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Neuroscientist turned guitarist learns new licks late in life

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Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Most adults who are already steeped in their lives and careers might argue that it’s unlikely. Perhaps people feel set in their ways, or that they can’t pick up on ideas and skills as easily and quickly as they did in their younger years.

But for those optimists who dream of developing a new talent or trying for a new job, New York University professor and author Gary Marcus has some good news.

In “GUITAR ZERO: The New Musician and the Science of Learning,” 38-year-old Marcus attempts to learn the guitar. Part memoir and part scientific knowledge, Marcus discovers that the brain goes through the same processes whether you’re a child or nearing 40.

In fact, Marcus, who never played the guitar, enrolled in a music camp where he was the only adult student and was pleasantly surprised to find that he was not put to shame by the younger musicians. Not only that, he eventually went on to become a performing musician.

What research did Marcus compile while documenting his efforts? Is it possible for everyone to have the same success that he does? If people can do new things, then why don’t they? How does the brain accommodate such new information?


Gary Marcus , author of “GUITAR ZERO: The New Musician and the Science of Learning,” Professor of Psychology at New York University, director of the NYU Center for Child Language, editor of “The Norton Psychology Reader”