an instrument, like learning a language, must be done at an early age. Guitar Zero (which gets its name from the popular video game, Guitar Hero) explores the world of music from the perspective of an older student, armed with a strong appreciation and admiration for great guitarists and musicians, and an eagerness to learn how to play the guitar.
Although I am not a music student per se, I enjoyed the insights in this book (it's packed full of them!) which are about music and life in a more general sense. Much of the book resonated with me, and I will give but a few examples here. The author talks about the need for good music teachers, and from my own experience his words ring true. Thanks to the unbridled generosity of my mother-in-law, each of my children has taken years of private music lessons on various instruments--piano, flute, violin, oboe, guitar--with a variety of teachers, so I know firsthand that good teachers are invaluable; I agree with the author that teachers with certain characteristics (such as the ability to encourage) are especially wonderful. A key point in the book is that practice may not make perfect when it comes to music, but practice (for most of us, anyway), is an extremely vital part of learning to play an instrument, perhaps the only way to train the fingers and the brain to play music (the author provides tips about what kind of practice works best). My youngest daughter, Angela, has taken Suzuki violin lessons for eight years, and although she didn't always feel like practicing, practicing or playing her instrument was precisely how she learned to play.
I enjoyed the references in the book to the band Rage Against the Machine, and specifically the incredible guitarist, Tom Morello, the twenty-sixth-greatest guitarist of all time (according to Rolling Stone magazine). My son, Oliver, introduced me to this band, and I find much of their socially aware music quite powerful, and the intense, layered sound of their music, especially Renegades of Funk and Bulls On Parade, gets my adrenaline going.
"Of course, making music is not just about control, or even about achieving flow; there's something deeper. Something that for me has made the whole quest--a massive investment of my scarcest commodity, time--worthwhile. Becoming musical has brought balance to my life."
~Guitar Zero, Gary Marcus
Guitar Hero is scientific and well-researched, yet written in a friendly and down-to-earth manner. At times I struggled with some of the music terminology specific to guitars (there is a glossary of music terms in the back of the book, though), but for the most part, it was understandable and interesting, and I felt inspired by the notion that we can learn something as complex as a musical instrument later in life.
Special thanks to Trish from TLC for sending me this fascinating book. This is the first review for the book blog tour for Guitar Zero. For more reviews, please visit the subsequent stops on TLC's Guitar Zero book blog tour.