Chicken Pickin’ Essential Techniques for Country Guitar Part 2

Chicken pickin’ has a distinct sound, some of which comes from the technique.  The techniques have to be considered part of the overall vocabulary, just like the phrases and notes.   Here is a look at several of the techniques for country guitar that make chicken pickin’ unique.   Find Part 1 here [link]

Techniques for Country Guitar: Pedal Steel-Type Bends

Country players love to imitate the sound of other instruments.  One of the most common to imitate is the pedal steel.  The steel guitar has a high, whiny sound most of the time that is characterized by the bending of notes that create chords.  One way we can imitate this sound as guitarists is to use oblique bends.

This time though, we are going to bend the higher note instead of the lower one.  This creates a sound that is different than the more typical lower note bends.

Here we see the basic idea of bending a higher note.  Hold the note on the D string while pulling the G string down towards the ground.  In this example the G is pulled up to an A while the C is held.  This can be heard in the key of F – bending the 2nd of the chord up to the 3rd while holding the 5th.  Make sure to play the root as you do this.

In this second example the previous bend is the resolution.  The other bends follow the F major pentatonic scale moving up (starting on C and ending on A).  The lower notes give the example a grounding in the key of F. Bending by pulling down is a technique that you may not be used to.  Just make sure to practice this like you would any other bend.  Check your tuning, continue to work at it so you can build up callouses- these are different from regular bends.

Techniques for Country Guitar: Hybrid Picking

Hybrid picking is using both pick and fingers at the same time.  This technique probably received most of its early fans because of the intro to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”  Country music though uses it in order to skip across strings and do much quicker picking in wider intervals. Most country players have their own picking style, so develop something that works for you.  Hybrid picking is just a technique, not the only way to play.  Brent Mason uses a thumb pick almost exclusively.   Other players use fingers only, and others use a regular pick.  It’s very much a personal choice that you should let develop along with your own style. In order to get started with hybrid picking, take a simple figure that is across strings.  This example will use a simple sixths figure in the key of C.  Try simply playing the lower note (on the G string) with your pick in your thumb and first finger.  Then pick the higher note (on the E string) using your middle finger.  You might find it helpful to grow nails on your middle and ring fingers of your picking hand.

Arpeggio figures also make great exercises. Try this simple arpeggio figure.

Techniques for Country Guitar Banjo Rolls

The last technique we will look at in detail is the banjo roll.  The banjo has been a part of country music since it started.  Banjo players often play fast arpeggiated figures called ‘rolls,’ especially in bluegrass music.  The banjo is tuned to an open tuning (usually a G, but there are many different tunings). Hybrid picking is almost a must when it comes to recreating banjo rolls.  The forward roll is simply playing through the arpeggio from lowest note to highest note.  These are typically played over 3 strings on a banjo, so the rhythm will end up being the ‘on-off-on’ rhythm of the dotted quarter note.

The next example we will put a hammer on into the roll.  In order to make this sound really effective, change the B on the G string to an open G.  That gives the figure two G’s in a row, but that is a way to really bring out the hammer on.  The hammer on here is a grace note – one that should move very quickly to the next note and does not really have a rhythmic value.

The biggest challenge for creating banjo rolls is the speed.  Bluegrass banjo players can play at an extremely quick tempo.