Mastering Chicken Picking Technique for Beginners

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Country music is an art that requires a unique playing technique to bring out the best sound. Guitarists use various methods to produce sweet melodies, and one such way is through chicken picking. If you’re a beginner guitar player, you may be wondering, what exactly is chicken picking, and how can you master it? Well, in this article, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about this technique, from its basics to advanced practices, exercises, and tips for perfecting it like a pro. We’ll also explore some of the guitarists who have mastered this skill and become legends in the country music scene. So grab your guitar, and let’s get picking!

What is Chicken Picking?

The chicken picking technique is a distinctive style of playing that is often associated with country music. It involves plucking the guitar strings in a rapid-fire manner with the fingers and/or a pick, creating a staccato sound that emulates the clucking of a chicken. The technique requires precise timing and control, as well as a strong sense of rhythm.

Although chicken picking is commonly associated with country music, it has roots in various genres, including blues, rock, and jazz. Guitarists like James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White helped popularize the technique with their virtuosic playing and innovative use of the technique in their respective genres.

In country music, chicken picking is an essential component of the genre’s sound. It is often used to highlight the melody, create a sense of rhythm and swing, and add embellishments to solos. Many iconic country songs feature the technique prominently, making it a must-learn skill for aspiring country guitarists.

To master chicken picking, it is essential to have a solid understanding of the basics of guitar playing. This includes proper hand positioning, picking technique, and fretting notes. It’s also important to practice regularly and start with easy exercises to build up speed and accuracy.

While chicken picking can be challenging to master, the benefits of learning the technique are numerous. It can improve your overall guitar playing skills, enhance your ability to improvise, and make your playing sound more dynamic and exciting.

If you’re just starting with chicken picking, it’s essential to avoid common mistakes that can slow down your progress. These include improper hand positioning, lack of control over picking and fretting hand, and not listening to the rhythm of the music. Be sure to check out this helpful guide to common mistakes to avoid (insert internal link) when practicing chicken picking.

Chicken picking is an essential technique for any guitarist interested in playing country music or adding a unique sound to their playing. While it requires time and dedication to master, the benefits are well worth the effort. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own style and learn from some of the masters of chicken picking like James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White. Check out this guide to advanced chicken picking patterns (insert internal link) to help take your playing to the next level.

Why is Chicken Picking Important in Country Music?

Chicken picking is one of the most important techniques in country music. The genre’s unique sound is characterized by the use of this style, which involves plucking the strings with the fingers, particularly the thumb and index finger, or with the use of a pick to create a chicken-like sound. It is a technique that originated in the country and bluegrass scenes in the 1950s and has since become an essential part of the country guitar vocabulary.

The rhythmic and percussive qualities of chicken picking make it ideal for country songs, where the guitar often provides the driving force behind the rhythm section. It allows the guitarist to create a syncopated, funky, and yet defined groove that complements the other instruments and the overall sound of the band. Additionally, chicken picking enables guitarists to create solos and licks that are fast, precise, and expressive.

Another reason why chicken picking is essential in country music is that it is deeply rooted in the genre’s history and tradition. Chicken picking pioneers like James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White were some of the most influential guitarists in the country music industry, and their style has influenced countless musicians over the years. By mastering this technique, guitarists can pay homage to the genre’s past while carving out their own unique style.

Moreover, there are several benefits of learning to chicken pick for guitarists of all levels. It helps improve one’s finger dexterity, hand coordination, and rhythm skills, which are important elements of playing any instrument but particularly relevant in country music. The technique also forces guitarists to develop their ear for tones and notes, making them more versatile and creative when it comes to writing and improvising music.

Chicken picking is a fundamental skill that every country guitar player should master. It adds a unique flavor to the music, pays tribute to the genre’s history, and has several benefits for guitarists. To learn more about the technique, its history, and its prominent players, check out this article on /history-chicken-picking-country-music/ or browse some great chicken picking country songs on /chicken-picking-country-songs/ and watch videos of guitarists doing it right on /right-guitar-chicken-picking/.

The Basics of Chicken Picking

Learning the basics of chicken picking is essential for any guitarist looking to master country music. Not only is the chicken picking technique highly distinctive, but it can also add a layer of complexity and depth to your playing style. By combining fingerpicking and flatpicking, chicken picking allows for a range of dynamic sounds that can give your music a unique texture. Before we explore some of the more advanced techniques, let’s dive into the fundamental principles that underpin chicken picking. By understanding these basics, you’ll be well on your way to improving your playing and exploring the benefits of chicken picking.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Mastering chicken picking technique is no easy feat, and beginners are bound to make some common mistakes along the way. Let’s take a look at some of these mistakes and how to avoid them:

Common Mistake How to Avoid
Using too much distortion Avoid using too much distortion as it can make your playing sound muddy and indistinct. Instead, start by practicing with a clean tone and gradually add more overdrive.
Not muting unwanted strings Make sure to mute unwanted strings as you play. This is especially important when playing fast chicken picking licks as it will help make your playing sound cleaner and more precise.
Incorrect hand positioning Ensure that your hands are in the correct position on the fretboard and that your picking hand is not too tense. This will help improve your overall technique and make your playing sound more fluid.
Playing too fast too soon Don’t try to play too fast too soon. Start with slow and simple exercises and gradually increase your speed as your technique improves.
Ignoring the importance of rhythm Remember to always pay attention to the rhythm while playing chicken picking. This is key to playing with good timing, which is essential in country music.

Avoiding these common mistakes is crucial to mastering chicken picking technique. By practicing with patience and discipline, you can improve your playing and enjoy all the benefits that come with it, which are discussed in more detail in our article on the benefits of chicken picking.

Exercises for Beginners

As a beginner in chicken picking, it’s important to practice regularly in order to master the technique. Here are some exercises that can help you get started:

Exercise Description
1. Alternating Picking This exercise involves alternating picking between two strings. Start with the low E string and pluck it with your pick, then pluck the A string with your middle finger. Repeat this pattern, making sure to keep the beat steady.
2. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs This exercise involves hammering on and pulling off between two frets on the same string. Start with your first finger on the first fret and pluck the string. Then, hammer on with your third finger on the third fret and pull off back to the first finger. Repeat this pattern, making sure to keep the beat steady.
3. String Skipping This exercise involves skipping over one or more strings to play a lick. Start with your first finger on the third fret of the low E string, then skip over the A string and play the third fret of the D string with your third finger. Skip back over the A string and play the first fret of the G string with your first finger. Repeat this pattern, making sure to keep the beat steady.
4. Chromatic Runs This exercise involves playing a series of consecutive frets on one string. Start with your first finger on the first fret, then play the second, third, and fourth frets in succession. Then move up to the next string and repeat the pattern. Repeat this pattern on all six strings, making sure to keep the beat steady.

It’s important to start off slow and focus on getting the technique right, rather than speed. As you become more comfortable with these exercises, gradually increase the tempo. Practice each exercise for at least 10 minutes a day to see improvement in your chicken picking technique.

Practice Tips

One of the most important things to remember when trying to master chicken picking is that practice makes perfect. Here are some practice tips to help you improve your technique:

Tip Description
Start Slowly Don’t try to play too fast too quickly. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the technique.
Focus on Accuracy When practicing chicken picking, focus on playing each note cleanly and accurately. This will help you develop good habits and ensure that you’re playing the technique correctly.
Use Correct Fingerings Make sure you’re using the correct fingerings for each note. Using the wrong finger can make the technique more difficult than it needs to be and lead to mistakes.
Practice with a Metronome Playing with a metronome is a great way to develop your timing and rhythm when playing chicken picking. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable.
Record Yourself Recording yourself playing can help you identify areas where you need to improve. Listen back to your recordings and take note of any mistakes you make so you can correct them in your next practice session.
Practice Regularly Consistency is key when learning any new technique. Make sure you practice chicken picking regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, to build your muscle memory and improve your skills over time.

By following these practice tips, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the chicken picking technique. Remember to be patient and persistent, and don’t be afraid to reach out to other guitarists or instructors for additional guidance and support.

Advanced Chicken Picking Techniques

Advanced Chicken Picking Techniques
Now that you’ve mastered the basics of chicken picking, it’s time to take your skills to the next level. With advanced chicken picking techniques, you can add even more flair and personality to your playing. From hybrid picking to double stops, there are a variety of techniques and tricks you can add to your repertoire. So grab your guitar, warm up your fingers, and let’s dive into some impressive techniques that will take your chicken picking to the next level!

Using Hybrid Picking

One advanced technique that can help take your chicken picking to the next level is hybrid picking. Hybrid picking combines the use of a guitar pick with the fingers of the right hand, allowing for greater speed and accuracy in playing complex patterns.

To use hybrid picking, hold the guitar pick as usual and rest the fingertips of your right hand on the strings. When playing a note, use the pick for the lower strings and the fingers for the higher strings. This allows for greater control over string selection and can lead to cleaner, more precise playing.

Some benefits of hybrid picking include:

  • Greater speed and accuracy
  • The ability to play complex patterns
  • More control over string selection

One effective exercise for practicing hybrid picking is to play a simple scale, such as the pentatonic scale, using a combination of picking and fingerpicking. Start by playing the notes using just the pick, then gradually incorporate the use of the fingers. This will help develop muscle memory and improve your overall technique.

Some common patterns used in hybrid picking include:

  • The “inside” pattern, where the pick is used for the lower strings and the middle finger for the higher strings
  • The “outside” pattern, where the pick is used for the higher strings and the ring finger for the lower strings

Using hybrid picking can take some time to get used to, but with practice, it can greatly enhance your chicken picking technique. Experiment with different patterns and see what works best for you. Remember to start slow and gradually increase your speed as you improve.

Adding Double Stops

Adding double stops is a great way to give your chicken picking some extra flavor and complexity. A double stop is when you play two notes at the same time, creating a harmonized sound. Here are some tips to help you incorporate double stops into your chicken picking:

  • Start with simple double stops: When you’re first starting out with double stops, it’s best to keep things simple. Try playing two adjacent strings together, like the D and G strings. Then, experiment with different combinations to see what sounds good.
  • Use open strings: Open strings are a great way to add some texture to your double stops. Try playing an open string along with a fretted note on the adjacent string.
  • Experiment with different intervals: Double stops can be harmonized in different intervals, such as a third, fourth, or fifth. This can add some interesting depth to your playing.
  • Incorporate double stops into your licks: Double stops can be a great way to add some variety to your licks. Try playing a double stop at the beginning or end of a lick for some added emphasis.

Remember that mastering double stops takes time and practice, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come easily at first. With time, you’ll be able to seamlessly incorporate double stops into your chicken picking and take your playing to the next level.

Playing Chicken Picking Licks

One of the most exciting aspects of mastering chicken picking technique is being able to play impressive licks. These licks are essentially specific phrases or patterns played with the right hand that give a distinct sound to country music.

Here are some tips for playing chicken picking licks like a pro:

  • Focus on timing: The key to playing great chicken picking licks is to have impeccable timing. The right hand plays a significant role in determining the timing, so it’s essential to practice with a metronome and pay close attention to the rhythm. Start slowly and gradually build up speed.
  • Use open strings: Chicken picking often involves using open strings to create a unique sound. Incorporating open strings into your licks can make them sound more authentic and add a touch of twang.
  • Experiment with bending: Bending notes is a common technique in chicken picking licks. Try bending the third or fourth notes of a lick to add variation and personality.
  • Practice sliding: Sliding from one note to another is another key skill for playing chicken picking licks. Practicing sliding up and down the fretboard can help you master this technique.
  • Incorporate double stops: Double stops involve playing two notes simultaneously, which can create a harmonious effect. Try incorporating double stops into your licks for added complexity.
  • Learn from the masters: Study the playing of accomplished chicken picking guitarists such as James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White. Analyze their licks and try to incorporate their techniques into your playing.

Keep in mind that playing chicken picking licks requires practice and patience. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to perfect your technique. By incorporating these tips into your playing and experimenting with different techniques, you can master chicken picking licks like a pro.

Guitarists Who Mastered Chicken Picking

When it comes to chicken picking, some guitarists have truly made a name for themselves through their mastery of this unique technique. These guitarists have developed their own styles over the years, incorporating elements of country, rock, and blues into their playing. Their incredible skills have not only influenced countless other guitarists but have also helped shape the course of music history. Let’s take a closer look at some of the guitarists who have truly mastered chicken picking and hear what sets them apart from the rest.

James Burton

James Burton is known as one of the greatest chicken pickers of all time. He was a key player in the development of the Bakersfield Sound, a subgenre of country music that emerged in the 1950s and 60s. Burton’s playing style was characterized by lightning-fast runs, intricate licks, and precise phrasing.

Burton’s notable achievements as a musician include:

  • Being the lead guitarist for Elvis Presley from 1969-1977, and playing on some of his most iconic recordings such as “Suspicious Minds” and “Burning Love.”
  • Playing on hits for numerous other artists, including Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Glen Campbell.
  • Being inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum.

Burton’s chicken picking technique was heavily influenced by his love for rock and roll, as well as his admiration for guitarists like Cliff Gallup and Les Paul. He often utilized hybrid picking, which involves using a combination of fingerpicking and flatpicking to achieve a distinctive sound. He also frequently used double stops, where two notes are played simultaneously, to create a fuller sound.

Some of Burton’s most iconic chicken picking licks include:

  • The intro riff to Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou.”
  • The solo on Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q.”
  • The lead guitar parts on Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

Burton’s playing was characterized by his ability to seamlessly blend rock and roll and country music elements, and his influence can be heard in the playing styles of countless guitarists who came after him. If you want to master chicken picking, studying Burton’s playing is a great place to start.

Albert Lee

Albert Lee is one of the most influential guitarists in country music history. He was born in England in 1943, and started playing guitar at a young age. He was heavily influenced by American rock and roll music, and particularly by artists like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.

Lee developed a unique guitar style that blended country, rock, and blues influences. He was particularly known for his use of hybrid picking, which allowed him to play intricate, fast-paced licks with both his pick and his fingers. Lee also incorporated double stops and string bending into his playing, giving his solos a distinctive and exciting sound.

Some highlights of Lee’s career include his work with the Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton, and Emmylou Harris. He has also released several solo albums, including the critically acclaimed “Hiding” and “Gagged But Not Bound.”

Here are some of Albert Lee’s signature techniques:

  • Hybrid Picking: As mentioned before, Lee was a master of hybrid picking. He used his pick and his fingers in tandem to play fast and intricate licks. To use hybrid picking, hold your pick between your thumb and index finger, and use your other fingers to pluck the strings. This technique requires some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can add a lot of flavor to your playing.
  • Double Stops: Double stops are when you play two notes at once. Lee used double stops to create a rich, full sound in his solos. Experiment with different combinations of notes to find what sounds best to you.
  • String Bending: String bending is when you push a string up or down to change its pitch. Lee used this technique to add emotion and expression to his solos. Start with small bends and work your way up to larger bends as you get more comfortable.

Albert Lee’s playing is a testament to the power and versatility of the chicken picking technique. By incorporating hybrid picking, double stops, and string bending into his playing, he created a sound that was uniquely his own. As you continue to hone your own chicken picking skills, be sure to take a cue from Lee and experiment with different techniques to develop your own signature style.

Clarence White

Clarence White is considered one of the pioneers of chicken picking, having helped to popularize the technique in the 1960s. He was a renowned guitarist in the bluegrass and country music scene and served as a member of The Byrds, a popular rock band that incorporated country and folk elements into its music.

Born in Maine in 1944, White grew up in the musical community of Burbank, California, where he quickly developed a passion for the guitar. He began performing with local bluegrass bands as a teenager and honed his guitar skills through countless hours of practice.

White’s playing style was characterized by his precise and lightning-fast fingerpicking technique, which he combined with the use of his middle and ring fingers to pluck the strings in a unique way. This approach allowed him to achieve a distinct sound that was both melodic and rhythmic.

One of White’s signature techniques was his use of double stops, which involved playing two notes simultaneously, often in a syncopated rhythm. He also frequently incorporated open strings into his playing, creating a distinctive and twangy sound that became a hallmark of the chicken picking style.

White’s contributions to music were cut tragically short when he was hit by a car and killed in 1973 at the age of 29. However, his influence on the world of country and bluegrass music continues to be felt to this day.

Here is a table summarizing some key details about Clarence White:

Birthplace Maine, USA
Active years 1960s-1973
Instruments played Guitar, mandolin
Notable bands The Byrds, Nashville West
Key contributions Popularizing chicken picking, developing unique fingerpicking style, innovative use of double stops
Legacy Continues to influence countless musicians in the country and bluegrass genres


As we wrap up our discussion on mastering chicken picking technique for beginners, it’s important to reflect on the progress made thus far. Through the exploration of the basics, common mistakes, and exercises for beginners, we’ve laid a solid foundation for any aspiring country guitarist. We then delved into advanced techniques such as hybrid picking and double stops, as well as highlighted the masters of the craft, James Burton, Albert Lee, and Clarence White. But our journey doesn’t end here. As with any skill, practice and experimentation are the keys to truly mastering chicken picking. So let’s dive into our final thoughts on this subject.

Keep Practicing

To truly master the chicken picking technique, it is essential to keep practicing on a consistent basis. Consistent and dedicated practice is the key to developing muscle memory and perfecting your skills. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated and stay on track:

Set a Regular Practice Schedule: The best way to ensure that you practice consistently is to set aside a specific time each day for dedicated practice. This will help you build a routine and make practicing a part of your daily routine.

Start Slow and Gradual: When you are first starting out, it is important to start slow and gradually increase the speed and complexity of your playing. This will help you develop a strong foundation and avoid developing bad habits.

Track Your Progress: Keep track of your progress by recording yourself playing and keeping a log of your accomplishments. This can help you measure your progress and keep you motivated as you see your skills improve over time.

Work on Challenging Techniques: Identify areas where you need improvement and focus on practicing those techniques. This might involve slowing down difficult passages, repeating them over and over until you get them right, and gradually increasing speed.

Stay Patient and Focused: Remember that learning any new skill takes time and effort. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see improvement right away. Stay focused on your goals and maintain a positive attitude, and you’ll be amazed at how far you can progress over time.

By following these tips, you can stay on track with your practicing and continue to improve your chicken picking skills. With hard work and dedication, you can become a master of this classic country guitar technique.

Experiment with Your Own Style

When it comes to mastering the chicken picking technique, it’s essential to go beyond merely copying other guitarists’ styles. While it’s helpful to study the techniques of guitarists who have mastered the style before you, true mastery comes from developing your own style through experimentation and practice.

Here are some tips for experimenting with your own chicken picking style:

  • Play with different fingerings: Experiment with using different fingers to pluck the strings, and see how it affects your sound. You may find that using your middle finger instead of your index finger produces a brighter tone, for example.
  • Try different picking patterns: Don’t just stick to the same picking pattern every time you play a riff or lick. Mix it up by trying out different patterns, like alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes or using a combination of thumb and finger picking.
  • Incorporate other techniques: Chicken picking is just one technique in a guitarist’s arsenal. Don’t be afraid to incorporate other techniques into your playing, like slides, bends, and vibrato, to create a more unique sound.
  • Develop your own licks: Once you’ve become comfortable with the basics of chicken picking, try creating your own licks and riffs. Start by playing around with different notes and see what sounds good to you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – sometimes the best ideas come from taking risks.
  • Record yourself: When you’re developing your own style, it can be helpful to record yourself playing so that you can listen back and hear what sounds good and what needs work. Try experimenting with different effects and see how they change your sound.

Remember, the key to developing your own chicken picking style is to practice regularly and be open to trying new things. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to find your unique sound – the journey of experimentation is just as important as the end result. So keep playing, keep exploring, and have fun!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to master chicken picking?

Mastering chicken picking can take anywhere from several weeks to several months of consistent practice.

Do I need a special guitar to chicken pick?

No, you can use any guitar to chicken pick. However, some guitarists prefer a Telecaster or a Stratocaster for their bright tone.

Can chicken picking be used in other genres besides country music?

Yes, chicken picking can be used in various genres such as rock and roll, blues, and even jazz.

What is hybrid picking?

Hybrid picking is a technique that involves using a pick and fingers to pluck the strings. It’s commonly used in chicken picking to create a more complex sound.

Is it necessary to use a metronome while practicing chicken picking?

Yes! Practicing with a metronome will help improve your timing and accuracy.

Can I learn chicken picking without a teacher?

Yes, you can learn chicken picking through online tutorials and practice. However, having a teacher can provide personalized feedback and guidance.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when practicing chicken picking?

Some common mistakes include using too much force on the strings, not muting correctly, and improper hand positioning.

Can I create my own chicken picking licks?

Absolutely! Experimenting with your own licks and styles is encouraged in order to develop your own unique sound.

What is a double stop?

A double stop is a technique where two notes are played at the same time on adjacent strings, commonly used in chicken picking to create a more complex sound.

Can I still chicken pick if I have small hands?

Absolutely! With consistent practice, hand size is not a limiting factor in mastering chicken picking.


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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