The Acoustic Guitar Project Gives Songwriters Worldwide a Guitar and One Week to Write a Song

The White Stripes’ song “Little Room” is all about re-connecting with the space of creativity within you—the “little room” where emotions become ideas—when you’re feeling overwhelmed (by success? Or maybe just kids, bills and the IRS). Their garage-rock ditty is a nice marriage of form and content, the lyrical simplicity enacts the mental paring down Jack White recommends. No telling how often White goes to his “little room,” but he’s such a wellspring of songwriting ideas, solo and in a constellation of side projects, that I’d guess it’s pretty often. As a songwriter myself, I have found White’s advice utterly unimpeachable (which must be why I dutifully ignore it so often).

But the little room isn’t just a comforting place in the head, like Happy Gilmore’s happy place. It’s also a physical space—differently arranged for artists of different media. For the singer/songwriter, it’s generally a familiar, secluded place where you can put all of your focus on a guitar, a notepad, and a recording device (the simpler the better). That’s the space conjured up by The Acoustic Guitar Project, “created to help musicians reconnect to the original moment that inspired them to be singer-songwriters.” Conceived in April, 2012, the project’s stated mission is threefold:

  • Inspire artists to take action.
  • Tell stories from a truthful, meaningful point of view.
  • Strive to give people something to believe in.

If these goals sound a little too vague and pollyannaish to communicate much, listen to the wonderful simplicity of The Acoustic Guitar Project’s premise: 1) the project selects a musician, and provides him or her with an acoustic guitar and a handheld recorder. 2) the musician must produce an original song within one week, using only the equipment provided. 3) the musician, once finished, chooses the next musician for the project, and, I suppose, “pays it forward.”

It’s a really neat idea, and you can see the results on the site, which features over forty singer/songwriters so far who have been passed the guitar. Each musician has their own page with a profile, photo, and the audio and lyrics of their song. The first three stages of the project took place in New York City, Helsinki, Finland, and Bogota, Columbia, respectively, and the fourth stage moves to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Joel Waldman of Bogota is one of these brave troubadours. You can see him perform his song, “Como Una Llama” (Like a Flame) live above. (See Joel’s page for the lyrics to his song, in both Spanish and English.)  In the video below, Joel very thoughtfully discusses the feeling of writing a song—a process, he says, of combining information and inspiration.

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Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

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