The Birth of Chicken Pickin’: Exploring the Origins of the Iconic Country Guitar Style

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Have you ever wondered about the origins of chicken pickin’, the iconic guitar style that has been an integral part of country music? The signature sound, which involves precise picking using both the fingers and a guitar pick, has its roots in the early days of country music. But who were the pioneers of this unique style, and how has it evolved over time? In this article, we will delve deep into the birth of chicken pickin’, exploring its origins and evolution, as well as its essential techniques and famous songs. So, grab your guitar pick and join us for a journey back in time to discover the fascinating history of this legendary guitar style.

The Early Pioneers

The Early Pioneers
As we delve into the origins of Chicken Pickin’, it’s important to honor the early pioneers who helped establish this iconic country guitar style. These players were at the forefront of the genre, shaping it into what we know and love today. Maybelle Carter and Clarence White are just two of the groundbreaking musicians who influenced the evolution of country guitar. Let’s take a closer look at their contributions and how they laid the groundwork for the Chicken Pickin’ style we know today.

Maybelle Carter

Maybelle Carter is often considered the matriarch of chicken pickin’. Her innovative guitar style, which combined fingerpicking and flatpicking, created a distinctive sound that heavily influenced future generations of country guitar players.

The Carter Scratch was the technique created by Carter, which allowed her to play melody lines, bass notes, and rhythm chords simultaneously. She used her thumb to play the bass notes on the lower strings while her fingers picked out the melody and chords on the higher strings. This playing style was not only technically impressive, but also added an element of complexity and depth to the music that was not commonly found in country music at the time.

Maybelle Carter’s influence on country guitar music is undeniable, and her unique style set the foundation for chicken pickin’. Her innovative approach inspired many guitar players to experiment with new styles, techniques, and sounds. She is still widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of country guitar.

If you want to learn more about country guitar techniques and evolution, be sure to check out our articles on country guitar techniques, flatpicking evolution, and hybrid picking in country guitar. Additionally, if you’re interested in the role of the Telecaster in revolutionizing country guitar, make sure to read our article on the Telecaster sound.

Clarence White

Clarence White was another early pioneer of chicken pickin’ and one of the most influential guitarists in country and bluegrass music. Born in California in 1944, White grew up playing music with his brothers and established himself as a skilled guitarist in the Los Angeles folk and bluegrass scenes.

One of White’s most notable contributions to chicken pickin’ was his use of the B-Bender, an innovative device that allowed him to bend the B string of his Telecaster to imitate the sound of a pedal steel guitar. This allowed him to incorporate the distinctive steel guitar licks into his playing and create a new style of lead guitar that was both fluid and emotive.

White’s use of the B-Bender can be heard on many of his recordings with the bluegrass group the Kentucky Colonels, as well as on his later solo albums. His playing on songs like “Nine Pound Hammer” and “Soldier’s Joy” showcased his virtuosity and his ability to merge country, bluegrass, and rock influences into a cohesive style.

Aside from his chicken pickin’ technique, White was also known for his fingerstyle playing and his use of jazz-influenced chord progressions. He was a versatile, innovative musician who pushed the boundaries of traditional bluegrass and country music.

Sadly, White’s life was cut short when he was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 1973 at the age of 29. However, his influence on the world of guitar playing and country music continues to be felt today.

Born Clarence White was born in California in 1944.
Early Career White established himself as a skilled guitarist in the Los Angeles folk and bluegrass scenes.
B-Bender White’s use of the B-Bender allowed him to imitate the sound of a pedal steel guitar in his playing.
Recordings White’s recordings with the Kentucky Colonels and his solo albums showcased his virtuosity and versatile style.
Influence White’s influence on guitar playing and country music continues today.

One contemporary musician who has been influenced by White’s playing is Brad Paisley, who has said that White was a major inspiration for his own chicken pickin’ style. To learn more about Paisley and other influential chicken pickers, check out the section on “Influential Chicken Pickers Today”. And for more on the evolution of country guitar playing, read our article on fingerstyle, flux, and the future of country music.

The Evolution of Chicken Pickin’

The Evolution Of Chicken Pickin'
As the popularity of country music grew in the mid-20th century, so too did the development of chicken pickin’, the iconic guitar style that defined the genre. With its signature sound of rapid-fire notes and intricate picking patterns, chicken pickin’ has evolved over the years to incorporate various influences and techniques. From the rock influences of the 1960s to the unique tonality of the Telecaster guitar, its progression has been nothing short of fascinating. Let’s dig deeper into the innovative changes and growth of the chicken pickin’ style.

Country Rock Influences

When talking about the evolution of Chicken Pickin’, it’s impossible not to mention the influence of Country Rock. Combining elements of both genres, Country Rock emerged in the late 1960s as a new sound that would shape music for decades to come. Some of the pioneering Country Rock musicians, including Gram Parsons and The Byrds, were big fans of traditional Country music and bluegrass, and often used elements of these genres in their own work, including Chicken Pickin’.

The fusion of traditional Country music and Rock influences paved the way for a new generation of guitar players who wanted to push the boundaries of what had been done before. Not only did the new genre require a different sound, but it also demanded a new style of playing, characterized by intricate solos, fast riffs, and unique chord progressions. Chicken Pickin’, with its emphasis on fast picking and use of open strings, became a key component of the new Country Rock sound.

One of the most influential Country Rock guitar players was James Burton, who famously played with Elvis Presley and later with Gram Parsons. His use of Chicken Pickin’ on songs like “Susie Q” helped shape the sound of Country Rock, and influenced countless guitar players who would go on to incorporate similar techniques into their own music.

Another key figure in the development of the genre was Clarence White, who played with The Byrds and is widely regarded as one of the greatest Chicken Pickin’ guitarists of all time. His use of double-string bends and pedal-steel-like techniques helped to create a unique sound that was both innovative and grounded in tradition.

Incorporating Chicken Pickin’ into the new sound of Country Rock not only helped to shape the genre itself, but also paved the way for future guitar players to experiment with different styles and techniques. Today, Chicken Pickin’ continues to be an essential component of the Country and Country Rock sound, and its influence can be heard in countless songs across multiple genres.

The Telecaster Sound

When discussing the birth of chicken pickin’, one cannot ignore the significance of the telecaster sound. The Fender Telecaster is known for its twangy and bright tone, making it the perfect guitar for chicken pickers. Its single-coil pickups have a crystal-clear sound that cuts through any mix, making it a favorite for many country guitarists.

The telecaster also has a unique and versatile design that allows for easy switch between lead and rhythm playing. Its bridge pickup is bright and jangly, perfect for fast and staccato lines, while its neck pickup has a warm and round sound, ideal for smooth and sustained solos.

To achieve the characteristic telecaster sound, chicken pickers use a light touch and pluck the strings with their fingers and pick at the same time, creating a distinct and dynamic sound. This technique is also known as hybrid picking and is essential for any aspiring chicken picker.

Many guitarists also use a compressor pedal to enhance the telecaster’s sound, adding sustain and smoothness to their playing. The compressor pedal is particularly useful for chicken pickers, as it allows them to achieve a consistent and balanced sound, despite the various picking intensities.

The telecaster sound is an essential element of the chicken pickin’ style. Its bright and twangy tone, combined with the hybrid picking technique and the use of a compressor pedal, creates a unique and energetic sound that has become synonymous with country music.

Telecaster Sound Features
Single-coil pickups Crystal-clear sound
Unique design Versatile for lead and rhythm playing
Light touch hybrid picking Plucking strings with fingers and pick
Compressor pedal Enhances sustain and balance in playing

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The Essential Techniques

The Essential Techniques
When it comes to mastering chicken pickin’, understanding and utilizing the essential techniques is crucial. These techniques, which involve a combination of fingerpicking and flatpicking, can help you achieve the signature sound that makes this iconic country guitar style so unique. Through a mix of precision and creativity, chicken pickin’ techniques such as hybrid picking, the sweep, and the rake add flavor and depth to the music. In this section, we’ll explore these techniques in greater detail, breaking down how they work and providing tips for mastering them. So let’s dive in and learn how to achieve the twangy, intricate sound of chicken pickin’.

Hybrid Picking

One of the essential techniques used in chicken pickin’ is hybrid picking. This technique combines both fingerpicking and flatpicking to achieve a fast and precise sound. With hybrid picking, the pick is used to play the lower strings while the middle and ring fingers are used to pluck the higher strings. This technique facilitates playing complex and fast phrases with ease.

To perform hybrid picking correctly, you should hold the pick between your thumb and index finger, while your other fingers should rest on the guitar strings. From there, you can pluck the strings with your remaining fingers while the pick is used to play the lower strings. The key to mastering hybrid picking is building up finger strength and accuracy through practice.

Here is an example of a basic hybrid picking pattern:

String Finger Open String Fretted Note
1 Middle X 7
2 Thumb (Pick) 0 X
3 Ring X 9
4 Thumb (Pick) 0 X
5 Middle X 7
6 Thumb (Pick) 0 5

This pattern uses the middle and ring fingers to pick the high strings while the pick is used to play the lower strings. Once you become comfortable with this pattern, you can move on to more complex hybrid picking exercises and incorporate it into your playing style.

Mastering hybrid picking is essential to play the fast and intricate phrases that are the hallmark of the chicken pickin’ style. With practice and dedication, you can incorporate this technique into your playing and play like the greats of country guitar.

The Sweep

One of the most essential techniques in chicken pickin’ is ‘The Sweep.’ This technique involves using the pick to sweep across multiple strings in a single, fluid motion. It is commonly used for arpeggios and can add a lot of depth and texture to a solo.

To execute ‘The Sweep’, the guitarist uses a pick and starts with a downward stroke on the lowest string of the arpeggio. As the string is played, the pick is then swept across the next string(s) in a single motion and then lifted off the strings. This can be done using either an up or down stroke, depending on the direction of the sweep.

To illustrate, let’s use a simple C major arpeggio as an example:

String: Note: Pick Direction:
1 C Down
2 E Sweep Down
3 G Sweep Down
4 C Sweep Up
5 E Sweep Up
6 G Sweep Up

It’s important to note that ‘The Sweep’ requires a lot of practice to execute properly. Consistency is key, and the more fluid the motion, the better the technique will sound.

In summary, ‘The Sweep’ is a crucial technique for any aspiring chicken picker to master. By using a fluid motion to sweep across multiple strings in a single motion, it can add depth and texture to any arpeggio. With practice and dedication, this technique can become a valuable tool in any guitarist’s repertoire.

The Rake

One of the essential techniques in chicken pickin’ is the rake. This technique involves hitting multiple strings with a downstroke using the edge of the pick. It creates a unique sound that adds an extra layer of texture to the music.

To perform the rake, the pick is held at a slight angle and is dragged across the strings. The player should aim to hit the strings above the desired note or chord and let the pick come to rest on the desired string.

It’s important to note that the rake is typically performed on the lower strings of the guitar, particularly the E and A strings. This is because these strings tend to have a warmer and thicker sound which complements the bright sound of the other chicken pickin’ techniques.

Here is an example of how the rake can be used in a chicken pickin’ riff:

Measure Chord Right Hand Tab
1 G7 Downstroke Rake 3b 3d 3g 3b 3d 3g 3b 2g
2 C7 Upstroke – 3g – 3b – 3d 2g
3 G7 Downstroke 3b 3d 3g 3b 3d 3g 3b 2g
4 D7 Upstroke – – – 4d 3g – 2d 4d

In this riff, the rake is used in the first and third measures to create a rhythmic pattern of quickly repeated notes. This gives the riff a sense of urgency and drive that is characteristic of chicken pickin’.

To master the rake technique, it’s important to start slowly and focus on hitting the strings cleanly and efficiently. With practice, the rake can become a powerful tool in the chicken pickin’ player’s arsenal, adding depth and complexity to their playing.

Iconic Chicken Pickin’ Songs

Iconic Chicken Pickin' Songs
For any aspiring country guitar player, learning how to play chicken pickin’ is essential. And what better way to hone your skills than by studying some of the most iconic chicken pickin’ songs? These songs showcase the technique’s unique blend of plucking and strumming, resulting in a sound that’s unmistakably country. In this section, we will dive into a few standout tunes that exemplify chicken pickin’ and provide insight into how the technique can be used in different musical contexts. So grab your pick and let’s explore some classic tracks that are sure to get your fingers moving!

‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band

One iconic song that showcases the chicken pickin’ style is ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band. Released in 1979, the song quickly became a chart-topping hit in the country music world.

The song tells the story of a young fiddle player named Johnny who is challenged to a fiddle-playing contest by the devil himself. The devil bets that he can win Johnny’s soul if he fails to beat him in the contest. The tension builds throughout the song as the two musicians engage in a battle of the fiddles.

The chicken pickin’ style is most prominently featured in the guitar solos throughout the song. The guitar work is fast-paced and intricate, with a mix of single notes, double stops, and quick chord changes. The solos are full of dazzling techniques, including hybrid picking, sweeps, and rakes, which give the song its signature sound.

The song’s most memorable moment comes in the final fiddle solo, where Johnny’s skills are put to the test against the devil’s fiery playing. Johnny’s fiddle work is matched by a series of lightning-fast guitar licks that showcase the chicken pickin’ style at its finest.

Overall, ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ is a classic example of how chicken pickin’ can be used to add energy and excitement to a song. Its enduring popularity and influence on other musicians is a testament to the power of this iconic country guitar style.

| Song Title | “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” |
| Artist | Charlie Daniels Band |
| Release Year | 1979 |
| Main Guitar Technique | Chicken pickin’ |
| Guitar Solo Characteristics | Fast-paced, intricate, use of hybrid picking, sweeps, and rakes |

‘Hot Wired’ by Brent Mason

One of the most iconic Chicken Pickin’ songs is undoubtedly “Hot Wired” by the legendary guitarist Brent Mason. The song features a combination of lightning-fast licks, intricate melodies, and intricate rhythms that perfectly showcase the Chicken Pickin’ style.

In “Hot Wired,” Brent Mason brings his unique blend of country, jazz, and blues influences to create a sound that is both timeless and innovative. He employs a range of techniques that are essential to the Chicken Pickin’ style, including hybrid picking, the sweep, and the rake.

One particularly impressive aspect of Mason’s playing in “Hot Wired” is the use of arpeggios. He creates cascading lines of notes that seem to flow effortlessly from his fingers, utilizing the sweep and rake techniques to achieve a smooth and fluid sound.

What also stands out in this song is the tone that Mason achieves. To accomplish this, he uses a number of effects like compression, distortion, and delay. However, it’s not all about the gear. Brent Mason’s impeccable technique and attention to detail in his playing are what truly set him apart as a Chicken Pickin’ pioneer.

Here is a table that summarizes some of the key elements of Brent Mason’s “Hot Wired” that make it an essential Chicken Pickin’ song:

Technique Description
Hybrid Picking Using both a pick and fingers to play notes
The Sweep Muting strings while playing arpeggios
The Rake Playing multiple notes with a single pick stroke
Arpeggios Cascading lines of notes using the sweep and rake techniques
Tone Compression, distortion, and delay effects mixed with impeccable technique and attention to detail

Overall, “Hot Wired” by Brent Mason is a song that perfectly encapsulates the essence of Chicken Pickin’. It showcases the importance of technique, tone, and innovation in this iconic guitar style.

Influential Chicken Pickers Today

When it comes to chicken pickin’, some guitarists stand out as absolute masters of the style. Their lightning-fast fingers and impeccable technique have made them icons in the world of country music, influencing countless players and creating a whole new generation of chicken pickers. If you’re looking for inspiration or trying to hone your own chicken pickin’ skills, look no further than these incredible guitarists who are keeping the tradition of chicken pickin’ alive and well in the modern era. From Brad Paisley to Johnny Hiland, let’s take a closer look at the influential chicken pickers of today.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley is one of the most influential chicken pickers of our time, and his impact on the country guitar style is undeniable. Born in West Virginia in 1972, Paisley has been playing guitar since he was just eight years old. He credits his grandfather, who played guitar for Hank Williams, as one of his biggest influences.

Paisley has released numerous hit songs and albums over the years, and his technical prowess on the guitar is often the centerpiece of his music. His signature Telecaster sound and lightning-fast runs are instantly recognizable. He has won three Grammy Awards and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

In addition to his impressive solo career, Paisley has collaborated with other artists and bands, including Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, and the Rolling Stones. He has also been a mentor and inspiration to up-and-coming guitarists, including many who specialize in the chicken pickin’ style.

Here is a table highlighting some of Brad Paisley’s career accomplishments:

Birthplace Wheeling, West Virginia
Instrument(s) Guitar, vocals
Awards 3 Grammy Awards
Notable Collaborations Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, The Rolling Stones
Signature Techniques Hybrid picking, rapid-fire runs, Telecaster sound

Paisley’s influence on modern country music cannot be overstated, and his innovative use of the chicken pickin’ guitar style has helped to keep it relevant and popular. His technical prowess on the instrument is matched only by his passion for the genre, and he continues to inspire new generations of chicken pickers to this day.

Johnny Hiland

Johnny Hiland is widely considered one of the most influential chicken pickers of the modern era. He was born blind, but that did not stop him from mastering the guitar and becoming a virtuoso in his own right. He is known for his lightning-fast speed and precision, as well as his ability to blend various genres seamlessly.

Here are some of the highlights of Johnny Hiland’s career:

Albums Collaborations Awards and Honors
“Johnny Hiland” (2004) Joe Bonamassa, Ricky Skaggs, Toby Keith Instrumentalist of the Year (2002, 2004) from the Country Music Association of America (CMA)
“Loud and Proud” (2016) Brad Paisley, John Rich, Van Zant Guitar Player Magazine’s “Best Country Guitarist” (2006)
“All Fired Up” (2019) Beth Hart, Michael Lee Firkins, The Outlaws CMA Musician of the Year nominee (2007)

Johnny Hiland is known for his unique playing style that blends traditional chicken pickin’ with other genres such as rock and blues. His technical ability is simply astounding, and he uses techniques such as hybrid picking, sweep picking, and economy picking to achieve lightning-fast speed and precision. He is also a master of tone, using various pedals and effects to create a signature sound that is unmistakably his own.

Despite being blind, Johnny Hiland has never let his disability hold him back. He has been an inspiration to many, and his music has touched the hearts of countless fans around the world. He continues to tour and record, and his influence on the world of guitar playing is sure to be felt for many years to come.


In summary, the birth and evolution of chicken pickin’ has proved to be an incredibly influential facet of country music that has inspired countless guitar players and songwriters. From the early pioneers like Maybelle Carter and Clarence White, to modern-day virtuosos like Brad Paisley and Johnny Hiland, the unmistakable sound of chicken pickin’ continues to captivate audiences around the world.

What sets this guitar style apart from others is not just its deceptively complex technical aspects but its emotive power. The use of hybrid picking, sweep techniques, and the iconic Telecaster sound all come together to create a style that can convey a range of emotions from joy and humor to sadness and longing.

And while chicken pickin’ has undoubtedly evolved over time, it remains a fundamental part of country music heritage. From classic tracks like ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band to more recent hits like ‘Hot Wired’ by Brent Mason, the chicken pickin’ style has been and continues to be a hallmark sound in country music.

As guitarists continue to explore new and innovative techniques, the legacy of chicken pickin’ remains as strong as ever, a testament to the enduring power of this iconic style. Whether you are a seasoned pro or just starting out, the techniques and inspiration provided by the pioneers and modern-day chicken pickers alike serve as an endless source of creativity and joy for guitar players everywhere.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is chicken pickin’?

Chicken pickin’ is a guitar technique that originated in country music. It involves playing fast, syncopated runs and licks using a combination of fingerpicking and flatpicking.

How did chicken pickin’ get its name?

The origin of the name is unclear. Some say it was derived from the sound of a chicken picking at food, while others suggest it refers to the speed and accuracy required to play the style.

Who were the early pioneers of chicken pickin’?

Maybelle Carter and Clarence White were among the first guitarists to popularize the chicken pickin’ style in country music.

What were some country rock influences on chicken pickin’?

The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and other bands during the 1960s and 70s blended country music with rock influences, which led to a hybrid guitar sound that influenced the evolution of chicken pickin’.

What is the Telecaster sound?

The Fender Telecaster guitar was the instrument of choice for many chicken pickers thanks to its bright, twangy tone and versatility.

What is hybrid picking?

Hybrid picking is a technique that involves using a pick and fingers to pluck strings simultaneously. This allows guitarists to play faster and more complex runs than with just a pick alone.

What is the sweep?

The sweep is a technique that involves playing several notes on adjacent strings in one downward or upward motion of the pick, creating a fast, smooth sound.

What is the rake?

The rake is a technique that involves rapidly strumming the strings with the pick while muting them with the fretting hand. This creates a percussive, rhythmic sound.

What are some iconic chicken pickin’ songs?

‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band and ‘Hot Wired’ by Brent Mason are two famous examples of chicken pickin’ songs.

Who are some influential chicken pickers today?

Brad Paisley and Johnny Hiland are two contemporary guitarists who have made a name for themselves with their chicken pickin’ skills.


About the author

Hi there! I’m Jack Little – an avid country music fan with tons of live country performances in the past. I used to play banjo in a country band with my best friend John Peters, who’s a true country harmonica master. Those were great years and I’m still mastering new banjo playing techniques, writing my own country songs and lyrics, and collecting banjos!

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