The Economy of Hybrid Picking

Posted on by Dave Eichenberger

Years ago, after about four years of classical lessons (I was about 12), I got into my older brother’s record collection, which was full of what we would call classic rock today, but of course then, it was just called rock. I decided to learn Led Zep’s ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ which hadn’t yet become as annoying to hear people play it as it is today. I heard the acoustic intro and the strummed rhythm and the cool rock riff at the end. Yeah! I could finally put that classical training to work – I can play with my fingers! Well, at least until the strummy part. Then I could put the pick down! And pick it up when needed again- all in one song!

Now this was before YouTube, and really before you could easily see rock concerts on TV. Transcriptions of rock guitar songs were rare (or worse, you had to live with piano/vocal arrangements of rock songs), so I was on my own. I didn’t realize that Jimmy Page stuck the pick in his mouth when he didn’t need it.

There had to be a better way. What if I learned to play with my pick and fingers at the same time? I could still do solos, and play those acoustic intros which were so popular then! Wow! I just came up with an entirely new way of playing!

Yes, at 12 years old, I didn’t realize that country and jazz players had been doing this for years. Ahh, the years before internet research…

Hybrid picking is a form of economy picking, because it is, well, economical. Essentially, you have a pick and three fingers to work with. This allows you to play two notes on non-adjacent strings simultaneously. This is difficult using a pick exclusively, involving sophisticated muting of the middle strings with the fretting hand.

Hybrid picking allows you to play regular pick-style chords (where the notes hit strings in fast succession, like this):

Or, using a combination of pick and fingers, play strings simultaneously, like this:

One isn’t better than the other, just different. Using hybrid picking, it is almost like a piano player hitting a few keys at exactly the same time.

There is a slight hurdle to jump over with hybrid picking, though. The pick, being a hard piece of plastic or nylon, is hitting a hard string. The fingertips are soft, so naturally they will be quieter. So, you might have to lessen the attack of the pick, and pluck with the fingers slightly harder than you think you might need to balance out the dynamics. The key is to not let the listener know if the note is played with the fingers or the pick – they should sound the same. I don’t use my nails, because I don’t like the way it feels and it freaks me out. Some people use their nails and don’t have the hang-ups I have.

To start, let’s look at octaves.  Here is an A Harmonic Minor scale, played in octaves:

When played properly, they should sound like one note, not two individual ones:


Try playing each note of the octaves in quick succession, up the neck:

Now here is a simple piece of music using hybrid picking. It uses the pick, middle (m) and ring (a) finger. Make sure the notes are balanced:

For these examples, and for any type of playing I do, the right hand is straight (but not locked) from the wrist, and the fingers are lightly curled inwards, ready to drop down on the strings when needed. No part of the hand or wrist is anchored on the bridge, and no fingers are anchored on top of the guitar. This allows for easy strumming, picking, and plucking from one hand position all while getting the best sound out of the guitar. That is the economy part of it. I learn one way to do it, and use it for everything.

I have not touched on the applications for jazz or country yet, but keep with it, and you will see how hybrid picking can really inspire your playing, and can allow you to play things that are impossible for the pick or fingers alone.

Written on December 14, 2012, by Dave Eichenberger

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  • I actually use this as well, and in the same way you’ve discovered it! Thanks to Mr. Page! Hahaha, great lesson

  • Wow, I actually do this too! And discovered it the same way and thought exactly the same things!! Awesome lesson, cheers

  • i put the pick in my mouth cuz i like the taste. LOL!!

  • that nail finger tip comment is funny I took classical lessons for a few months and growing nails to use then for that also freaked me out its like someone hitting there teeth with a spoon as they ate soup

  • stuck the pick in his mouth when he didn’t need it.

  • Jpope0148

    I started really utilizing it when i was trying to learn some John 5’ish banjo rolls, never quite got to where i could use my pinky on the right hand though

  • I was accosted by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies on my way to work a long while ago, and I was asked about the apparently longer nails on my right (picking) hand. I explained to the deputy that I played guitar and I used those nails along with a pick to play guitar.

    Needless to say, one obviously intelligent deputy (out of the crowd of deputies around me) then piped up with, “Naw, he just uses those nails to snort cocaine with.” The moral of this story is to try and avoid being profiled by the local yokels and know that you will be automatically labeled a drug user if you play guitar with your fingernails.

    My nails are impeccably trimmed, polished and otherwise groomed. If I were a user of cocaine, using my fingernails would not be on my mind. But then one does not question the higher intelligence of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, that will only end up with bruises on your face and body and some quality time in their magnificent jail cells.

    Go figure.

  • Yeah, the whole ‘stick the pick in the mouth’ thing kinda freaks me out…especially some of the places I have played. So I learned to do this out of necessity, or because I didn’t know any better. And, as a kid, I didn’t realize it would be particularly hard. I just thought that I’d hate to learn both fingerstyle playing and pick-style playing- that sounds like a lot of work!