I often get asked about my right hand technique. I started on classical guitar but soon was drawn to the power of the pick. Out of "sonic necessity" I developed the ability to use right hand fingers along with the pick, commonly known as hybrid picking. No single person can take credit for inventing hybrid picking, but it is a cornerstone of my style, and the style of many other guitarists before me.
A general rule of hybrid picking is: low notes are hit with the pick and higher pitches are hit with any combination of your right middle (m), ring (a) and pinky fingers.
Hybrid picking works equally well for both rhythm and lead playing. In rhythm playing the pick strikes bass notes while the fingers pluck higher strings in a piano like fashion (i.e. striking the notes of the chord together as opposed to in sequence as in a strum). In lead playing, rapid-fire licks can be executed across wide intervals, as the pick and fingers strike different strings, nanoseconds apart. Hybrid picking even allow you to play chord melodies, where lead and rhythm guitar come together.
The following is the first part of the solo breakdown from my tune "Carrots And Grapes" (from the CD "Room 137"). In my mind I was trying to recreate the sound of Les Paul overdubbing guitar parts, except doing it in real time, with one guitar. It serves as a great exercise to learn and master this technique.
The left hand stays in the 9th or 8th position, except for the octaves in measure four. Play the wide interval string skipping by using the pick on the lower notes and using the "a" (third) finger of the right hand for the higher pitches.
Keeping the right hand relaxed is key to making this sound fluid. Lightly rest the palm of your right hand on the bridge. If you notice you tension in your hand, release it. Relax your hand, and then try it again. Do not practice this technique with tension in your hand, because you will train your hand to be tense. Hands are tough to re-program once they have learned something a certain way.
Use this riff as a jumping off point for coming up with all kinds of hybrid licks. For additional listening you can hear this technique used extensively on recordings by Eric Johnson and Danny Gatton.
I hope you are able to use some of these ideas to improve your playing. If you have any insights you would like to share, email me.
Curtis, a guitarist and composer from Playa del Rey, California, has a long-term goal to write and record great music and share it with as many people as possible.
His eponymous debut CD features thirteen instrumental tracks and two vocal numbers.
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