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Blues Guitar Lessons: Chicken Pickin'

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We've been looking at a lot
of different ways to pick lately.
Tremolo picking,
straight up alternate picking,
the hybrid picking technique as
we apply it to the pedal tones.
But here's one maybe you didn't
think of is using picking to
imitate barnyard animals.
I mean, how obvious is that?
Call it
chicken picking.
The telecaster was designed I think
specifically with chicken picking in mind
when I flip over to the bridge position.
Right, really brings out that kind of
clucking quality that we like, right.
Now, what is chicken picking and
why do we care?
Well, chicken picking is a way of
creating a real dynamic variety
in the right hand, and especially
over certain kind of grooves, and
certain sort of stylistic
corners of blues.
It's one of those techniques that just,
it just hits it right on the head,
it just fits perfectly.
We're going to come back and
see chicken picking
in some other contexts later on but
for now we'll apply it to the shuffle.
Here's the essence of chicken
picking Here's kind where the
where the cluck comes from, okay?
I'm gonna play a note
I'm gonna imagine myself
in the key of C here.
It doesn't matter what note
I play in particular but
I'll use my index finger for now,
the eighth fret on the third string.
And now what I'm gonna do is,
here's the sound
Now the way the technique works
is I've actually placed my
middle finger on the third string and
I'm muting it.
Meanwhile, I take the pick and
I pluck it down.
But because I'm muting the string with my
finger, there's no sound that comes out.
But as soon as I pick it,
I then pluck with that same
finger that I was using to mute.
So it's mute, pick, [SOUND] pluck.
[SOUND] Mute, pick, pluck.
As soon as I'm done muting and plucking,
I bring the finger back into position for
the next mute.
So what I did there was I played
changed notes, right.
I can do anything in my left hand.
I'm just using a consistent
technique in my right hand
That's where you get some of
the crying chicken, I call that.
You bend the note, release it.
And you get different effects,
always the same technique,
it's mute, pick, pluck, mute,
pick, pluck, mute, pick, pluck.
All right.
Now, another approach to the same sound,
which is a slightly different
technique Is to fret the notes but
not really press the strings down.
Now that seems pretty weird but
check this out.
I'm in the key of C.
All right, here's a C minor
pentatonic scale
All right, I didn't press any of those
notes down I just positioned my finger In
the usual position as if I
was gonna press it down.
And I pluck it,
but since I didn't press it down
I hear mostly percussion and
a little bit of pitch and
it's mixing the degree of pitch and
percussion that makes it
sound like chicken picking.
So here's another take on chicken picking.
I've got the traditional pattern,
or the technique.
And then there's the sort
of the half-fretted note.
And to exaggerate the sound of that
half-way pressed down note,
I use my finger.
Hybrid picking.
Pick, finger, pick,
finger on different strings and
I use a little bit of fingernail
in there as well
And you can combine those with
any number of different phrases.
There's nothing about the phrasing
itself that's unique,
it's more just the technique and
the sound that it produces.
So let me give you a demonstration of
chicken picking over a 12 bar blues
in the key of C and
it's a cool sound if you like it.
We'll hear it again later on in a sort
of a down home context as well.
Now I restricted myself
to that one pattern,
you can play it anywhere
you like on the neck.
And I'm thinking of phrases that have an
especially kind of a percussive quality.
Because this is [LAUGH] such a,
it's kind of silly,
but because it has such
a down home quality to it,
it sounds good when you play
real percussively, real funky.
And it works especially
well over funky grooves.
Like not necessarily just the shuffle but
where you've got
you know?
It just lends itself to that
sort of snappy kind of a groove.
So anyway there's the idea of
the technique, you bend the string,
you make the note cry
a little bit on the release.
You play it on the lower strings,
on the upper strings.
And you know the half fretted notes.
They're all ways of kind
of producing this sound.
If you really like that quality,
listen to Albert Collins.
Albert Collins played with
his bare thumb and finger and
he always snapped the strings
on his telecaster.
And he had a great sense of humor too.
And he liked to sort of create
the sounds of things around him.
He could make his guitar
sound like windshield wipers,
I mean crazy stuff, you know.
He has a tune called,
Conversation with Collins,
where he does all kinds of
weird noises with the guitar.
But he basically,
I would say his basic style was chicken
picking done much more elegantly
than that in the sense that he didn't
just exclusively use that technique.
But he had such a dynamic quality and
had such a pop to it.
That that's the sound that you approximate
when you do the chicken picking style, and
it's a lot of fun to play around with.
So, mess with that and why don't you send
me back a solo that incorporates some of
these techniques we've
been talking about here,
these oddball techniques,
the pedal tones, chicken picking.
See if you can build them into your
phrasing in a way that sound like it flows
And I'd like to hear what
you're doing with it.
I'll learn some ideas, too.