twang 101

Steal inspiration, vocabulary, and picking techniques from legendary acoustic players.

Chops: Beginner
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Improve your alternate picking.
• Discover how to use the “country” scale.
• Create a deeper understanding of chord shapes across the neck. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

Those who haven’t investigated bluegrass might write it off as simply another branch on the country music tree, but there’s so much more to dig into. Born out of the Appalachian mountain regions, bluegrass is the exciting meld of Irish and Scottish folk music with gospel, jazz, and blues elements. It’s a genre dominated by high-level playing on a variety of instruments, including flattop steel-string guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and Dobro.

There have been many bluegrass guitar icons, from the pioneering Doc Watson, Clarence White, and Tony Rice, to such modern masters as Bryan Sutton and David Grier. Today, younger players like Molly Tuttle and Carl Miner keep the genre alive.

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What in the heck is “hybrid picking” and why should you care? Learn how to unleash some picking-hand tricks, create open-string phrases and pedal-steel licks.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to incorporate your middle and ring fingers into your picking attack.
• Create flowing, open-string phrases full of harp-like dissonance.
• Develop pedal steel-style licks with oblique bends.

Click here to download MP3s and a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

What in the heck is “hybrid picking” and why should you care? Hybrid picking is a technique that involves holding your pick as you normally would with your thumb and index finger, but also using your middle and ring fingers (and sometimes even your pinky) to attack the strings.

So what’s the payoff? There’s a different sound you can get from your fingers that you can’t get from a pick. The attack lets you get very sensitive, bluesy tones (think Robben Ford, Mark Knopfler, and Jeff Beck). Robben Ford tends to use a pick for rhythm and switches to bare fingers when he’s getting more aggressive, but playing at lower volumes. He moves to a different texture to highlight big changes in dynamic levels.

Also, when you’re using your fingers you’ll phrase differently because it is harder to play fast—it almost forces you to play more melodically. Check out Figs. 1 and 2. Play them first with your pick, and then try playing them with the hybrid technique.

For these examples, we are using the classical p–i–m–a system for right-hand notation, where m indicates your middle finger and a indicates your ring finger. All notes played with a pick will be marked with a downstroke symbol.

Hybrid picking is also great for playing arpeggios. Many times in slower songs the intro and verse have more arpeggiated sections and the choruses get big—you’ll need to strum and rock out a little more on those. After some practice, you’ll be able to hold your pick just like you always do and go back and forth between pick and hybrid techniques without thinking about it. It just becomes part of the fingerpicking process. In Figs. 3 and 4, you can see how we could apply this technique to a chord progression to not only create space, but also some interesting harmonies with ringing notes.

If you want to cop some of that straight-up chicken pickin’ madness on a Tele, hybrid picking is essential. Snapping the notes with your fingers is a big part of the sound—something that can’t be achieved with a pick. Figs. 5 and 6 are some double-stop chicken pickin’ licks that use the pick along with middle and ring fingers to snap the double-stops.

Also, the attack is instantaneous when you pick two notes at the same time, as opposed to a pick scraping against two notes one at a time. Even though the pick attack is quick, it still sounds different. Figs. 7 and 8 are some steel guitar licks that really jump out when you use a hybrid technique, as opposed to just the pick.

Cascading open-string licks are really effective for reaching a completely different place when you’re soloing, especially playing quick “train beat” country rhythms. The notes ring out against each other and flow more easily when you use the hybrid technique. If you were to just use a pick, it wouldn’t give you the same sound (or speed) as hybrid picking. The effect is like playing a scale on a piano and holding down the sustain pedal.

When creating these types of runs, look for ways to lay out phrases on the fretboard so you can get at least two or three notes ringing together at any given time. That means you want to be scouting for diatonic notes on adjacent or nearby strings. Fig. 9 is a G Major scale (G–A–B–C–D–E–F#) that incorporates open strings.

The next step is to create licks with these cascading patterns. I like the Mixolydian mode—used for Fig. 10—with some chromatic passing tones like the b3 and b5. When I get the opportunity, I’ll combine the rub of the b3-to-3 move with the b7 to emphasize important chord tones in a phrase. Try the cascading lick in Fig. 11 that starts on the b7, weaves from 5 to b5, and has the b3-to-3 move.

Now, let's try a couple of repeating patterns. These can make great warm-up exercises, and they’re also good for breaking up a line or building intensity in a solo. Fig. 12 uses hybrid picking for the double-stops, as well as hammer-ons and pull-offs for the other part of the lick. Practice these slowly at first with the metronome and gradually build up speed as you feel comfortable playing each tempo.

You can also work these licks through a I–IV–V progression by changing only a few notes while staying in the same position. Check out Fig. 13. These licks are great for smokin’ fast tempos because they are very percussive and really outline the chords as they fly past.

Try changing where the double-stops and pull-offs fall rhythmically to keep things interesting—especially if you decide to keep this lick going for a while. Fig. 14 shows how you can go back and forth from one rhythmic lick to the next. This helps hold the attention of your audience and keeps you on your toes.

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Twang 101: Double-Stop Tricks

Combine hybrid picking, open strings, and some Nashville "snap" to get the most out of your double-stop licks.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Beginner
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to use hybrid picking to create a more percussive attack.
• Combine double-stops with open strings.
• Create phrases that outline the I, IV, and V chords.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

By definition, a double-stop lick is when you play a lick with two notes at the same time. Why would you want to play licks with two notes at a time you might ask? Double-stops can take your solos to another place that sometimes sounds like two people playing at the same time. There are many different ways to approach playing double-stop solos. You can harmonize in third, fourth, fifth, or sixth intervals.

If you don't know what intervals are, it’s the distance from one note to another. For example, in the major scale if we were to play the first note of the scale at the same time as the third note of the scale, that would be a third interval. In the key of C it would be C and E.

Fig. 1 is an example of a lick that uses thirds the way Vince Gill approached the intro of his hit “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slipping Away.”

If you want to get into the chicken pickin' double-stops like Jerry Reed, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, and others, a good place to start is outlining chord tones. Chord tones are the notes that make up the chords you are playing. It’s super important when playing this type of country guitar that you follow the chords with your solos. In other words, playing a blues scale over the whole progression is not going to get you that sound. It will sound like you are playing a blues solo over a country tune, which is fine if that is what you are going for, but if you are trying to sound a little more country, then you need to approach it a little differently. The most important chord tones that you will want to nail are the 3rd and b7. Let's try a little repeating lick that nails those tones and has some cool voice-leading.

We could play this first lick in the root position up and down the neck and the notes would be “right,” but would it sound cool? Not really. So, for the sake of sounding cool, let's try to stay in the same five-fret region and get all the chords. Check it out in Fig. 2.

One of the five coolest sounds you can make on the guitar is a cranked up Tele, digging in with your picking hand middle and ring fingers on the low strings and snapping the strings against the fretboard on some double-stop rhythmic pattern. The pattern in Fig. 3 goes over the I, IV, and V in the key of G—which would be G, C, and D, respectively. This would be used in more of a rhythm guitar setting, but it is hooky enough to be a signature lick as well. With your picking hand, you will snap the 4th and 5th strings with your middle and ring fingers, and attack the 6th string with your flatpick. As you move through the progression to the IV chord, just move everything down a string so your middle and ring fingers will be snapping the 3rd and 4th strings.

Double-stop licks can also be used in “train beat” or country tunes with faster tempos too. Having some of these licks in your arsenal can be helpful when you really want something percussive that nails the changes. Also, if you want something that sounds a lot bigger than single-note solos, Fig. 4 works perfectly as well. The notes on the 2nd and 3rd strings will be picked with your middle and ring fingers. On your fretting hand, your first finger will lie across the 2nd and 3rd strings at the 7th fret, and you’ll do the pull-off with your first finger. Notice these licks nail the I (D), IV (G), and V (A) in the key of D. You’re nailing chord tones and the pull-offs help make it easier to play at quick tempos. Try to make them sound percussive. Make sure to start practicing this with a metronome at a slow tempo, then gradually increase to warp speed.

Fig. 5 is another variation on the previous lick. This time, we are concentrating on the first three strings. Again, we’re outlining the I, IV, and, V chords. For the V chord, just slide up two frets and play the same lick and then move back to the I chord. Make sure to get that 2nd string to pull off with your second finger. Again, play this with a metronome. Start out slow and gradually increase your tempo. Push it just a little faster than what you are comfortable with and make it your goal to get it clean at that tempo before you move on.

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