Is it ever too late to learn to play a musical instrument? Psychology professor Gary Marcus thinks not, and backs up his premise by taking up guitar himself. In his book “Guitar Zero,” Marcus explores the scientific, social and psychological factors instrumental in learning to play.

Gary Marcus, author, professor of psychology at NYU and director of NYU's Center for Language and Music

  • Andy in Santa Clara

    At the age of 65 I still work in high tech, write and am an active photographer. But this year I began taking guitar lessons to challenge my mind in new ways. After 2 months, my calouses are forming and I am beginning to be able to move my fingers from chord to chord. Clapton? Probably not, but it is fun. (I also played recorder in the 4th grade).

  • Mike Simpson

    I attend and work with the Caligornia Coast Music Camp, a non-profit adult acoustic music camp.  we have two separate weeks of adult music instruction and community every year. Hundreds (thousands, even?) of learners from 18 – 85 have learned with true beginners to very accomplished players among the campers.  fins all you need to know at – note the double c’s in the middle.

    Fine show, Dr. Krazny!

  • Hal Barca

    So if the “critical-period theory” debunks the myth of “you cannot teach old dogs new tricks”, then it’s not too late for a 42-year old like me to start playing the violin.

  • BLKasha

    What’s your best advice for parking The Critic?  That mental chattering that keeps saying, You’re not good enough.  You’ll never XYZ.

  • Gil

    Hello,  thanks for the topic.  I am just 50 years old on feb 10,  I have always wanted to lear to play the guitar so about 9 mos ago I bought one.  I tried a dvd whch was just teaching me how to strum,  Then I decided to take lessons from an instructor and I find it much easier.  As an older adult i like to know why things are the way they are and being able to ask questions seems to help me alot.  I dont have any imperical evidence but it seems to me that learning how to play with two hands a foot and my mind at once seems to improve my mental aquity in many areas not just guitar.  Im still not very good but I am enjoying it.


  • Robin

    I started guitar at 43 after surviving cancer. It has taken me 7 years but I’m am slowly improving. My hand now moves to the cords without me actively telling it what to move. I don’t practice a lot and realized I sometimes lose track of the measures which doesn’t happen when I read.

     now am much more empathy with my kids learning new things. Training yourself to do something new takes time…and we’re lucky to have it. Special thanks to my patient guitar teacher Lisa!

  • Ryan

    There’s never been a better time to learn a musical instrument as an adult.  Want to learn to play a song?  Go on youtube and google how to play “name of song” on the “name of instrument”  and there’s probably a tutorial.  I’m learning to play song on the piano this way after hating childhood piano lessons.  

  • David McCall

    He’s exactly right on all points about teachers, my 1st guitar teacher told me after 2 weeks, that I was really fitted for learning music theory as well as guitar, and that’s is what the next 6 months was about!!!

  • Timothy Lynch

    I started singing at 43, and also dabbling with piano and guitar.  Now I’m 45 and, as well as taking vocal lessons, sing at church and a barbershop chorus and have tried an open mic session at Savanna Jazz here in S.F.

    It’s definitely challenging learning as an adult.  Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like I’m starting from scratch since I’ve always sung in the shower, in the car, etc.  The revelation to me is the the passion and joy that music has brought into my life.

  • Mike880

    I started playing Irish Traditional Music several years ago and have been taking small steps as you noted in your presentation. Starting by playing tunes with others at a slow pace and gradually building up skills and a list of tunes. I’ve supplemented this with immersion ie.  Week Long Concertina Camps with one of the best Irish Concertina Players and teacher. I now play every Saturday at a local bar with a small group of other players. It has been very rewarding and fun.

    Irish Music is a good intro as tunes are short and there is plenty of opprotunity  to play with others in the Bay Area. The community of Irish Music Players is generally very welcoming to those who want to learn the music. 

  • Rachael

    When I was nine I wanted to play the violin more than anything but was told by my school orchestra teacher that I wasn’t “built to play the violin”.  I was devastated.  My husband bought me a violon for my 30th birthday and I have been playing and loving it for four years.

    I have had a similar experience with math.  As a child in school I struggled with math and developed the belief that I was terrible with math.  I went back to school at 31 at city college and worked my way up from pre-algebra to calculus.  I never thought I would be able to do that.

    My adult brain seems more comfortable and more successful with learning than my child brain.  I wonder if that is because my adult life is more calm and stable and therefore my brain is set up for learning as opposed to my childhood which was much more chaotic and stressful.

  • Guest

    Has the speaker evaluated brain fitness software programs? I’d be interested to know whether this software can improve the ability of adults to learn new things?

  • Arash

    Would the concepts in your book help individuals with Dyslexia?

  • Tom

    Dear Michael,

    It’s “oo”kulele, not “you”kulele.

  • Alf

    This guy is very interesting.

    And, here’s that Shenk show:

  • Kent

    I learned guitar first when I was about 18 yrs old, decades ago. I’m planning to take it up again, but things have changed for people just taking it up . . .

    When I learned songs, I had to get them off LPs, by lifting the needle back to the beginning – over and over. It was arduous.
    For new learners, virtually ALL the tablature is out there on the web, and thus they’ll save a LOT of time.

    Also – can’t underscore enough . . . when you first start guitar, each hand is doing something different, and it seems like you’ll never get it.
    But then you find that if you just keep doing it over and over, it gets into your muscle memory, and you do learn it.

    The first time that happens, you learn for thereafter, that you will finally get it.
    Seems simple but its an important threshold to reach.

  • kbarb

    oops, dbl post – deleting

  • Neil King

    I thought the book was called “Guitar Zero” not “Guitar Hero” according to the interviewer.

  • Cathy

    Gary talked about the importance of the “process” of making music being the reward for older adults, but didn’t really address the fact that within classical music is hard to find venues for that. 

    There is a movement afoot across the country for adults who want to enjoy playing instrumental music together without the pressures of an audition orchestra, just for the fun of it.

    Originating in Scotland with RTO (The Really Terrible Orchestra), they are popping up all over the country. Locally, there is one in Berkeley called the RTSO (Really Terrible String Orchestra) and there is one on the Peninsula called TACO (Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra). It’s a place for adults to enjoy the process of making music together, mostly classical, without the pressures of performance and perfectionism, which is what keeps a whole lot of adults from thinking that they can enjoy playing an instrument, as a musician of beginner or intermediate skills.

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