The Economy of Hybrid Picking
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:
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.