The Laws of Brainjo

 Josh Turknett

In The Laws of Brainjo neurologist, and banjo player, Josh Turknett, MD does a phenomenal job busting a few myths about learning how to play music.  The first myth is that “natural talent” exists.  The second myth is the notion that the older you are, the harder it is to learn a new skill.   The contention in this book is that anyone can learn how to play music no matter what age you start.   While you are trying to process those concepts, here is another myth that is torn to shreads:  The more time you practice, the better you will become.  Not necessarily true according to Turknett.

Josh Turknett is a guy who has spent his life studying how the brain works.  He has used this information to develop a neuroscience-based system of instruction for musicians.  His book explains why some people advance rapidly when learning a new skill and why others plod along slowly, get frustrated, hit plateaus and possibly give up.  He shows that results have nothing to do with natural talent, age, or the number of practice hours.

What Turknett explains is that those people who we might consider “talented” or “gifted” are not born that way.  They develop their skill because they have learned how to practice deliberately, intelligently, effectively and efficiently.  They also have the ability to keenly focus and pay close attention, and they are not afraid to continually push themselves forward by stepping outside of their comfort zone.  Thus, their progress is rapid.  

This myth-busting book is very easy to read and understand.  Although Turknett is a neurologist, he presents his concepts and ideas in layman’s terms.  Easy to understand is nice, but the best thing about his book is that Turknett doesn’t just provide you with theory, he also gives you a clear, practical and easily applied method—a “how to.”  He lays out very specific things that you can do every day that will help you learn faster and become a better musician.  The additional good news for readers of this magazine is that he does this in the context of learning how to play the banjo, which easily carries over to other traditional stringed instruments.  

I have written many books about how to play the guitar, have taught hundreds of students, and for 20 years I published an instructional music magazine (Flatpicking Guitar Magazine).  In the presentation of my instructional material, I have expressed much of the same information and ideas that can be found in Turknett’s book.  I discovered this information through my own learning and teaching experience, by interviewing hundreds of guitar players and teachers, and by reading books like Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, Sian Beilock’s Choke, Barry Green and W. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Music, Kenny Werner’s Effortless Mastery, Stephen Nachmanovitch’s Free Play, Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning, Jonathan Harnum’s The Practice of Practice, and many others.  I have a whole bookshelf full of books about learning to play music.  I have been fascinated with this topic my entire adult life.

I have said that, so that I can say this:  The Laws of Brainjo is the best explanation of the theory of skill building and the best presentation of a well-organized, practical method that can help the reader develop into a better musician than anything else I have ever encountered.  This is a book that I will be recommending to all of my students and I highly recommend this book to anyone who is learning how to play any instrument, no matter what skill level you have currently attained.  Independent of where you are in your musical journey, this book will help you get to the next level.

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