Guitar Picking Techniques

Guitar picking is probably one of the first skills you’ll learn in your guitar lessons. Picking, which is just a group of hand and finger movements, can be done with a guitar pick, fingers/fingernails or a plectrum. Strumming, brushing or plucking all count as guitar picking. Here are some of the picking techniques we teach here at Green Hills Guitar Studio:

  • Flat Picking – Think Doc Watson. The pick is held between the thumb and first finger and is usually used in reference to bluegrass and folk music but is also used in rock and jazz. It generally produces a bright and crisp sound.
  • Cross Picking – A more advanced technique for bluegrass that integrates the boom-chicka and alternate bass picking techniques. Instead of the typical downstroke strum, cross picking is an arpeggiated pattern meaning that each note of a chord is sounded individually with precision rather than indiscriminately sweeping the pick across the strings. This allows the flat picker to achieve the same precision as the fingerstyle player while maintaining the bright, crisp sound of the flat pick.
  • Alternate Picking – Alternating between don and upstrokes in a continuous manner.
  • Sweep Picking – Basically sweeping or “raking” across the strings to generate a quick succession of notes, usually used to play arpeggios at a fast speed.
  • Economy Picking – Basically combining alternate picking and sweep picking. Usually, one uses alternate picking until changing strings. At this point, the player sweeps onto the next string. For example, if you are playing an ascending three note per string sequence, you would play down up down, down up down, down up down, etc. When descending, the pattern would be up down up, up down up, up down up, etc.
  • Hybrid Picking – Playing by holding a pick between the thumb and first finger and also utilizing the other fingers. This allows you to pick two or more strings at precisely the same time, making it possible to attack two, three and four-note chords the way a piano player would, whereas a standard strumming technique with a pick would require you to sound the notes in succession one at a time. When arpeggiating chords, it can often produce a smoother/softer result than straight fingerpicking or flatpicking. It also enables you to give the bass notes a crisp, flat picked articulation while achieving a softer, fingerpicked sound on the higher strings. Unlike fingerpicking, hybrid picking lets you quickly revert to strumming or alternate picking or vice versa, which comes in handy in many playing situations.
  • Gypsy Picking – Think Django Reinhardt. This technique requires substantial use of downward rest strokes (especially when changing strings) and lots of sweep picking (especially on ascending arpeggios and ascending melodic lines for example). Gypsy jazz requires an aggressive and sometimes fierce style of playing that can only be achieved with the downward rest stroke technique. This music is played on acoustic instruments, and the only way to make them bark is to dig in with some emphatic picking. Moreover, it is very difficult to play those lightning fast ascending arpeggios using the up/down approach.
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