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 “an obvious lack of talent.”  

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.

: 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. 

Headout Picks


[FOOD] Crikey! Pacific Pie Co. is throwing a bonza bash for Australia Day. There’ll be snags on the barbie, schooners of true blue piss at the bar, grouse movies on the telly and, of course, dog’s eye with dead horse. Seppos are welcome, but there’ll be discounts for dinky-di Aussies. Bring your cricket bat, you little ripper! Pacific Pie Company, 1520 SE 7th Ave., 381-6157. 11 am-9 pm. Free entry.


[MOVIES] Wim Wenders made angels dance in Berlin in Wings of Desire. Now he makes Pina Bausch’s dancers poke you in the eye! But seriously, we loved it. Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave., 223-4515. Multiple showtimes. $6-$9.
[THEATER] Hand2Mouth Theatre presents an early look at the company’s upcoming show inspired by love and singing duos. The Mouth, Inside Zoomtopia, 810 SE Belmont St., 7 pm Friday-Sunday. $8.


[MOVIES] A showbiz fairy tale with a sting, this British classic by filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is so satanic and dreamy that it inspired many people to become dancers, and others—Brian De Palma, Dario Argento—to make horror movies. 5th Avenue Cinema, 510 SW Hall St., 725-3551. 7 and 9:30 pm. $3.
[BROADWAY] Brown, the composer of Songs for a New World and 13, and Bean, the Beaverton High School grad who originated the role of Elphaba in Wicked, play a concert together in advance of Staged!’s upcoming production of 13. First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., 7:30 pm. $25-$70.


[MUSIC] Last year was a good one for Wolves in the Throne Room. The black-metal band—led by Olympia, Wash.-based brothers Aaron and Nathan Weaver—released one of the most amazing albums of 2011: the terrifying and beautiful full-length Celestial Lineage. Its incredible swirl of blast beats and beehive guitars, augmented by ethereal female vocals and a delicate symphonic touch, brought it to the attention of no less than The New Yorker, which featured the band prominently in its assessment of American black metal. Branx, 320 SE 2nd Ave., 234-5683. 10 pm. $11 advance, $13 day of show. All ages.