Like many people across the globe I remember the day I opened an email to find Andy McKee’s ‘Drifting’ video. For those of you who haven’t seen it (do you live under a rock?) this tune contains percussive techniques (aka hitting your guitar).
Now, my reaction at the time was something along the lines of ‘why is he doing that?’ ‘Whats the point?’ ‘You need to get yourself a drummer mate?’….(sorry Andy!)
If you hadn’t guessed, my opinion on Andy McKee’s ‘Drifting’ changed – in fact my outlook on music changed. I am in fact a fan of Mr McKee – the man is a musical marvel, one of the world's awesome musicians and an inspiration to me and players across the globe – he is most certainly very very musical! All hail Andy!
Since then I have carved a career which, in reality, owes thanks to percussive techniques. Many of my compositions contain percussive techniques; I wrote a book and DVD on the subject, as well as two apps, a regular article for Acoustic Magazine, and a video series for GuitarInstructor.com, all influenced by percussive playing and more. I'm sure a large proportion of my bookings, especially at the start of my career, have come from using this approach. And in the end, I have now found myself on the receiving end of the same idiotic attitude that I once had…
I’ve seen social media posts that express ‘stop hitting your guitar’ from guitarists whom I seriously respect. When I release a video a handful of irritating people will comment ‘stop hitting your guitar mate.' And of course I have also experienced this in the real world. The most prominent example occurred at the Ullapool guitar festival (which if you haven’t been, you must go its amazing!). A couple of years back I was lucky enough to perform, and soon after I delivered a workshop alongside some great players. We asked the attendees what they wanted to learn…and they answered ‘not that percussive stuff!’. hmmm….cheers guys.
So, it's pretty clear some people have an aversion to percussive playing, including me at one point. Some just don’t enjoy the sound…and fair enough. But why are so many people genuinely angry at it! Why o’ why!!?
I'm pretty confident we can split these lovely folks into two categories…
‘Argggh! I’m bored of seeing this stuff!’ – those people who have seen far too many percussive guitar videos.
‘Stop doing that, it's not musical, there’s no point!’ - those people who just think its for showing off and really is a bit silly.
Category one: There is plenty of percussive guitar players. I can’t say I’m bored of it, because I don’t listen to it all the time. Like all of us I can choose what I listen too. So…I guess that's the first group covered.
Category two: Now this an interesting one. This is essentially the reaction I had when I first saw Andy Mckee hit his guitar. My opinion changed as I grew up, and I realised three key things – three important points some of the anti-percussion camp should take on board… here we go…
Firstly, and crucially, you don’t need to judge music, or even create an opinion on it. No one really cares what you think, and rightly so, because who on earth are you to judge? Perhaps the music has been written as an emotional soundscape and for the composer a certain technique helped them to communicate this, or perhaps they used those techniques to show off, or simply to further their playing. Perhaps they wrote it just to irritate you! It really doesn’t matter, if you don’t like it…move on, it's just another experience you silly billy!
Secondly, I realised that techniques are tools, and tools are good. Just like a pull-off or a slide, ‘hitting your guitar’ is a technique to help you communicate something, just like your vocabulary – it's as valid as any other tool. If you are a player and you are refusing to learn this technique or tool you are being very silly indeed. You wouldn’t refuse to learn a new word would you, or refuse a screw driver for your tool box? ‘ooo no I don’t like screw drivers, everyone’s using them nowadays!’
Thirdly, I learnt to (try) not let my own insecurities interfere with my musical opinions. That’s right, insecurities! They make us into angry judgmental people if we don’t keep them in check.
I think that anyone criticising someone for using a technique has to take a good look at themselves before they voice this. Is this jealousy perhaps? Can you not do it? Are you jealous of the amount of time someone has spent on creating something? I was obviously jealous of ‘Drifting’ …I think I still might be! Clearly there has to be some kind of emotional reason for actively disliking something that is of no detriment to you, the environment, humans or puppies. I was once that person.
Of course there is one final category; those people who are criticising players for ‘bad’ percussive techniques. These guys are the worst…the real musical lemons….
Let's face it, some people are rubbish at guitar….some people are also rubbish at cooking, or in fact some people are rubbish at being a human. The latter of course effects society in a negative way and is certainly worth criticising. But ‘Dave’ (a fictional guitar player!) who posts a video of himself playing a new composition where he battles through three minutes of painfully out of time percussive hits is not bad for society. ‘Dave’ is in fact good for society, he is a wondrous thing! And what's really cool is ‘Dave’ will get better… ’Dave’ has tried really hard to create something, something exciting, something creative and then he has shared his efforts with the wider world. I wish the category of criticiser in question would ask themselves, ‘What did I do today?’
Originally published in Chris Woods Groove's Blog.