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Striking Wet Matches
on June 10, 2013
I wanted to like this book; I wanted to learn from this book. Gary Marcus is an obviously talented research psychologist (and I say this, knowing much about the field through my personal studies). He's detailed, almost obsessive, in finding connections to previous research about humans and music. But the book is often dull, and Mr. Marcus' insights on research and the pragmatics of learning music are rarely inspired. Though he excuses his lack of competence, referring to his lack of native ability and neglect of practice, his main fault, in the book and, perhaps, in his study of music, is his egotism. And yet researchers don't speculate much, but that is something that kills this book.
Perhaps it's filler, but Marcus' unfortunate description of the difficulties in music begin in a chart early in the book (page 41) where he details the location of individual notes, strings, and frets. Most any adult could tell you that rote learning of the exact positions of notes is painful and rarely successful. Patterns make up our language of learning, whether it's music or language, or... whatever. You wonder what he was thinking. Marcus also frequently refers to his lack of rhythm, but it is one of the few things not detailed, tutored, or analyzed, despite the relentless effort to find out what music "is". No teacher has been quoted who critiqued his rhythm, or suggested a remedy, but he proposed it as a major block in his progress.
TMI. Mr. Marcus would do well to forget research and just BE. If he wants a substantial topic of research for the rest of his career, it's not music, but how one can over-analyze any task to inhibit real learning.