Hybrid picking is a technique that immediately brings to mind cowboy hats and telecasters, but there’s so much more to it. Today we’re going to take a look at the most important aspect of the technique: how it can help you to be a better player!

I got started with this technique a few years ago when Alex Tempest, singer with country band Highway 68, recommended I check out a guitarist called Brad Paisley. I’d heard of Mr Paisley over the years but for some reason I just hadn’t taken the time to listen. I was instantly glad I did.

When I heard the blazing speed that this guitarist achieved, I immediately set off to investigate what techniques he used. Hybrid picking seemed to be the secret to his success.

A strange blend of traditional plectrum usage and fingerpicking, it very quickly took over my playing style and I found the extra flexibility made my picking much more efficient. It also smoothed out a lot of the bumps in my playing. While playing the examples in this article, you’re going to hold your plectrum with your thumb and index finger, and pick with your middle and ring fingers.

Before we get started, this isn’t a ‘how to play country guitar’ article. One of the examples has a country edge, as these licks are a great way in to the technique. We are going to be looking at this picking style in a much wider context. So with that in mind, let’s get picking.

Here’s the key for understanding the picking as shown on the tabs.

  • P= plectrum
  • M= middle finger
  • R = ring finger

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Lick 1 – Country Style

We’ll begin where I did, with a Brad Paisley-inspired lick.

We’re going to start on the 5th fret G string and run up the familiar pentatonic box from there until we reach the A string. There we begin to outline a classic G major open chord.

As you can see, the lick contains some pull offs. Legato style playing (hammer-ons/pull-offs) works very effectively with hybrid picking as it aids the smooth feel and sound that should result from this technique.

Start slow.  There’s no point rushing ahead with this lick as you have to allow yourself some time to get used to the ‘rolling’ sound that it contains. As you can hear in the faster example, the open tones mirroring the 5th fret notes gives the impression of a fast flurry without any extra work.

Lick 2 – Aaron Marshall Style

As I progressed with the technique I started seeing it everywhere. Being a huge fan of Aaron Marshall and his band Intervals, I started to realise how much he used this style of picking to get round certain technical difficulties.

Starting out with some octaves we quickly move on to a lick that requires a bit of legato. Be sure to let the notes ring out slightly when moving between the 13th and 9th fret notes to add that little bit of dissonance. The main aim here is to use hybrid picking to make this pattern less work for your picking hand.

Lick 3 – String Skipping

Expanding a little on an idea in Lick 2, we’re going to see how we can use Hybrid Picking to help us with another notoriously difficult technique.

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String Skipping is hard because you have to jump the strings. The result of this is that it’s hard to remain smooth and consistent, because each large jump increases the margin for error in your picking. Hybrid picking fixes this issue by assigning a plectrum or finger to each string allowing you faster, smoother arpeggios.

Each example here is recorded first slow, and then at full speed. On the slower examples you’ll hear the slight difference in sound between finger and plectrum strokes. This sound shouldn’t stand out so much at higher speeds, but feel free to try and exaggerate it for extra twang on the country lick.

All the licks here were recorded on my Les Paul standard, middle position through a DR.Z profile on my Kemper. Experiment a little with the sounds on your rig and you’ll unlock a whole new range of dynamic reactions with this technique.

I’ll leave you with a couple of video links to showcase the technique, first up is Brad Paisley playing his song ‘Mr Policeman’ which has a huge amount of hybrid picking running through it. Also as a bonus in this video is Robben Ford using it liberally throughout his improvised solo.

Here is Aaron Marshall putting it to a more subtle use in his guest solo for Polyphia’s track, ‘sweet tea’ at around the 40 second mark.

Now, go try this out on all your own licks.

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