Music that Matters – Monday’s Bow (February 20)

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This Monday’s Daily Bow takes a look at music that matters. It’s a simple concept to grasp – music with a greater meaning than simply notes on the page – but it comes in many different forms, and they are not always easily recognizable.

Our first music that matters story focuses around a middle-aged psychologist with a neurological condition that prevents him from successfully learning to play a musical instrument. Despite this, he is determined to make it to the concert stage.

Gary Marcus suffers from what a friend jokingly describes as congenital arrhythmia—the inability, despite many hours of his youth spent practicing and taking lessons, to learn to play a musical instrument. A few years ago Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at New York University, decided at 38 to make one last try when he took up guitar. No surprise: He did not succeed in becoming the next Jimi Hendrix, but managed to acquire a modicum of skill—and went on to describe his experience in Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.

Marcus says his personal experience jibes with current theories in neuroscience that adult brains are plastic—that, in practice, they can learn new skills that scientists once thought had to be acquired during the so-called critical period of prepubescent childhood. Marcus, though, calls into question the conventional wisdom that hard work alone suffices. Raw talent also plays a role, he says—a message that will come as a surprise to many people in an era that lauds “tiger moms” and 10,000-hour apprenticeships. Marcus spoke with Scientific American about music and the brain.

This story is somewhat controversial because the philosophy driving Gary Marcus runs somewhat against what some experts believe – the so-called “10,000 hour rule.” That said, it’s not all about the sheer amount of time, as we’ve heard from experts like Daniel Coyle and Dr. Noa Kageyama.

Sometimes a desire and passion for something can push you to go beyond what is possible. Mr. Marcus may never make it to Carnegie Hall, but the impact that his experiences can have on his life are potentially greater than any single performance.

Check out the full article for an edited transcript of the interview with Mr. Marcus.

Other stories about music that matters:

  • In complete contrast to the story above, Grace Kelly’s story is one of the young prodigy, meeting her 10,000 hours at only the age of 19. But this jazz musician’s story isn’t just about virtuoso performing… read on to learn more about what music means to her and those she performs with.
  • Young student musicians band together for a “practice-a-thon” to help raise money for school orchestra programs.
  • An inside look at the lives of young musicians in a Pit Orchestra highlight the impact they have on a production, and the way in which such an environment shapes not only their musical  experiences, but also their understanding of a team

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