The Guitar Is an Instrument of Democracy

Question: What advice\r\nwould you give to someone learning guitar?

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Josh Ritter: Well, I\r\n think one of the great things about rock 'n' roll and guitar and the \r\nidea of America is that we all have our own unique voices, and I think \r\nthat that’s something that we have very distinctively since we’ve become\r\n a country, that each one of us, our own opinions, are just as important\r\n as the next guy's down the street. And that’s the\r\nsame as guitar.  Guitar is not, like,\r\nan instrument that is stuck in a canon, or stuck in a particular form.  Blues is this continually evolving\r\nthing.  Blues and jazz and rock and country... and\r\n to me, I guess coming out of playing violin, where you had to play\r\nthose things perfectly, you had to play the notes written on the page \r\njust as\r\nthey were written, or you were play wrong.  It was\r\n such a freeing thing.  And I’ve always embraced \r\nthe idea that my own guitar playing\r\nis very distinctively my own, and whether it’s good or not is beside the\r\npoint.  It’s just my own playing\r\nand it evolves, and in some ways it gets better, but it’s always just\r\nmine.  And I always thought that\r\nwas cool. 

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So, I guess my advice in that way is to never—don’t\r\n hold\r\nyourself to whatever is on the page. \r\nAnd I feel that way about whenever you are playing someone else’s\r\n songs;\r\nmake it your own by playing it the way you would.

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Question: What’s the\r\nsecret to successful songwriting?

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Josh Ritter: I\r\nthink it’s not necessarily like the writing the song part, it’s the \r\nwillingness\r\nto like just survive because it’s like, it’s really—to me I don’t know \r\nwhat I’d\r\ndo if I wasn’t doing this.  And I\r\nfeel that it’s perseverance and it’s also self-confidence, and it’s like\r\n very\r\nfew things in my life I have confidence about like I have about\r\nsongwriting.  And that doesn’t mean\r\nthat the song is necessarily good, it means that I think it’s good, and I\r\n feel\r\nlike I’ve come—and I’m willing to let the songs that aren’t very good go\r\n by the\r\nwayside because I know I’ll have a song that I do feel that kind of \r\n"Eureka!"\r\nfeeling about. 

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And so, from what I’ve seen in 10 years of playing \r\nmusic,\r\nit’s a complete mystery to me what somebody else is going to like.  You know, the song that I think is just\r\na great song, or friends of mine who have like a great song, and never \r\nget out\r\nof their bedroom with it.  That has\r\nnever made sense to me.  And also,\r\nyou know, people who come out and are successful that I think, I don’t\r\nunderstand why.  There’s no way to know\r\nthose things.  So, I think that\r\neverybody starts out playing music because they love it and if you’re \r\nlucky you\r\nget the chance to keep on doing it because you love it, but I think that\r\nthat’s... I have no idea why.  It’s a\r\nmystery.

Recorded April 5, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen

Guitar isn’t "stuck in a canon": it lets each musician express a unique voice. Succeeding at it means insisting on that voice with absolute confidence.

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