Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology at NYU, an MIT graduate and a juggler, unicyclist and photographer. A few years ago he set out to conquer one field that had eluded him his whole life: music. “I had no musical talent whatsoever,” he described to me from his office, which sets a few blocks east of Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, “and was at one point gently told to stop taking recorder lessons when I was younger.” With a sabbatical coming up, and a growing interest in whether people could pick up an instrument in their adult life, Marcus did what anyone else would do. He picked up a guitar. Not any guitar though, a Guitar Hero guitar.
As someone who has spent most of high school and college playing this beloved game, this was music to my ears.
His latest book, Guitar Zero, now available, is the culmination of his work as a student of guitar, music enthusiast and researcher of learning. It joins the ranks of some excellent psychology of music books including Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and John Ortiz’ The Tao of Music.
But Guitar Zero is different. Yes, Marcus delves into the academic side of things, but he is also personal. He devotes several chapters to explain his struggles with congenital arrhythmia, learning music theory, playing instruments and he shares wonderful stories from his adventures at Day Jams, “a summer camp where kids ages eight to fifteen learn to play and compose rock and roll,” with his band “Rush Hour.” What comes out is a lighthearted memoir filled with wonderful insights about music and the human mind. Compared to popular psychology books written from the expert’s point of view, Guitar Zero is a refreshing glimpse into the mind of the amateur.
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