Guitar Essentials: Play Faster and Sound Better with Hybrid Picking

Get hybrid picking under your fingers with this comprehensive lesson.
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Hybrid picking (a.k.a. “pick and fingers”) involves a combination of pick and fingerstyle playing. While the technique is most commonly associated with country and bluegrass, it can be used to make licks and riffs of any style sound more colorful.

But hybrid picking can open the door to playing things that you may have considered out of your reach.

First things first, though. In this lesson, you’ll learn hybrid picking as it figures into the most fundamental of electric guitar styles: blues. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jimmy Page, most blues and blues-rock players have at least a few killer hybrid-picked moves in their arsenal, whether it’s smooth 7th-chord riffs or barn-burning superhero licks.

Now, let’s work on getting this essential technique under your fingers!

FIGURE 1 is based on bars l–4 of a blues progression in A. For the dyads (two-note chords) in bars 1 and 2, use your pick to sound each 4th-string note and your middle finger (m) to pick each 3rd-string note. Be sure to form and hold a hook-like shape with your middle finger, so that a portion of the nail, in addition to the fingertip, makes contact with the 3rd string. In bar 3, add your pick hand’s ring finger (a), to pick the three-note A7 and E7 chords. And in bar 4, add your pinkie (c) for the four-note A13 chord.


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FIGURE 2 is reminiscent of the Allman Brothers’ take on T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday.” As indicated, pick all of the sliding chords with your middle, ring and pinkie fingers. The single-note lines, meanwhile, should be played with the pick and middle finger. Play this figure slowly at first, striving for smoothness, as well as equal volume between the single notes and the chord stabs. Then, try playing a full 12-bar blues based on the pattern. (For the V chord, D9, simply move all the notes in the first C9 barre up two frets.)


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Some riffs—such as the Texas-style boogie moves of FIGURES 3A–B—demand to be played with hybrid picking. Here, each downbeat requires a downstroke of the pick, while the “and” of each beat—which should be given a little emphasis for a sassy groove—is best picked with the middle finger. In FIGURE 3A, barre your 1st finger across strings 5 and 4, so that you can smoothly transition between the 2nd­ fret B and E notes on beat 3 of bars 1 and 2. Also, look out for the tricky position shift at the beginning of FIGURE 3B.


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For some single-note lickage, play through the hybrid-picked pentatonic scales of FIGURES 4A–B, adding slight emphasis to each note that’s picked with a finger. Then, try playing the figures using strict plectrum-style alternate picking (down, up, down, etc.)—you’ll hear a cool textural difference between the two picking approaches. Next, play FIGURES 4A and 4B with hybrid picking, but swap each finger-picked note for a pick­ stroke, and vice-versa, to increase your versatility. Then, try hybrid-picking some of your own favorite single-note lines and licks.


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Because it positions your pick-hand fingers in an economical fashion, hybrid picking can make an impossibly fast lick play like butter. Put simply, your pick can never travel faster to a location that a finger already occupies.Take, for instance, the Danny Gatton–inspired lick in FIGURE 5. In bar 1 (starting at the “uh” of beats 1 and 2), your pick-hand’s middle finger should be sitting on the appropriate string, in hook formation, in preparation for those pivoting 4ths. Also, for maximum efficiency, be sure to apply a rolling fret-hand 3rd finger.


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After listening to players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Page, you might be thinking you’ll never have chops like that. But try digging into FIGURES 6A–B. Check out how FIGURE 6A takes a standard blues lick and applies your pick hand’s middle and ring fingers, allowing for greater ease of execution at higher tempos. Have fun with the Page-approved lick in FIGURE 6B. As indicated, begin the figure with your pick-hand’s middle finger, and give some extra force to your downstroke for that 7th-fret D.


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FIGURES 7A-B incorporate all of this lesson’s hybrid-picking techniques into two C minor blues licks—the first being an intro, the second a turnaround. The tonal differences between the picked and hybrid-picked notes in FIGURE 7A—such as the triplet on beat 2 of bar 1—make for a compelling entrance. At the same time, the economical positioning of your pick-hand fingers lets you blaze through FIGURE 7B’s relentless pitch-matched bends, which provide the drama necessary for a memorable ending.


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