124 of 129 people found the following review helpful
This is an interesting book. It's easy to read and tells a fairly compelling story about a 40 year old professor who always wanted to be a musician finally taking the plunge. This book is a story about human learning told through the perspective of music. The specifics are music and guitar, but that's really not what the book is about.
The Amazon description includes this sentence: "Guitar Zero stands the science of music on its head, debunking the popular theory of an innate musical instinct and many other commonly held fallacies."
Not so. The author specifically states he believes in innate musical talent and he counts himself as one is who lacking even normal levels. Part of what makes the book interesting his his struggle against this lack and ultimately the degree of progress he makes despite this obstacle.
I think this book will be of interest to those who are musically inclined but please be aware that this is most certainly not in any respect a how-to book. This book does not teach you how to play the guitar or any other musical instrument. Instead it is a rather inspiring story of someone who followed his heart fairly late in life and what he learned in the process.
103 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2012
I'm enjoying this book a lot. I've been teaching guitar to adult beginners for nearly 40 years which is a privilege, because it means I get to be in the presence of courage on a daily basis. Gary chronicles his personal journey as a adult beginner on guitar, but from the perspective of an expert on learning & language acquisition, with all the understandings his profession have given him. He encourages all learners to just KEEP GOING; keep trying. Guitar is complicated. So is music. Gary's understanding of the specifics of what's hard about it, and strategies for making the most of practice time, are well worth the time it takes to read. Practice doesn't make perfect; it makes permanent. If you can make each note beautiful, you can make a whole piece beautiful. On the other hand, you can't learn to ride a bicycle with it standing still. You've got to do a certain amount of falling down. And it's more fun with friends. And most of all, it's not too late!
co-founder, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop
66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
This book wasn't quite what I had expected, but I wasn't disappointed.
Cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus, who clearly has a history of being "challenged" musically, decides as he approaches the age of 40 to learn to play the guitar. A serendipitous sabbatical from his usual gig teaching at NYU gives him enough leisure that he takes on the project seriously. Guitar Zero (a pun on the popular video game Guitar Hero, for those like me who didn't get it)recounts his adventures, which include playing in a rock band with 11-year-olds at a music camp and MANY MANY hours of practice.
I had expected a memoir of a middle-aged scientist observing himself learning a new skill, which I got, but Marcus also explores many facets of the science of music, such as whether talent or practice is more important, what kinds of music people like and do not like (I was pleased to have my own preferences supported by finding out that the "most unwanted song" would be sung by an operatic soprano.), and how experts and novices differ when they listen to music.
No knowledge of music theory is necessary to enjoy this book. Marcus does a good job of explaining the theory needed along the way, but I do not believe he spends so much time on it that it would annoy a reader who does not need the explanation. As someone who is a contemporary of Marcus' father, I was a little at sea when it came to many of his references to musicians I genuinely had never heard of, and I would have appreciated definitions of pop music guitar terms like "riff" and "lick", but he does talk about Bob Dylan and even mentions the Andrews Sisters.
I picked up a lot of fascinating information from Guitar Hero and was incredibly impressed with what Marcus accomplished as a guitarist. Maybe I should pull out that guitar that has been sitting in the closet for the past 30 years....
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2012
I am an experienced working professional musician. I am also a part-time music teacher.
After almost every band performance someone comes up and says, "I would love to able to play an instrument, but I don't have any musical talent".
I am always amused that people think we were born with the natural ability to play Palm Spring Stomp. The reality is that we were exposed to the song for the first time in August 2011. We learned the Palm Springs Stomp during our weekly practices in September. My band mate arranged the song in October.
We continued to practice Palm Springs Stomp and finally started playing it in public in December.
The process of refining Palm Springs Stomp involved countless of hours of group and personal practice. Adults can learn music, if they work at it.
Gary Marcus has hit the nail on the head with Guitar Zero. This is not a book on music theory. It is a study of skill how adults learn music. I have changed my primary instruments four times in my career. The last time was at the age of 45! My real world experiences confirms the theories expounded in Guitar Zero.
Professor Marcus explains that it is possible to learn an instrument as an adult. He clearly explains the methodology that can be used. Dr. Marcus also gives us the permission to give it a try. This is the kind of encouragement the world needs.
The fact that Gary Marcus plays the guitar like someone with only one years experience is not relevant to the value of the book. The review that said so eloquently that "his guitar playing sucks" demonstrates a major block to anyone learning to play an instrument. The unwarranted criticism of beginning students is damaging. Its OK to be a beginner!
Its OK for adults to struggle to learn to play an instrument. If they follow the advise of Gary Marcus, the journey will be less painful.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2012
As a 75 year old who took up the guitar 1 1/2 years ago, I found the book interesting but incomplete. I found the author's journey interesting, but not terribly relevant. While I played an instrument (clarinet) for many years and remembered my practice approaches when young, I certainly can't use them as guides at my point in life.I know I can learn new things and do it all the time at what seems a terribly slow rate. What I was looking for, was information on how to learn more efficiently. Empirically, I seem to need to break up practice sessions into about 45 minute segments at the most. The role of lots of repetition of smaller chunks of material also is necessary. The two best guides for practicing that I've found are the author referenced Jamie Andreas book, The Principles of Correct Practice for Guitar, and Richard Iznaola's little book On Practice.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2012
I eagerly downloaded this book and read it over the weekend. It is an excellent primer on the differences between adult and child learning, especially with regard to musical instruments. It tells the compelling story of how the author learned to play guitar and what he learned along the way. I am an adult guitar student and this book answered many questions for me. Easy and enjoyable to read. Give it a go.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2012
It's a great book, I love it!
I turn 50 next November, I took my first guitar lesson 4 years ago. I took lessons for a year and I've been working on my own since. I'd been making steady progress, but it'd been frustratingly slow going. Before reading this book I'd already fallen in love with playing the guitar, but I'd long ago resigned myself to the notion that I'd never play as well as I'd like. Reading this book gave me hope that with correct practice I could play better and do so more efficiently. I'm greatly encouraged by the progress I've made since finishing the book, particularly since my first read through was less for content than entertainment.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2012
For the person of any age that wants to understand the bigger picture - the context - for their work/practice, this is it. Gary provides it all - how the brain works to develop complex skill, the relationship between raw talent and practice, and remarkable cross section of various master musicians' developmental processes. He convinces you that your challenges in learning guitar (or any instrument) are no different than anyone else's and that simple enjoyment is reason enough to make the effort. Guitar Zero talks to all of us average joes ... making the commitment, practice and work understandable and enjoyable. Great research; great writing.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2012
I'm willing to bet that if someone has a better understanding of what Guitar Zero is, as opposed to what it seems to be claiming to be, that they may enjoy it a little more than I did. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it. I did. It's just . . . well . . .
WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE: Reading the description and the premise, I thought Guitar Zero would be something of a journal of an adult man learning music and guitar for the first time, and that we get the benefit of an insider's view due to the author's advantage as a psychologist, as well as being educated in many other related fields and being one with the willingness to work hard and do research. This even seemed to be set up in the opening pages of the book, when Marcus said that he set out on his sabbatical with guitar and laptop in hand. I didn't really think it would be a "Day 1: this happened;" "Day 17: this happened;" kind of structure, but I was expecting the book to be ABOUT Gary Marcus's journey into music.
WHAT IT ACTUALLY WAS: Unfocused. I never felt like we got settled down into a flow because Marcus spends so much time touching on so many different subjects all the time. Neurological science, music's historical and cultural origins, interviews with famous guitarists, anecdotes of famous guitarists, talking a lot about how precise a musician's movements have to be, responding a lot (directly and indirectly) to the claims made in Malcom Gladwell's "Outliers' (which, coincidentally, was the book I'd finished reading right before starting this one; how about THAT!), and a little bit about his journey into music. Interestingly enough, the thing he focuses the least on is what I expected the book to be about: him learning guitar. He abandoned that pretty early on, it seems. He did spend a whole chapter talking about his experience at a youth Rock and Roll Camp, but there wasn't much personal stuff after that. By the end of it, I'd read a lot of interesting stuff, but I didn't walk away feeling like I'd been on a journey or anything--that lacking feeling was punctuated by the way he talked about his next musical ventures, such as with the MIDI guitar . . . it's like he headed off to 2nd grade one morning and the next time I see him, thinking it's the next day, he's graduating high school. There's a lot of stuff missing there that I wanted to hear: his struggles with grasping more advanced music theory, his personal guitar lessons, his practice schedule, the things he focused on to learn and build his repertoire, other stage experiences (I felt he implied he had them), and instead I got to hear a lot about gray matter and the creative genius of Bob Dylan.
I read this book for insight and, hopefully, encouragement in my own quest to finally get serious about guitar 2 years ago after 10 years of dinking around, and being met with a barrage of discouragement--external but mostly internal--about my age and how wasting my teens and most of my 20's has ruined my chances of being a great guitarist. I don't really know exactly what I hoped to get from this book in regards to that, but I can say that I was fairly encouraged regardless. So in that respect, I did like it. Hence that fourth star.
If someone asked if I'd recommend it, I'd say, "Yeah, if you want."
26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2012
I randomly came across this book on the shelves of a bookstore during a business trip. I being an adult learner of guitar myself, could not resist the lure of this book's premise: the journey of another adult learner, especially a respected psychologist, who sets out to learn the guitar on a sabbatical leave. I knew I could get this book for half price from my own local bookstore, but I was so intrigued that I had to have it right there and then. I imagined I would have finished it before I got home, devouring the great insights of a psychologist on the "science of learning" the guitar and accounts of his person journey.
Nearly 5 months later, I am writing this review after having finished reading it just this morning. I am sorry to say it was been a chore completing this book, and I have no other simple way of summarizing my impression: This book is a poorly written and confused piece of pop-psychology that I can neither recommend to adult guitar learners nor any other kind of audience.
First, to offer credit where it is due, I applaud the author for his perseverance and dedication as a student. There is a part where he his story of playing with a group of 11 year old kids at some music camp. It takes a certain kind of humility and the right kind of learning attitude for a 40-year old man to swallow his pride and do this sort of thing. With this kind of attitude, I have little doubt that he will continue to progress and become a respectable guitar player.
But that is all the praise I have. The rest of the book is a mish-mash of loose & fallacious psychological associations, predictably naive musing of a beginner guitarist, mixed in with drizzling of evolutionary history & theory of music - which is especially jarring not only because of their irrelevance to the author's thesis, but also for the authoritative tone with which he presents them - all mixed in with his pedestal worship of everything that is rock, which is so overtly blind to the whole world of centuries-old guitar genres such as classical and flamenco that it is actually insulting. The latter point is much akin to picking up a book to read about an adult's journey to learn the piano, only to be rudely shocked by the author's predominant obsession with pop music modern players that play the synthesizer. Granted, that may be the genre the authors wants to learn and appreciates, but this criticism is well served since the author has taken it upon himself to extensively educate us about the history of music, and with great admiration he goes on and on about minutiae of specific chord progressions in specific songs from the 60's onward.
The other criticism I have are specific points he makes that are endearingly misguided. For one, I am glad I didn't have a psychologist like him to diagnose me with the pathology called "congenital arrhythmia", as Gary Marcus did to himself. I am not sure to what extend Dr. Marcus had rhythm problems, but I can assure him mine were much much worse, and probably still are. At some point, two years before I started playing the guitar, I realized that for most of my life, I have never actually clapped to the music beat, and when I danced, I did not know what it even know what it means to "stay in beat", and could not hear the beat. No one could even explain to me the concept, because they had all learned it 20 years ago as little kids. I could only recognize music as stretches of melody. Three years later, I am playing flamenco in time with compas, which is arguably the most rhythmically complex of all Western music, not only because it demands rigorous adherence to beat markers, but also it has compound time signatures (e.g. alternating measure have their own time signature, and that can change from phrase to phrase, and the guitar player often has to accent the beat in between the ones in the compas playing i.e. in between metronome markers rather than on them). I recommend to Dr. Marcus he avoid the popular trend to "pathologize" everything as it is common in psychology these days. He does refer to possible inner ear conditions that can cause such a fantasy congenital defect, but I am not convinced until there is more scientific evidence. This sort of loose fallacious correlative reasoning is another trend that psychology should avoid if it wants to be taken more seriously.
That aside, other times I had my eyes rolling was every time Dr. Marcus brings up Rock Band and Guitar Hero. He calls them gateway drugs that lead to playing the guitar, and it gives the same kind of satisfaction of playing music, albeit simulated. Allow me to make it clear: playing Guitar Hero simulates the experience of playing the real guitar about as much as playing the game Mario Kart simulates the experience of actually driving a Formula 1 race car. That is, not at all. Every time I read such statements I had to go back to the book jacket, and re-read Dr. Marcus' biographical sketch to remind myself I am reading a book by a credible psychology professor, and not a grade 11 teenager. Other stumbles are a-plenty, such he declaring Pat Martino as "the undisputed master" of the guitar fretboard theory... which I wonder was added as part of the book edits after Pat Martino wrote the positive testimonial on the book back cover, or before. And let's not forget about the Moog Guitar, which Dr. Marcus considers a revolutionary re-invention of the guitar that solves "the problem" and "weakness" of guitar not having "true sustain", and gives it the an ability to have the "same expressive range [and] power" as the saxophone and violin. I'm glad the author included that last piece of grand wisdom at the end of the book, or otherwise I would have burned the book if I saw in the first chapter. Ignoring the fact that electric guitars have been able to produce the sustain anyone needs for decades, what makes a guitar the noble instrument that it is in fact its very characteristic of rapid note decay, which offers a clarity in production of chords and percussive timbre quality that other instruments simply cannot produce.
My eyes now hurt from all the rolling.