What is Flatpicking? The Basics of Bluegrass Technique

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When learning to play the guitar, the amount of picking techniques available to you seems overwhelming. Today we will cover a popular method known as flatpicking. What is Flatpicking? Flatpicking is a technique that involves striking the strings with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. This technique is commonly used in bluegrass and folk music, but can be applied to a variety of genres.

Flatpicking is known for its crisp, clear sound and ability to cut through a mix. By using a pick, flatpickers are able to play fast and intricate melodies with precision and clarity.

If you’re interested in learning how to flatpick, there are a few basic techniques to master. These include holding the pick correctly, using alternate picking to play fast lines, and incorporating hammer-ons and pull-offs for added flair. With practice and dedication, you can become a skilled flatpicker and add this versatile technique to your guitar playing arsenal.

Flatpicking

What is Flatpicking?

Flatpicking is a technique where you hold the pick between your thumb and one or two fingers. You then strike the strings of the guitar with the pick to create individual notes. This is different from fingerstyle guitar, where you use your fingers to pluck the strings.

One of the benefits of flatpicking is that it allows you to play faster and more accurately than fingerstyle guitar. This is because using a pick allows you to strike the strings with more force and precision. Additionally, flatpicking can create a bright and crisp sound that is well-suited for certain genres of music.

To get started with flatpicking, you’ll need a few things. First, you’ll need a guitar and a flatpick. You can use any type of guitar for flatpicking, but acoustic guitars are the most common. You’ll also need to choose a pick that feels comfortable in your hand and produces the sound you want.

Once you have your guitar and pick, you can begin practicing flatpicking. Start by playing simple melodies and scales, gradually increasing the difficulty as you improve. You can also find instructional videos and books that can help you learn more about flatpicking and improve your technique.

History of Flatpicking

Flatpicking is a guitar playing technique that involves striking the strings of the guitar with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. The technique has its origins in bluegrass and folk music and has since become a popular style of playing in many other genres of music.

Origins in Bluegrass and Folk

The origins of flatpicking can be traced back to the early days of bluegrass and folk music in the United States. In the early 20th century, guitarists began to arrange old-time American fiddle tunes on the guitar, expanding the instrument’s traditional role of rhythm guitar accompaniment with an occasional run on the bass strings. This led to the development of flatpicking as a distinct guitar playing style.

One of the earliest and most influential flatpickers was Doc Watson, who began his career in the 1950s. Watson’s virtuosic flatpicking style, which combined elements of bluegrass, folk, and country music, helped to popularize the technique and inspire a new generation of guitarists.

Influential Flatpickers

Since the days of Doc Watson, there have been many influential flatpickers who have helped to shape the sound of the guitar in a variety of genres. Clarence White, who played with the Byrds and other bands in the 1960s and 1970s, was known for his innovative use of flatpicking in rock and roll and country music.

Tony Rice, who emerged in the 1970s, is widely regarded as one of the greatest flatpickers of all time. Rice’s playing style, which combined elements of bluegrass, jazz, and folk music, helped to elevate the guitar to new heights of virtuosity and musical expression.

Other notable flatpickers include Norman Blake, Billy Strings, Bill Monroe, and Chris Eldridge. Each of these guitarists has contributed to the development and evolution of flatpicking in their own unique way, helping to keep the tradition alive and relevant in today’s music scene.

Flatpicking Guitar

Techniques in Flatpicking

When it comes to flatpicking, there are several techniques that you can use to create different sounds, melodies, and rhythms. In this section, we will explore some of the basic and advanced techniques used in flatpicking.

  • Alternate Picking: This technique involves alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes while picking the strings. This is one of the most fundamental techniques in flatpicking and is used in a wide variety of styles, including bluegrass, jazz, and folk music.
  • Strumming: Strumming involves sweeping the pick across the strings in a rhythmic pattern. This technique is often used in folk and country music to create a driving rhythm.
  • Crosspicking: Crosspicking involves using a combination of alternate picking and strumming to create a more complex sound. This technique is often used in bluegrass and fiddle tunes.
  • Rest Strokes: Rest strokes involve striking the string with the pick and allowing it to come to rest on the next string. This technique is often used in jazz and fingerstyle guitar playing to create a more precise sound.
  • Slides: Slides involve sliding your finger up or down the fretboard to create a smooth transition between notes. This technique is often used in blues and rock music.
  • Hammer-ons and Pull-offs: Hammer-ons and pull-offs involve using your fretting hand to create a legato effect by hammering your finger onto the fretboard or pulling it off quickly. This technique is often used in rock and metal music.
  • Licks: Licks are short musical phrases that can be used to add flavor to your playing. These can be borrowed from other players or created on the spot.
  • Sweeping: Sweeping involves using a sweeping motion with the pick to play multiple notes in a row. This technique is often used in metal and shred guitar playing.
  • Alternate Bass Picking: Alternate bass picking involves alternating between picking the bass note and the melody note. This technique is often used in fingerstyle guitar playing to create a more complex sound.
  • G Run: The G run is a common flatpicking pattern that involves playing a series of notes in a descending pattern. This technique is often used in bluegrass music.

What is Flatpicking

Flatpicking on Different Guitars

Flatpicking is a technique that can be used on both acoustic and electric guitars. However, there are some differences in the way that the two types of guitars are played. In this section, we will discuss flatpicking on acoustic and electric guitars.

Acoustic Guitars

Steel-string acoustic guitars are the most commonly used guitars for flatpicking. They have a narrower neck and are strung with steel strings. They are typically used for folk, bluegrass, and country music and have a brighter tone than nylon-string guitars.

When flatpicking on a steel-string acoustic guitar, it is important to use a pick that is appropriate for the guitar. A pick that is too thin or too thick can affect the sound of the guitar. It is also important to use the correct picking technique to get the best sound out of the guitar.

Electric Guitars

Electric guitars are not as commonly used for flatpicking as acoustic guitars, but they can still be used. They are typically made of wood and have a solid body, which gives them a brighter tone than acoustic guitars.

When flatpicking on an electric guitar, it is important to use a pick that is appropriate for the guitar. A pick that is too thin or too thick can affect the sound of the guitar. It is also important to use the correct picking technique to get the best sound out of the guitar.

Genres that Use The Flatpicking Technique

Bluegrass

Flatpicking is a fundamental technique in bluegrass guitar playing. Bluegrass music is characterized by fast tempos, intricate melodies, and an emphasis on improvisation. To achieve the crisp, precise sound required in bluegrass, it’s important to use a thumb pick and focus on your right hand technique. Molly Tuttle is a great example of a bluegrass guitarist who uses flatpicking to create intricate melodies and backup lines.

Folk

Flatpicking is also commonly used in folk music. Folk songs often have simple chord progressions and straightforward melodies, making them a great place to start if you’re new to flatpicking. To get started with folk flatpicking, focus on your left hand technique and practice playing simple scales and melodies with your index finger.

Jazz

While flatpicking isn’t as common in jazz as it is in bluegrass or folk, it can still be used to great effect. Jazz guitarists often use a combination of flatpicking and fingerpicking to create a swing feel. To incorporate flatpicking into your jazz playing, focus on your right hand technique and practice playing single-note lines with a crisp, precise attack.

Rock

Flatpicking is also used in rock music, although it’s less common than in other genres. Rock guitarists often use flatpicking to play fast, intricate solos or to create a driving rhythm. To incorporate flatpicking into your rock playing, focus on your right hand technique and practice playing single-note lines and power chords with a strong, aggressive attack.

Country

Flatpicking is a fundamental technique in contemporary country music. Country songs often have simple chord progressions and straightforward melodies, making them a great place to start if you’re new to flatpicking. To get started with country flatpicking, focus on your left hand technique and practice playing simple scales and melodies with your index finger. Some contemporary country guitarists, such as Brad Paisley, also use a thumb pick to achieve a more precise, crisp sound.

How to flatpick on guitar

Tips For Mastering Flatpicking

Holding the Pick

When it comes to flatpicking, holding the pick correctly is crucial for achieving the desired sound. You should hold the pick between your thumb and index finger, with the pointed end facing down towards the strings. Make sure to hold the pick firmly but not too tightly, as this can cause tension in your hand and wrist, leading to fatigue and potential injury.

Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is a technique that involves alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes when playing notes. This technique allows you to play faster and more precisely, as it evenly distributes the workload between your picking hand and your fretting hand. To practice alternate picking, start by playing a simple arpeggiated pattern, such as a G-run, and focus on alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes in a steady rhythm.

Playing Fast and Precise

To play fast and precise, it’s important to practice with a metronome. Start by playing a simple chord progression, such as a I-IV-V in a major key, at a slow tempo, and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable. Focus on playing each note cleanly and accurately, and don’t be afraid to break down more complex passages into smaller, more manageable sections.

Remember, flatpicking is a versatile technique that can be used for both rhythm and lead playing. Whether you’re playing a classic tune like “Wildwood Flower” or improvising over a chord progression, these tips and tricks will help you achieve the fast, precise sound that defines flatpicking guitar.

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