Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guitar Zero

"Without music, life would be a mistake."
~Friedrich Nietzsche

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.


  1. This book interests me because I own a guitar that I've never learned to play. Great review, as always!

    1. Thanks, Anna! I hope you will pick up the guitar and play. I can lend you my copy of the book at some point if you'd like to read it.

      (P.S. We now have threaded comments on Blogger! I won't reply to every comment, but I must reply to yours as you are the first one.)

  2. What a lovely gift from your mother in law! That is priceless in fact!!

  3. Thanks, Jenners. It has been a priceless gift to our family. I strongly believe in music education for children, in and out of school. I remember being very disappointed as a child because the recorder program at school was cut before I ever had a chance to learn to play.

  4. I enjoy music but don't know much about it. My son took band for 8 years and loves music - I bet he'd enjoy this book.

  5. This sounds like a fascinating book for a music lover-thanks for sharing your experiences with us

  6. Sounds like a great book for those who love music. How great that your children have had so much exposure to so many instruments.

  7. That is a fantastic gift from your mother in law Suko!
    This book sounds interesting. My son plays the guitar from an early age and although he has tried to show me how to, I know I'm better off listening than playing lol.
    Very cool that your son told you about Rage, that is a great band.
    I enjoyed your review.

  8. Great post and it sounds like a great book.

  9. Sounds like a good book if you know your music. Fab review Suko.

  10. You write a long and very interesting post, Suko ! I tried to play flute in my thirties... and failed ! Too short-breathed and not enough time to do the job. Bit I'd like to be able to do it, perhaps in an other life ?

  11. I love music as well, and am surprised at how much better I feel when I listen to an amazing song that touches a deep part of me. I think this would be a really interesting read for me, so I will be looking for it. Thanks for the wonderful review, Suko!

  12. This reminds me that I need to get guitar lessons for my son - he's been asking and we just never got around to it. Must remedy that asap!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

    1. Heather, thanks for stopping by! My kids have benefited enormously from music lessons.

  13. I enjoy many different types of music but sadly I never learned to play any instruments. My grade school music teacher told my parents I didn't have an aptitude for it so they never sent me for lessons. I suppose it's never too late to learn, but I do believe the concepts are easier to grasp when one is a child.

  14. Leslie, I also believe it's easier to learn an instrument when you're younger, for several reasons. But, the book gave me hope: you can continue to learn as you get older, and often you have better habits as well, which help you.

  15. I'm discovering your blog through Annie (Une vie à lire) I like what you do here :)

    I have two blogs, one about my paintings(and it is in French and in English ;D) and a reading (cultral too) blog.

    1. Welcome, Sabbio! I hope you will visit again!

    2. Sabbio, your blogs are very lovely! Can they be translated into English?

  16. Tag is a simplified coding system for guitar playing and who are not familiar with the invention of the notes. Not everyone has the basis for music and tags, can really help kick off the process.

    acoustic guitar


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