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Twang 101: Chicken Pickin' Intervals

Understanding how the fretboard work horizontally was quite a revelation. It forced me to get away from position-based playing and actually think about the intervals between notes.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Play through each major scale in sixths.
• Create licks that combine doublestops with open string pull offs.
• Develop a deeper understanding of how to view the fretboard horizontally.
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When it comes to shedding, there have been two approaches that have stuck with me over the years. In high school I came across a book called Patterns for Jazz by Jerry Coker. It is a pretty tedious book that has you working through changes and patterns in nearly every conceivable way. At the time it was right up my alley. I couldn't geek-out enough over intervallic approaches. The second approach sprung out of a lesson I took with Frank Vignola soon after. I remember him asking me in the first lesson, “Can you play every interval up and down the neck on two strings in all twelve keys?” Gulp. I somehow got through it, but it did expose the fact that my knowledge of the fretboard was stronger vertically than it was horizontally.

Understanding how the fretboard work horizontally was quite a revelation. It forced me to get away from position-based playing and actually think about the intervals between notes. Moving a lick or a new technique diatonically up and down the neck pushed me to a point where I wasn't just reciting licks. Having said that, I do love licks.

In Fig. 1 will be working with the interval of a sixth. We will start in the key of A with the root on the 1st string and the third on the 3rd string. Once you can recognize the pattern moving up and down the neck, transpose this to the other eleven keys.

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We will incorporate some country guitar concepts in Fig. 2. Here, we will approach the lower note chromatically from a whole step below. To get the chicken picking sound, you'll need to palm mute the first three notes and pluck the high note of the interval with the middle finger.

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At first glance, Fig. 3 looks very similar to the previous example. In this lick, instead of approach the lower note chromatically, we add a lower neighbor tone to keep the symmetrical movement going.

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Let’s take what we have so far and add some pull offs. In Fig. 4 you can see a triplet-based lick where we incorporate pull offs with each note on the 1st string. Make sure to pay attention to what key you are in. The note of the open string must be diatonic to the key.

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We put everything together in Fig. 5. This example combines the open-string pull offs with moving up and down the neck in sixths. Start things slow and listen to the audio example to really hear how these examples work in context.

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The goal with this approach is to think long term. When you work through these examples you will get a better understanding of the fretboard and have more freedom when you improvise. Take some time to freely improvise with these as well. You can get a lot of mileage out of these if you just check under the hood and see what’s possible.

Jason Loughlin has performed with Amos Lee, Rachael Yamagata, James Burton, Mike Viola, Nellie Mckay, Phil Roy, Marshall Crenshaw, Sara Bareillies, Lesley Gore, Ben Arnold and John Francis to name a few. Jason lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn performing and teaching. Look out for his new record, Peach Crate, due out in February. For other info be sure to check his website