After establishing himself as a fingerstyle guitarist with “Lovestruck,” Ken Tiongson is making a comeback with “Universe in You,” his sophomore single under MCA Music. He arranged and composed it all by himself and co-produced it with Tiny Corpuz.
“‘Universe in You’ tells the story of life within us, how we harmonize and blend with its beauty,” Ken says of the song. “It’s a hopeful track which aims to inspire people and get them to accept each person’s differences and uniqueness.”
Ken first picked up a guitar when he was seven years old, and he never looked back. (“I believe it’s my calling,” he says of playing guitar.) Before he went solo, this self-proclaimed “shy guy” performed with the likes of Arthur Nery and Dionela. He also played lead guitar and sang background vocals for Callalily for two years, from 2017 to 2019.
As a fingerstyle guitarist, Ken’s technique involves directly plucking the strings of his instrument. He can use his fingertips, nails, or guitar picks attached to his fingers. On the surface, it seems a little different from strumming the guitar with a single pick, which is what most guitarists do. However, Ken believes there’s no difference between someone who uses that technique and someone who doesn’t. When asked why, he says it all depends on one’s artistry and growth.
“When you master the guitar and find your style, eventually you’ll know what genre or playing style you want,” he explains.
Fingerstyle playing can be found in different genres of music, like blues, country, and folk. It can also be used on other string instruments, such as the banjo. Fingerstyle guitarists who specialize in instrumental songs aren’t exactly a dime a dozen in the Philippines, but Ken doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. In fact, he believes capturing an audience’s attention and holding it is easier for him now.
“Mas madali siya as a fingerstyle guitarist, because it’s all about feeling,” he says. “Since my songs don’t have lyrics, I try my best to communicate certain feelings when I play or write.”
Despite the fact that most Filipinos are used to singing along when they hear their favorite songs, Ken believes that his music will eventually find an audience as long as he does his best. Hard work pays off, as the saying goes, and boy, does he work hard.
While you can use fingerstyle playing on a nylon-string guitar, he prefers to use steel strings for a brighter, clearer harmony and melody. It’s not easy to use them because they require greater pressure to fret and pick, but you wouldn’t know that just from looking at Ken play because he does it so effortlessly.
His musical influences include the virtuosos Ahn Jung Jae, John Mayer, Mateus Asato, and Tommy Emmanuel. When asked who he wants to work with someday, he named Sungha Jung, a Korean guitarist whose YouTube channel has more than 4.5 million subscribers. Like Ken, Sungha Jung is hailed as a rising star in his country. A collaboration between them would be a match made in heaven.
“‘Universe in You’ is Ken’s second instrumental single, but he reveals that he’s currently working on more new material. What’s more, he’s also going to try to add lyrics and vocals to his future releases. Fortunately, Ken’s record label is very supportive.
“I’m very thankful for them. They give the best ideas and execution for artists,” Ken says of working with MCA Music.