Think you've gotta be 14 and full of hormones to learn guitar? Nope, says NYU psychology professor Gary Marcus. Nearing the big 4-0, Marcus enjoyed sparring with his wife on Guitar Hero so much he got the itch to learn to play the instrument, happily unencumbered by what he describes as âan obvious lack of talent.â
His book, Guitar Zero, chronicles middle-aged ax grinding and the "science" of the brain's ability to learn an instrument. Zero has the support of men too old for such childish things: Quadragenarian Portland bands Tabor Graph and Steer Crazy will rock out with him at Powell's.
WW: How 'bout them calluses?
Gary Marcus: At first, I was really annoyed, and even feared losing sensation in my fingers. But after a few weeks they became less of a burden.
Did you have the desire to write your own music or cover songs?
I'm totally about making my own music. Early on, I discovered that if you want to make up music, if you know the pentatonic scale, you can let that be a playground.
What's the brain's role in learning to play?
Playing the guitar is an astonishing skill. It requires the physical dexterity of an athlete, the memory of a chess player, the ability to work fast without making mistakes. Playing music requires activation of your entire brain. One might imagine a particular, small part of the mind that is the "music center," but it doesn't work that way. You need many parts of the brain to essentially rewire themselves.
Is gaming a good foundation for learning to play guitar?
Guitar Hero, in particular, is helpful. Video games help with hand-eye coordination, which translates to the ability to play guitar without watching your fingers. Rock Band III has an option to play with a real guitar, but there's room for more tutorial games to be developed.
Do you have groupies yet?
A 71-year-old lady drummer wrote to say she wasn't sure if she'd rack up the 10,000 hours [of practice required to learn an instrument, according to one theory] because her husband only lets her make the noise an hour a day.
GO: Gary Marcus will appear at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 26. Free.
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