Hybrid Picking – Part 1

By Rob Thorpe

Grab your pick, but keep the fingers at the ready! Hybrid picking is the use of the picking hand fingers to pluck the strings as in fingerstyle playing, but in combination with a pick. Holding the plectrum between thumb and index finger, you can then use the middle and ring fingers to pluck as well.

The main advantage of hybrid picking is that it makes difficult string crosses much easier, and by retaining the pick it can easily be combined with standard picking techniques for a fluid and adaptable technique. Many players think hybrid picking is exclusively for country guitar, but many rock-fusion players also use it to play the wider intervals associated with the jazz vocabulary. Over the course of our series on hybrid picking, you will be able to see how this useful technique can expand your playing whatever your style.

The tonal difference between pick and fingers is also quite remarkable. Though both offer great clarity and attack, the fingers produce a much rounder tone which can be a great alternative to the pick when playing regular licks as well.

Let’s start with finding a comfortable hand position: Hold the picking hand as you would normally with the pick covering the bottom three strings. If, as I do, you normally anchor the picking hand to the guitar with the little finger when picking then I would suggest removing it when hybrid picking as it will hinder the dexterity of the fingers used for plucking. Before long the transition between the two will be quite fluid.

For the examples in this lesson I will include the picking directions for the sake of clarity. As well as the usual down and upstroke symbols, ‘m’ represents the middle finger, and ‘a’ is for the ring (or annular) finger.

Hybrid Picking Example 1

To kick things off, we will take a very simple accompaniment pattern with some jazzy chord shapes. This idea would work well with normal finger picking, but for our purpose the pick will handle the bass notes and the remaining three fingers form a claw to pluck the three note chord. If you’ve not played with fingers before this will be a great primer. Notice how fingers allow you to play the whole chord simultaneously which a pick alone could never do.

Hybrid Picking Example 2

Now we take some simple chord shapes and arpeggiate them (play a chord one note at a time). This should help to get the fingers moving independently before we look at more complicated patterns. Be sure to keep things controls and the speed of the notes even. It’s very easy to race ahead, but more important to build control in first.

Hybrid Picking Example 3

Here we take some stock country vocabulary, the banjo roll. I’ve demonstrated both ascending and descending versions, and you should aim to be equally comfortable with both versions so you can then mix different combinations. Country guitar is typically clean, so let the notes ring out like a chord. Conversely, John 5’s unique country-metal style includes distorted banjo rolls for which some palm muting will be needed to keep the notes separate.

Recommended Listening: Country players like Danny Gatton and Albert Lee (the intro to Country Boy is a flurry of banjo rolls) are definitely ones to watch for hybrid picking, as is John 5. Check out his debut instrumental album Vertigo for hybrid picking in a metal context.