Evidence-Based Guitar Lessons

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gary Marcus, professor of psychology and the director of the NYU Center for Language and Music and author of Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, talks about how his day job as a scientist informed his efforts to learn the guitar at 40.  Have you learned a new language or musical instrument as an adult?

Event: What Does it Take to Become Musical? with special guests, Terre Roche of The Roches and Afro-Jersey. January 19, 2012, 7pm, 19 West 4th St Room 101, New York, NY 10003.


Gary Marcus

Comments [22]

Pordy from NJ

Great segment... but let's be clear- Gary Marcus wanders in the genius category! No surprise that he was able to pick it up...

Jan. 20 2012 01:53 AM

I learned German and Italian and am at various competent levels at reading, speaking, and writing them. I self-taught Italian and learned German in a classroom. For example, my German grammar is WAY better than my speaking. I am NOT fluent, but that is because I have always needed that immersion experience of being in the country or around those who are already fluent. Language learning has always been easy for me (I have a very good ear), but I just haven't put in the time or have had the need to become fluent. I've always felt it is about determination, confidence, lack of self-consciousness, ambition, etc., i.e. just doing it.

Jan. 19 2012 11:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Oliver Sacks says in his book "Musicophilia" that music lights up more brain areas on MRI than anything else the mind does! That's probably related to genetics.

Jan. 19 2012 11:58 AM
phyllis d from Brooklyn

I grew up playing the piano. Then didn't for a very long time. I started taking Jazz improv classes. Learned theory i was not taught as a child and play daily in a liberating way. I also went back to college at 55 just to play on a tennis team. That was amazing. As a result I learned French and drumming. I had to take 12 units in order to be on the team. Then I took a Get your Chops back snare drum class. Life is far more interesting. Oh...a quick aside. We won our division in tennis and I had 4.0 and became a scholar athlete.

Jan. 19 2012 11:57 AM
miyuki from bronx

i started taking suzuki method violin lessons as 35years old and as 40yrs old still taking. i practice bach these days and having great fun. as i learned piano very young (and hated it then), with violin, dealing with only a few notes at a same time as opposed to as many as 10 on piano, is extremely easier for me, and as more self-motivated i am, contrary to what it was with piano, i am making progress really fast, which surprises my teacher.

Jan. 19 2012 11:57 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Jimmy Hendrix? Ha! you call him a guitarist? Try CHET ATKINS if you want to talk about true guitar.

Jan. 19 2012 11:56 AM
Max from Manhattan

I really like this subject as helped found an Independent Study program at the Rockland Country Day School 3 years ago. The whole goal of the program is to make life long learners and I , as the advisor of the program, must learn new things every day. Last week I received lessons in longboarding and html5. I think setting benchmarks and acheivable goals constantly , along with reflecting on one's progress has meant more to my students and me over anything elsr.

Jan. 19 2012 11:56 AM

I started ballet lessons at age 40 and I am now 52. Those lessons have enriched my life incredibly and made me more fit than ever, but I will never be able to dance in the same way as my piers who had ballet training as kids. The way they hold themselves is something that was taught to them very early and is seemingly impossible for us older folks to grasp. I still love it though!

Jan. 19 2012 11:55 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn the basics, but one of the most difficult to be really good. I mean really good. Anyone can learn to play some chords and pick a few notes, but becoming a really accomplished say classical guitarist is a whole 'nother thing altogether.

Jan. 19 2012 11:54 AM
Alison from Brooklyn

I have heard that learning new things is great for couples to do together, later in life - even that the part of the brain that is stimulated in learning new things is related to the part of the brain that is stimulated when you fall in love.

Jan. 19 2012 11:53 AM
Ellen from NJ

One of my most proud achievements as an adult is learning how to swim in my late 30's. I went from not knowing the freestyle at all to now being able to swim 80 laps in my Master's class once a week. Thanks to patience and a few great teachers, I learned a great new skill as an adult.

Jan. 19 2012 11:53 AM
Susan Burger from Upper West SIde

Oh I love this. I've been trying to learn Martial Arts starting at age 51 and have slowly eeked my way up to a high brown belt. When I started I could barely kick above knee level. Last night I just nailed a 20 something who was playing too rough in our sparring matches. Instead of the 25% force we are supposed to use, she was using %75. I managed to stop her with a side kick to the chest that slowed her down -- even though she has the advantage of youth and fast reflexes. I am by no means good at Martial Arts, but I certainly have learned quite a bit. Even though this is about music, it is giving me hope.

I also want to learn how to program iPhone aps because there are so many really bad aps in my field. I used to program in Fortran and Basic before personal computers. Maybe I really can do this.

And since I used to play piano and my son is now learning guitar -- perhaps I could pick it up.

Jan. 19 2012 11:53 AM

Adults learn languages much more rapidly, children pick up accents, but not the grammar.

Jan. 19 2012 11:52 AM
eli from astoria NY

as a professional guitar teacher for the last 10 years or so, and having taught ages 8-50+ i can say the primary variable is not is attention span, patience, and steady concentrated work over time. the main reason adults do not succeed at learning the guitar (and i would assume other instruments) is that they do not have the time/energy on a daily basis.

Jan. 19 2012 11:52 AM
Ed Jankiewicz

Life-long musician, guitar and other fretted instruments, I took up the double bass a couple years ago so I could play in an orchestra. It really is harder to learn at age 53 than 33 or 13. But I keep at it, and there is a great advantage to already knowing the basics of music theory, rhythm and pitch. A lot of transferable skill.

In my profession (software engineering) I am constantly learning new things, and that same kind of transference is at work. Learning the second operating system or programming language is harder than learning the first, but by the 4th or 5th round it gets to be a matter of only needing to know the quirks.

Ed J.

Jan. 19 2012 11:52 AM
Elaine from Baltimore MD

baldershash and horsefeathers.... never too late to learn anything if the will is there! I had piano lessons from 8 years old until 18. Then life happened... college, marriage, kids, career, and then at 53 I started piano lessons again. It's NEVER too late to learn (or relearn) new skills! I continue to learn computer animation and my husband put out an original CD when he was 49. I'm sure this helps our brain health too!

Jan. 19 2012 11:52 AM
tony from bayside

I am a graphic designer but now, I am learning programming! I went to art school cause I thought programming would be impossible but i guess with all the online resources (, and it's possible!

alert("you can do it!");

Jan. 19 2012 11:49 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I'm 65 now, but taught myself basic guitar when I was 12 years old, but what I find impossible for older people to learn, or want to learn, is how to play video games. Ask your guest why older folks won't touch an Xbox 360 controller?

Jan. 19 2012 11:49 AM
Sharon from UWS

Not to get all Oprah on you, but once a guest on her show said "taking a class as an adult gives you the same amount of happiness as it does if you were to double your salary."

I'm taking hand-sewing FIT with inspiring instructor Patti Barbosa who has proudly just turned 70.

Take classes people! Just do it.

Jan. 19 2012 11:49 AM

I often start new hobbies, most of which require learning new technical skills, which is usually not a problem. Since 3 years now, I've been learning Japanese --- it's tough! Why does one's ability to learn a language decrease with age, yet it seems one's ability to learn new technical skills does not. (Or at least not so fast.)

Jan. 19 2012 11:49 AM
carolita from nyc

I'm taking banjo lessons! Started at age 45! I can play a little bluegrass, old timey, and a little Dock Boggs!

Jan. 19 2012 11:48 AM

The ability for adults to learn is vastly underrated. Now with the globalized economy and so many people having to be retrained I think researchers need to start producing knowledge that breaks down the old beliefs about this.

Jan. 19 2012 11:46 AM

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