Hybrid Picking: The Best of Both Worlds

Never heard of Hybrid Picking? Read on for a quick introduction into what you can gain from this technique.

Ultimate Guitar
Some guys have mastered the art of hybrid picking, Tom Quale, John 5, Mark Knoplfer, Guthrie Govan, Brent Mason and Rick Graham come to mind amongst others. Sometimes called hybrid picking, sometimes called chicken picking, these techniques are most commonly found in country music and more contemporary fusion styles. All of these guys use hybrid picking to add something to their playing and with a bit of practice you can work it into your playing too. 

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.

About the Author:
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.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I'm adding Brent Hinds and Andy Summers to the discussion here - Probably the two players whose songs "forced" me to get a handle on hybrid picking years back.
    Brent Mason rarely hybrid picks as he rarely uses flatpicks. Pretty much all of his playing is done with a thumb pick. The examples of noted hybrid pickers in general is pretty bad. Danny Gatton for example comes to mind as a glaring omission. Chicken picking is not the same thing as hybrid picking. It's related, but to use the terms interchangeably is incorrect. Also having actual examples with tablature or a video would have been nice, since explaining a technique without actually illustrating it in action (and "go listen to x,y, and z" doesn't count) is not super helpful really. Talking about rolls would have been cool as well, since a large amount of country hybrid picking involves that. Not a bad article, by any means, but... there are a lot of very noticeable gaps that could have been approved on with a bit more research and some real examples.
    If you want to get good at hybrid picking, learn Aqua Dementia, Divinations, and Capillarian Crest by Mastodon.
    Buckethead's Beyond The Knowing is a great one, the whole song is more or less a hybrid picking exercise.
    I have seen Angus Young using this technique and its great, it adds a lovely deapth to a chord or sequence by plucking individual strings/notes instead of strumming where it can become muddy.
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