Generally speaking you use the pick for lower notes in the phrase and your right hand finger to sound the higher notes in the phrase. For me personally, hybrid picking is the best of both worlds; you can use your pick like you normally would and explore all the comfort and sonic possibilities in regards to attack and tone/timbre but then reach up as and when you need to in order to grab a higher note with your right hand finger(s). Playing with just your fingers allows you a very different timbre.
If you use the fleshy part of your finger tip you get a softer sounding, warm fleshy tone. It's quite organic and for reasons I cannot quite figure out it sounds more human and "real" than the clinical and very consistent attack that a pick provides. Maybe it's because there are more variations in how much of the finger tip contacts the string before it's released, or the angle you pluck the string (pulling up and away from the guitar body gives a certain "twang" and "snap" sound similar to that of the "pop" in slap and pop bass techniques). Hybrid picking therefore has a unique sound to it because you have the combination of the pick attack and the finger tones.
Of course you always have the option to play completely with a pick or solely with your fingers but having that pick in hand gives you the option to combine the two to execute the unique timbre that the playing technique has to offer. There is also a new element of muting which can be added/exploited by the spare fingers.
Hybrid picking allows you to play chordal parts in a similar style to a pianist because it allows you to play all the notes at exactly the same time rather than raking the pick across the strings in a strum and sounding them one at a time in very quick succession. This style of playing usually requires more than one right hand finger and gives you greater control over which notes you choose to specifically play or not play. This is because in a strum involving both the high and low E strings you have to at some stage play the strings in between and if there are strings you do not wish to play you will need to left hand mute them. This hybrid technique gives you more control over this because you can simply not pluck those strings. You are however limited to only playing 4 notes simultaneously (pick and 3 fingers) unless you choose to use a thumb pick in which case the limit is 5.
Another advantage is bigger melodic leaps. The physical function of hybrid picking allows you to reach a wider span of strings without having to move your hand much. This allows you to play, for example, on the A string with your pick and very quickly reach notes up on the B or high E strings with your middle finger on the right hand.
This melodic leap would be much harder to execute with just a pick and would certainly mean moving your hand more. In terms of economy of movement, hybrid picking can be a godsend which in turn can increase your playing speed, especially if you are hybrid picking notes on string sets that are close together. Check out any of the guys listed at the start to hear how the technique can produce flurries of notes in quick succession.
So that's hybrid picking! Certainly a technique worth checking out, even if it's not something that you define your playing by or use constantly it is definitely something that would be cool to have in your tool belt ready and waiting for when you wish to pull it out.
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By Steven Martin, www.stevenmartinguitar.com. If you enjoyed this, share it on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to get in touch with any questions or comments in the boxes below.