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 Old Dog?  You CAN Learn New Licks…Here’s Proof!

By Shlomo Maital

 Dr. Gary Marcus with “Rush Hour” band


 Professors have the privilege of a sabbatical year, with pay; they go off to another university and think.  It’s a conventional way to come up with unconventional ideas. Here’s how one professor, a psychologist, did it differently – and what we all can learn from him.

  He is Dr. Gary Marcus, NYU, and his specialty is cognitive psychology (language acquisition).  He happens to be very ‘un-musical’ (kicked out of 5th grade recorder class for massive incompetence).  So – he decided to use his sabbatical to become “a nearly listenable guitarist”.  He documents his experience in his book Guitar Zero, and is interviewed in the APA Monitor (April 2012, p. 26).   His goal was to see whether old ‘dogs’ can learn new (musical) licks.  Guess what?  They can! 

   Here is the message of his book: “so many other people harbor secret dreams. [My] book says, adults can learn to do new things that they may have thought were outside their reach and get a lot of satisfaction out of it. I’m not ever going to be Jimi Hendrix, but I am at the point where I can jam with people and still have a really good time.” 

   Marcus is shown in the photo with the members of Rush Hour, three 11-year-old musicians who formed a rock band.  The photo was taken at a Baltimore band camp.  Marcus says that his years of listening to music helped him do the arrangements for the band.  

  How come kids are better than adults at learning new skills?  Marcus says it’s all about “motivation” and “persistence”.  We adults know more. But kids are more stubborn. When they want to learn something, they just do it.  We adults assume we can’t, or try and just give up when the going gets tough.

  Thanks, Gary!  You’re an inspiration. All us old guys and gals are going to go out and try new stuff, learn new languages, and try new ‘licks’.   And we’re going to stick to it until we succeed. 

     I think I might try to learn how to write a novel.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
April 2012