No list of contemporary finger style guitarists would be complete without Andy Mckee. While perhaps recognised by casual listeners for his mind-blowing cover songs, Mckee’s original compositions are a complex force of finger style madness- many of which have arguably redefined what it means to be an acoustic guitarist.
So without further ado, let’s get into a few of the reasons why I believe Andy Mckee is easily one of the best guitarists on the contemporary acoustic guitar scene.
A cover like no other
The simple fact is: most mainstream music listeners will be more likely to discover a finger style guitarist if their repertoire contains covers of a few well known songs. Unfortunately, this means that in an attempt to gain more listeners, some players have a tendency to simply replicate the original with little to no thought given towards how they can make their own creative mark on the composition.
This is problematic for a couple of reasons:
1) You don’t get a chance to show off your own unique skill set, and
2) If an audience wanted to hear an exact copy of the original, they’d go and listen to the original.
I’ve highlighted this last point because it’s a really important thing to remember if you ever decide to make a cover. Just imagine if you were an audience member and five guitarists took it in turns to play a cover of the same song, one after the other. Would you remember the four who simply reproduced the original, or the one who dared to change things up a little and make it their own?
Andy Mckee is an expert on making his cover songs unique. Able to draw on a vast set of skills, Mckee isn’t afraid to integrate some of his signature moves into the melodies we know and love, drawing on complex harmonic sequences, two hand techniques and percussive taps to transform each original into an instrumental masterpiece.
Take “Africa” for instance. The chances are that you’ve heard the original track by Toto, yet the way Mckee stuns with such impressive command of his signature two-hand technique makes you almost forget the song belongs to anyone other than him. Watch as he manages to balance the opening riff and main melody on the left hand alongside an impressive right-hand percussive technique:
Elsewhere, in his cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Mckee convincingly transforms his guitar into a one-man orchestra. Take special note of how he uses his thumb to produce an ongoing bass pattern, whilst simultaneously utilising a percussive slap of the strings as a backbeat:
A Pioneer of the Two-Hand Technique
I mentioned Mckee’s use of the two-hand technique during my quick breakdown of Africa, but there is so much more to be said about this aspect of his playing. The two hand technique I’m discussing involves moving both of your hands independently to create two virtually separate melodic/rhythmic patterns. Generally speaking, you’ll find that the right hand/strumming hand is producing some sort of rhythm- acting as a drum on the body of the guitar. This hand exists to complement the left hand, which will most often be playing the main melody and any relevant harmonic or chordal ideas.
If you’re just starting to develop your finger style technique, then it’s highly likely that you will have never attempted to play your guitar like this before. This is with good reason- because it can be really difficult! Such a technique requires a near-constant attention to coordination and it can become quite confusing when both of your hands are acting in an almost-contrary motion to each other. Simply put, this technique is not for the faint-hearted and usually requires significant time and dedication before you can manage to train both hands to act without confusing the other.
The good news is that Andy Mckee shows us just how great this technique is when you finally get the hang of it. By now you’ve already watched Africa, so you know that Mckee is fully capable of playing a right-hand drum beat without losing focus on the melody his left hand is producing. But just how far can he take this skill?
Look no further than Drifting. This is arguably one of Mckee’s most well-known original pieces among guitarists (though I’m sure there are many more worthy of that title). Distinguishable for its unique dependence on the two hand technique, Drifting rarely sees Mckee strum or pluck near the body of the guitar. Instead, this composition is a seamless combination of fingerboard tapping, percussive taps, two-finger taps and fingerboard plucking which is both impressive to watch and enjoyable to listen to. If you’re ready for a serious challenge (highly intermediate to advanced players only), you could even pick up one of Mckee’s Drifting tabs and try to learn it! Check it out:
A Talent that Inspires
It goes without saying that Andy Mckee has a command of the guitar that truly is worth aspiring to. For me, the discovery of his music was what led me into the world of acoustic finger style and even now it continues to motivate me to be a better player. I could easily go on about all his other songs and why they’re worth listening to, but instead I’ll just allow you to check out his Youtube channel and discover the rest of the magic that is Andy Mckee’s music for yourself.
Andy Mckee is the ideal role model for many guitarists, so let’s use him as an inspiration- not a reason to quit!
You can also visit McKee’s website for tabs and touring information. However, if you’re looking at learning one of his pieces, it’s important to remember that most songs of this calibre take time to pick up, so don’t expect to be playing it perfectly within the hour. I’ve seen some guitarists struggle with a Mckee piece simply because they aren’t ready to play it yet. If you find that you’re not quite at the right skill level, don’t be discouraged. There’s a long pathway between learning the basics of finger style and mastering an Andy Mckee song, so take the time to develop your skills.