Guitar Zero is my story, about how I began to play guitar as I approached my 40th birthday, but my story is hardly the only one. Below are some inspirational stories and helpful tips about learning as an adult that I've heard from my readers. If you'd like to contribute a story or tip of your own, click here.

-- Gary Marcus, January 2012

Hi, Gary,

Thank you for your insightful and entertaining book. I am a music teacher in Pasadena CA and also an informal student of the workings of the brain. Your book gave me some new hooks for my teaching and another stone in the foundation for the patience teaching beginners requires of me on a daily basis. Good luck with your guitar studies! My husband has recently taken up the uke at 60 years of age, and I have enjoyed listening to and watching him find delight in music making for the first time in his own life!

Best wishes,
Pasadena, CA

Gary thank-you for your book. I spent my 40's learning drums, my 50's project is guitar. I'm one year into it and it's going very well. What keeps me going is the pure joy that comes with playing music and learning things you once thought were too difficult. I think your book is important and significant and will inspire many of my generation to reinvent themselves through guitar or any other meaningful way we dream up. Anyone want to jam?

Andrew Ottawa, Canada

Enjoyed your interview with Michael Krasny. I started an orchestra on the Peninsula called TACO, the Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra, for adults who wanted a place to play classical music without the pressures of performance and perfectionism, that typically are a wall against adults who don't feel they have what it takes. We have a range of ages, from 14 to 90, mostly 20 to 70 year olds who want a place to play together. We have several beginners who decided to learn flute or violin or whatever in their older middle years. We have people who hadn't played since their youth and love having a place to play together and others who do play regularly in performing community groups, but enjoy our monthly gatherings because it's just pure fun. I think it's possible for adults to learn an instrument and they need accepting venues to make it possible and fun for them. Within the classical music world these are hard to find, but there is a movemen t afoot, starting with the RTO of Scotland 15 years ago, and popping up all over the US, of these "terrible" orchestras (RTOOT, RTO-PA, RTSO, and our TACO!) which are giving adults a place to enjoy making music for the joy and satisfaction it brings to our lives.

Bay Area, CA

I started learning guitar at age 49 it was one of my New Year Res. It's been 5 years since I started and today I have the same passion for it as when I started.

Cant wait to read your book.

Mike Ethridge, via Facebook

Thank you for the article in the Wall Street Journal. I am a volunteer at the Braille Institute in Rancho Mirage CA and I am teaching a piano keyboard class to visually impaired and blind adults. I read your article to them and it has inspired them to practice!--my biggest challenge in teaching.
I am also starting to use your practice techniques to make practice a fun experience. My students wish they were only 38, but they do have a track record of learning new things at Braille Inst. Hope your book is a great success.

Elaine, Palm Springs, CA

At almost 54, not that it is a competition, I have you beat in the old dogs department. I have been trying to learn the guitar since February 2007.

I was up this morning and was practicing for about an hour, then came downstairs to read your article. I came across your article and read it with enthusiasm, I'm not the only one!

I take weekly lessons with a patient instructor, and I am hopeful, with a lot of hard work, for a productive 2012.

Your article is an inspiration to me; I've framed it and hang it in my music room (our second bedroom) and look at it as a reminder.

Ron R., Chicago

Just read [your story]. FYI, I picked up the mandolin last February at the advanced age of 55. It's going well. I am performing regularly at Hospice homes. My guitar playing partner is around 70 and started playing 6 years ago. Neither of us is playing like a professional but our crowds like us. The music seemed to come pretty easy. I tend to think that kids learn faster when they don't know something is hard. Same goes for adults.

-- Lynne, Scottsdale, AZ

I took up guitar late in life as well (relatively) I am 63 now and still learning new instruments. I am learning country guitar (Telecaster) now. Bottom line is to have fun!!!
(I started Electric Guitar when I was 37)

- JS, New Haven

I enjoyed your piece last weekend in the WSJ. It resonated with me since I'm a 71 year old woman who started drum kit lessons almost 3 years ago. I guess I can't expect to live long enough to put in the 10,000 hours of practice which seem to be required as my husband prefers that I limit my "Noise" to one hour/day. However, my mother lived to 103 so perhaps there's more hope than one might expect!?

Good luck with your guitar and do enjoy it!

- Cindy B, Pittsburgh, PA

I read your [guitar tips] article with great interest -- seems as though I qualify as an old dog who is learning new tricks.

For my 60th birthday four years ago, my husband had a beautiful mandolin made for me -- no, I did not play mandolin. My musical background includes piano lessons, high school and church choirs and taking one of my children through Suzuki violin lessons (parents learn some basics). I really could not play a mandolin, nor was skilled in any music.

I began by sitting in with our local Banjo Club, membership largely retirees; I sat in the back where no one could hear me. After about a year, I began attending gigs as well.

About that time, I learned of the 10,000 hours rule and thought, "I still have time to get in 10,000 hours or 10 years." So I began tracking my practice minutes.

One of the club members recommended a teacher who agreed to take me as student, a young Bradley University graduate with a music degree who supports himself through gigs and private lessons, playing fretted instruments of all kinds. He's quite skilled and has been really patient. He seems to be quite interested in how things work, including how people learn.

Once I began tracking my practice minutes, a strange thing happened: they more than doubled. My daily minutes-practiced average for 2011 is 230.79.

I am completely hooked. I had to stop thinking of music as something which involved "talent" rather than learning; and I had to stop being afraid of how bad I sounded.

At my lesson tomorrow, I will be playing from memory something I've been working on for about two months, Bach's Partita III E Major, prelude. It will be the first time my teacher will have heard me play it, though he knows I'm working on it. I expect to work on polishing it for at least two years.

I'm also going to take him a copy of your "Guitar Tricks for a Middle-Aged Dog" article.

Susan, Central Illinois

I was a guitar instructor many years ago and experienced teaching older students. I've always maintained that it wasn't age, shorter fingers, or much-less-flexible bones that prevents one from learning the guitar, something those students almost always came in with. I would end up spending a lot of time helping them undo pre-conceived ideas about learning the guitar. 

-- Emon Hassan, founder of

A friend knew that i wanted a piano and she gave me her upright piano after buying a baby grand. So I decided at 58 years old to start taking lessons and found a wonderful young teacher that shows a lot of patience. 

I set a goal with him to be able to play a christmas song christmas eve for my family - I am a mom of two adult children. After two lessons and some practice I was able to play my chirstmas song and my kids were so delighted. Of course it was an easy piece but I did it.

Now I need to set another goal - learn to play a Beatles song for my husband - that will take some time and a lot of practice.

When meeting my teacher for the first time I asked him if he thought he could teach an old dog new tricks. He said certainly - my goal is not become a concert pianist - just a person who can tickle the ivory's. Having fun and laughing while playing.

Jan B, San Jose, CA

I saw your article in the WSJ. I am 76 years old and just learning how to play the guitar. Your observations are certainly to the point, especially rhythm. I have been working with an acoustic guitar. My greatest joy is playing the music I like when I like it. I'm not sure I'll last the 10,000 hours but the journey may be more satisfying than the goal itself. Looking forward to your new book.

Art Pancook, Broken Arrow, Oklahomal

Read your WSJ article with interest.  I too struggled 15 years ago at age 56.  I can certainly relate to your disciplined approach.  It's amazing to me that so many smart people try and fail.  I enjoy relating my journey to others - very similar to yours.  I will point out several  things slightly different that worked for me.  

I took the plunge with a used Epiphone acoustic and a free lesson.  I was determined to learn some of the Eagles classics. I worked hard with lessons and practice for a year (Mel Bays Guitar Lesson 1). Then I joined our Praise Band at our local church.

What a lesson in humility! . . . Trying to play with experienced musicians.  But that's how I learned my rhythm skills.  Things just kind of fell into place after that, with several other instructors.   It's also helpful and so enjoyable to jam with other guitarists.  You really have to play to get better . . . Much like golf!

I'll look forward to reading your book and sharing experiences.

John K., Scottsdale, AZl

Your piece in
the WSJ resonated with me. I tried playing guitar when I was a teenager and became good enough for a less than average punk rock band. 30+ years later I embarked on my second pursuit of a life long dream: being able to pick up a guitar and play "anything". Its been a struggle but slowly I am getting there.

Short end of the story: you can count on me as being amongst the first buyers of your book when it becomes available

Jay , San Francisco

I've been teaching adult beginners for almost 40 years. I love working with beginners because I am in the presence of courage on a daily basis. I would like to remind beginning musicians that they DO have rhythm. Everyone does. If you are alive, your heart beats! Go for a walk. Notice that you walk rhythmically, especially if you've got space to really move. Go outside (maybe someplace where nobody knows you) and trying singing as you walk. Play air guitar as you go. Folks on my alley have gotten used to me & my students out walking, turning a song into a little traveling dance, with stomps and tip toes, arm in arm, singing loudly and laughing all the way. Bless you, have FUN! And keep going

Flip Breskin, Bellingham, WA,

I called in to your terrific [WNYC] interview today. Really looking forward to reading the book. Our group is NYLSO (New York Late-Starters String Orchestra). Lots of info about how we started, our philosophy, etc. is on our Website ( We have been operating our string orchestra for 5 years now and have about 30 regular members who get together for 2 hours every Sunday in midtown for rehearsal. We actually started when [my co-director] and I met at music camp in the UK, and found ourselves to be two of the only Americans as well as the youngest players by far (and we were already in our 30s at the time). Our members are beginner to advanced intermediate players, and as I said some are returning to music and others never played strings until they picked them up as adults. Most of our members are in the middle age range, but we have members from their 20's to 80's, which also makes it an amazing opportunity for multigenerational socialization. No pressure, no auditions, no talent even required; we tell folks to just bring their instruments and their sense of humorStrings are even more challenging than guitar because there are no frets, but I've found both have enriched my life immeasurably.

Andrea Lockett, NYC

Just finished hearing the interview on WNYC. I'm 41, started taking drumming lessons a couple of months ago. I wanted to learn since I was 15. It took me two years to call a music teacher. The teacher told me: let's start next week. That freaked me out. I'm very happy I made that call. I love drumming. It can get frustrating but I love everything about it. Good luck with your book.

Ana, NYC

When I was 64, I was strolling through a Mexican street market. A little voice in my head said "Buy a guitar!" I did what the voices told me. Today, I play for hospice patients and in other venues. After 6 years, I continue to learn new music and techniques every day. Age doesn't seem to have affected my ability to learn. For one thing, I have so much more time now, as a retiree. For another, I just love learning things, new songs, new ways to play. You are never too old to learn. Plus, it's good for arthritic fingers!

Mary, Sun City, AZ

I've been a music teacher (electric bass) for about 20 years and I just heard your story on NPR and really enjoyed it. I plan on reading your book soon to get your thoughts. One thing I would also tell a new adult student is to allow yourself mistakes. Kids aren't afraid to try new things and not worry about mistakes whereas adults tend to be much more cautious, almost afraid. I tell students "don't worry if you play a note that doesn't sound good, the world won't blow up". That "bad" note is one that you'll remember doesn't sound good and you'll avoid it.

If I can mention them, two great books that have had an impact on me: The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin and The Inner Game of Music (based on The Inner Game of Tennis) by Barry Green.

-- Shawn, via email

I'm listening to you on NPR, fascinated. I'm a cognitive educational psychologist, and my students routinely ask me the same questions that you're answering in this interview ("how important is innate musical ability?"). I read Kluge when it came out, and I'm really looking forward to reading "Guitar Zero".

I've been plinking around on guitar since the 1970s, and when I hit 50 last year, decided that it was time I got serious. Last August I spent a weekend studying with Jorma Kaukonen at the Fur Peace Ranch, which was a godsend. I've learned to play, finally, and in the process, learned a lot about my own learning. Ten years ago I decided to spend my first sabbatical becoming fluent in French, did immersion classes in Provence, and had a similar leap forward in my understanding of adult learning. I can think of nothing more interesting.

The most impressive thing I've seen related to age and learning was on my third French immersion trip to Provence, when one of my schoolmates was a 90 year old German gentleman who had decided to begin learning French. I hope I'm still up to beginning the learning process about something at that age.

I had a great ego boost about my guitar playing a couple of weeks ago, when I went to a concert by a guy who has been playing around here for over 40 years. I'd met the guy earlier at a musical get-together, so I went up to say hello, and he asked me if I'd give him some guitar lessons". So at age 51, I'm giving my first guitar lesson on Wednesday.

-- Paul, Milwaukee

I am a 70 year old veterinarian about ready to retire. But, due to some spark that I didn't know was in me, I was inspired to take up the guitar again after many years of absence. Now, I mean it. I don't know if I'll live to see 10,000 hours. But, I I know I have to learn the fretboard. I try cages, scales, pentatonics, et al. 

Somehow, I am now inspired and since I have no others to attend to, I will put in 50 hours a week on the guitar. I am determined to improve.

Your book was very encouraging even though you are a youngster compared to me :)

Can I do it?

I think I can!

-- Molly, Brooklyn, NY

My 76-year-old father visited me this weekend; he learned the guitar late in life, and just told me that he is starting a band with his friends called The Three Grandfathers. I gave him your book, of course ;-)

My dad and his friends made it an item on heir "bucket list" to record an album for their grandchildren!

Annie, New Haven, CT

Gary Marcus’s latest book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and The Science of Learning, will be published by The Penguin Press on January 23, 2012.