** As featured in issue 61 **
If you’ve ever tried Flatpicking on an acoustic guitar (as opposed to thumb pick or fingerstyle playing), you’ll no doubt have encountered the biggest challenge of plectrum playing: rapid string crosses. On a single string it’s easy to blaze away with mandolin-like tremolo, but when it comes to the kind of intricate arpeggios and runs that typify styles like bluegrass, you really need to have a solid strategy in place for those tricky string crosses. In this article, I’m going to propose two solutions. “Crosspicking” - from a purely technical perspective - can be thought of simply as “alternate picking where every pick stroke escapes the plane of the strings”. Some players can get this sort of picking going purely by feel, but for the rest of us, it takes a little more planning. In the video that accompanies this article, you’ll find some pretty exhaustive technical analysis, but the crux of it is: Play using strictly alternating down and up strokes - Aim for a pick path that follows a shallow curve, rather than a steep “V” - Use alternating muscle groups to execute each stroke.
On that final point, you may try a combination of forearm rotation and wrist extension, or a forearm and finger blend, or even a purely wrist-based movement. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what feels best - there’s really no single “correct” way to execute this kin fo picking movement. “Hybrid Picking”, by contrast, is a fancy way of describing “a combination of plectrum and fingers”. With this kind of playing, the plectrum does the job of the thumb in fingerstyle, with the middle, ring and pinky fingers picking up the slack. How many fingers you incorporate into your technique is entirely up to you - some players only use their middle and ring, while Gordon Giltrap notably only really uses his plectrum and pinky (to great effect!). My take is that the more fingers you’re able to use, the better, but your mileage may vary.
A handy technical tip for developing your hybrid picking is to employ something similar to a “rest stroke”. This boils down to resting your pick (or finger) on the string you’re about to play before plucking it. This eliminates the possibility that you might miss the string, and over time you’ll become so quick at this that the rest will be all but undetectable. The workout I’ve put together for this lesson is an effective way to work on both of these techniques in a musical context. Make sure you try both variations, or you may find yourself with a “lopsided” technique that works great in some directions and not others. Also, it’s important to stress that crosspicking and hybrid picking are not mutually exclusive, and to be a fully rounded player you really need to have both in your arsenal! With that said, it’s time to get stuck in with the workout. Use a metronome, take your time and focus on tone quality and timing over speed. Most importantly, have fun!