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picking trouble

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Jersey Jack
(@jersey-jack)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Topic starter  

I'm an acoustic flatpicker, and I primarily play chords to accompany my singing in old-timey mountain/cowboy songs. In these styles, of course, one wants a crisp, regular alternating bass, but I can't seem to develop this skill, as I keep picking the wrong strings!

Because I normally play open chords, and because I have no difficulty with my fretting hand, the problem is not so much hitting bad notes as a very sloppy, irregular sound. I've tried again and again to work through this problem--I can play a D chord with alternating bass on the D and A strings for ten minutes straight, and at the end of this period my technique is a little better (say 85% picking the correct string), but when I come back to the guitar it's like no progress has been made. I'm back in my 60% range once again. Instead of a nice regular 1-5-1-5 bass, I produces something like this: 1-5-1-1-1-5-5-1-5-3-3-1, etc. Yuck! :evil:

So what to do? I feel like an NBA player with a 60% free throw record! Does anyone have good exercizes for developing this alternating bass skill? Do any of you regularly ANCHOR your picking hand with your pinky on the pickguard? This seems to work a little, but I find it hard to maintain this position while strumming.

Best,
Jersey Jack


   
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dogbite
(@dogbite)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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I know what you mean. I love playing old country pick strum style. I havea hard time with that alternating bass.
there is no secret unfortunately. I usually anchor, just a bit, with my palm instead of the pinky.
nailing it is concentration and coordination...something I lack sometimes....most times.
grrr.

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Scrybe
(@scrybe)
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yup, yup, palm anchored to the bridge a little helps with the accuracy. the, uh, bottom left hand corner of your palm, if you hold your hand out so the palm is facing upwards.

you could also play it really slow with a metronome and then build up speed gradually.

man, this is one of those things I had nailed ages ago, and since then I've just done it without practising. trying to figure out how I do to comment on this post, I've realised how shoddy my technique has become with not playing as regularly! so yeah, metronomes, bridge anchoring and regular practise.

I also find it much easier/accurate to play everything using my thumb nail, but then it stops being flat-picking, lol.

Ra Er Ga.

Ninjazz have SuperChops.

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Jersey Jack
(@jersey-jack)
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Topic starter  

Okay, that sounds doable: I'll try anchoring with my palm.

I wonder if Hank did it this way?

Best,
Jersey Jack


   
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Rahul
(@rahul)
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You can also consider going pickless.

I play guitar that way mostly. Use your thumb for picking the alternate bass strings and use the fingers to play the trebles. Great pick n boom or boom chuck sound from the guitar.


   
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gnease
(@gnease)
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Observations:

It is better to learn faltpicking without firm anchoring (esp palm on bridge), as that will detract from your ability to move around on the strings to change timbre, and eventually will limit cross-string picking speed. Anchoring a la banjo -- pinkie or pinkie + ring resting lightly on the top should be adequate to "ground" your positioning if necessary.

Playing with fingers is a solution that can work, but the timbre is very different -- maybe not clean and clear enough to sub for flatpicking. It is also very difficult to replicate the speed and aggressive nature of flatpicking on a steel string using only fingers or fingernails. Using thumbpick and fingerpicks (again like banjo!) is a compromise that might work. Even a thumbpick alone might get you there.

-=tension & release=-


   
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Jersey Jack
(@jersey-jack)
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Topic starter  

I tried to anchor with my palm last night, and I agree with gnease that this is not an ideal solution. I also tried finger picking, which worked very well for the accuracy of the alternating bass, but fell short on volume, sharpness, etc. The sound was low and muted, unable to compete with my voice (which is loud, too loud, I think!).

I guess I'll keep on keeping on--using the pinkie as a light anchor and practicing very slowly. We'll see!

Jersey Jack


   
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Wes Inman
(@wes-inman)
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I would look into a compressor, many Country players especially use this to get very even chord strums. A compressor does just what it says, compresses the volume. Loud notes are attenuated or cut in volume, softer notes are boosted. This will give you a very even sound. A compressor also gives a very pretty chime to chords.

Here is a good demo of the MXR Dynacomp, one of the most popular compressors ever.

As far as picking technique, go to the music store and buy a wide variety of picks, thin, medium, heavy, etc.... You will find each pick feels and sounds a little differently, and everybody has their own preference in picks. I myself have come to prefer Fender Thin picks. I like just a little flexibility in picks, keeps them from hanging up on strings and sounding "clunky". I find I can get a much more even strum with these picks as well. But try a variety, some players prefer heavy or stiff picks.

And practice picking individual strings keeping hand motion to a minimum. If you can learn to pick single strings at speed with control you will find this carries over to strumming as well, you will use less motion in time. It will improve your picking accuracy. Practice 16th notes starting slow, maybe 70 BPM and gradually go up. With a little practice like this everyday in a few months you will see your speed and accuracy improve dramatically.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


   
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Wes Inman
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Another great way to improve your strumming is YouTube. YouTube has literally hundreds of free guitar videos. Some are not so good, but many are excellent. For your style I would type in "bluegrass guitar". You are sure to find many excellent videos that will help.

Here is a nice video of a fellow flatpicking. Notice how super-relaxed he is. This is very important. Also notice he anchors his pinky on the pickguard, but lets his hand float freely. This will keep your hand a consistent distance from the strings which will help your strumming. This particular song is individual notes, but as I said before, this will actually improve your strumming as well. And in the Country/Bluegrass styles you play, you often play single note runs between chords, so you need to practice single note runs anyway.

Oh yeah, the video. :D

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


   
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yournightmare
(@yournightmare)
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I tried to anchor with my palm last night, and I agree with gnease that this is not an ideal solution. I also tried finger picking, which worked very well for the accuracy of the alternating bass, but fell short on volume, sharpness, etc. The sound was low and muted, unable to compete with my voice (which is loud, too loud, I think!).

I guess I'll keep on keeping on--using the pinkie as a light anchor and practicing very slowly. We'll see!

Jersey Jack
Try a thumb pick.


   
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kent_eh
(@kent_eh)
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I wonder if Hank did it this way?

Take a look for yourself :)

I wrapped a newspaper ’round my head
So I looked like I was deep


   
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Jersey Jack
(@jersey-jack)
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Topic starter  

I wonder if Hank did it this way?

Take a look for yourself :)

:mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

That's FIVE green men....You've made my day!

Man, it doesn't get any better than that! Oh, that voice, that suit!

Jersey Jack


   
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jwing
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I second the recommendation to try different picks.

I am a proponent of learning by beginning v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y, s-l-o-w-l-y. First, with no rhythm, them with a metronome set super slow. Gradually, increase metronome speed, but not before you have your skill absolutely nailed at the slower speed.

One thing you want to avoid is practicing mistakes. If you do, you will get good at making mistakes. Make sure your playing is simple and slow enough to be accurate.

I would bet $100 that you have some issues with your posture, and/or how your guitar is supported, and/or muscular tension. If you completely remove your fretting hand, does the guitar change position? If so, you are trying to hit a moving target with your pick whenever you change chords. I recommend that you invest in the "Guitar Principles" book and DVD. It's pretty dry, but it really does contain the solution to your problem. (Well, it's not a solution; it is a progression of exercises designed to allow you to diagnose and correct whatever you are doing to cause your misses.)

The last tidbit I can offer is to try a guitar with a wider string spacing. I did that to increase the comfort of my fretting hand and I found my picking hand to be way more accurate.


   
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wannabepicker
(@wannabepicker)
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Good day,

I've only been playing for a little over 2 years, and I've spent most of that time learning bluegrass. Many hours practicing the "boom-chuck" strum, and many of it's variations. Through much reading and DVD's, I've learned that even among the greats(Tony Rice, Doc Watson, Bryan Sutton, David Grier, Norman Blake, JP Cormier, etc.), there's many different approaches to strumming and picking. As far as the strumming hand, one common element is the looseness of the wrist. They all have a real loose wrist, very little tension. Also, very few of the greats anchor any fingers. I've only seen one, Charles Sawtelle. I've tried both anchor and no anchor. I've found that while the ancor can give you a better sense of position b/w strings in the short run, it really slows you down when you pick up the tempo. IMO your better off with a floating hand. It'll take longer to get a good grasp of your position b/w strings, but once you get it down it'll sound better and give you more freedom. With the anchor you lose a lot of power and freedom of movement.

I still consider myself a beginner (prob b/c I'm learning from DVD's of the guys mentioned above, and that's all I have to compare myself to - oh well, downside of living in a remote northern community), but a turning point for my rhythm strumming has come from watching Rice, Sutton, and Watson. Their fingers are not anchored, but lightly brush/touch the high E string.when doing bass runs/boom-chuck. The only time there fingers somewhat curl is when they take a lead break. Once I got used to doing this, I realised that it gives me excellent feel for where my pick is at in relation to the strings. Sometimes my finger tips will slightly go under the high E string on the "boom". I use my ring finger, and pinkie a little. It may feel awkward at first, but doesn't take long to get used to. At slow tempos, you may think it'll dampen the high strings. If it does, it's not noticeable. Def not at high tempos. IMO, too much treble ruins a nice bluegrass rhythm anyway. I like a nice bass - mid sound. Too much treble kills it for me.

Give it a try. Won't hurt. If it doesn't work for ya, at least your another step closer to your solution.


   
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Denny
(@denny)
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Something that might help. On your downward strum, shorten the length of the sweep. It may help you get back to the bass note a little easier.

Denny


   
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