Picture this: the sun is setting on a dusty, rural road in the American Midwest. You hear the twang of a guitar and the fast, intricate plucking of strings known as chicken picking. It’s a style of guitar playing that is quintessential to the genre of country music, and it’s admired by guitar enthusiasts all over the world. One can’t help but wonder, what exactly is chicken picking? Where did it come from? How can you learn to play it? In this article, we’ll delve into the world of chicken picking, explore its origins, highlight famous country songs that use this style, and provide tips for learning this unique technique. So grab your guitar and let’s pluck our way through the evolution of chicken picking.
What is Chicken Picking?
Have you ever wondered how those guitarists in famous country songs get that distinctive and dynamic sound? It’s likely they’re using a technique called chicken picking. This technique is characterized by the use of both the pick and the fingers to pluck the strings with staccato notes that mimic the sound of a chicken clucking. Chicken picking is a cornerstone of country music, with its origins dating back to the 1950s. In this section, we will dive deeper into what exactly chicken picking is and how it contributes to the iconic sound of country music. To learn more about the history of chicken picking in country music, check out our previous article.
The Origins of Chicken Picking
Chicken picking is a guitar playing technique that originated in the early part of the 20th century. This technique is closely associated with country music and is characterized by fast and intricate patterns played on the guitar.
One theory on the origins of chicken picking is that it was inspired by the sound of chickens pecking at the ground. This is where the term “chicken” picking comes from. Some say that early country guitarists noticed how chickens moved their heads around while pecking, and this inspired them to mimic that movement with their fingers on the guitar.
Another theory is that chicken picking evolved from the fingerstyle guitar playing that was popular in the early part of the 20th century. As country music began to gain popularity across the United States, guitarists started experimenting with different techniques to create a unique sound that set them apart from other genres.
Whatever the origins of chicken picking may be, it is clear that this technique has become an integral part of country music. Today, many guitarists use chicken picking as a way to add flair and personality to their playing.
If you are a beginner looking to learn chicken picking, it is important to start with the basics. It is also essential to choose the right guitar for chicken picking, and avoid common mistakes that beginners often make. Learning this technique can provide numerous benefits, including increased finger dexterity and improved overall guitar playing ability.
If you are an advanced player looking to further develop your chicken picking abilities, you can explore more complicated patterns and techniques. There are many resources available online and offline to help you improve your chicken picking skills, including instructional books, video tutorials, and experienced teachers.
No matter your level of experience, keeping an open mind and being patient with the learning process will take you far in mastering chicken picking. Remember to practice consistently, stay motivated, and most importantly, have fun with it!
To learn more about chicken picking for beginners, check out our article on essential tips for chicken picking. If you are interested in learning more about the right guitar for chicken picking, visit our guide on choosing the perfect guitar for chicken picking. Additionally, you can avoid common mistakes of electric guitar chicken picking by reading our guide on how to avoid common mistakes when playing electric guitar with chicken picking technique. For those who want to learn more about advanced patterns and techniques, check out our article on advanced chicken picking patterns. Finally, learn about the benefits of chicken picking.
The Basics of Chicken Picking
When it comes to chicken picking, there are some essential basics that you need to understand. This technique involves using a combination of the pick and your fingers to create a signature sound that is synonymous with country music. Here are some fundamental aspects of chicken picking:
|Right Hand||Chicken picking involves using both the pick and fingers on your right hand to pluck the strings. Typically, you use your thumb to play the bass notes and your index and middle finger for the treble strings.|
|Chords||When playing chords, you should focus on the top few strings to achieve the chicken picking sound. Avoid playing all the strings at once.|
|Rhythm & Timing||Rhythm and timing are vital in chicken picking. The technique involves placing emphasis on certain beats, which requires a sense of timing and rhythm. It takes time and practice to perfect this skill, but it’s worth it for the signature sound.|
|Muting||To achieve a clear sound, muting is an essential technique. You can mute the strings by resting your palm on the bridge or using your pinky finger to lightly touch the strings. This way, you can produce a clean and precise sound.|
|Hybrid Picking||Hybrid picking is a crucial aspect of chicken picking. It involves using both the pick and fingers to pluck the strings. You may use the pick for the bass lines and your fingers for the higher strings, or alternate between the two for a diverse and dynamic sound.|
These basics provide an introductory idea of what chicken picking entails. However, to truly master this technique, it takes time, patience, and practice. Keep experimenting and exploring different ways to play the strings, and you’ll be playing like a pro in no time.
Famous Country Songs That Use Chicken Picking
If you’re a fan of country music, you’ve likely heard the fast-paced, intricate guitar technique known as chicken picking. This style, characterized by its staccato notes and syncopated rhythm, has been used in countless country songs over the years. From classic tracks to current hits, some of the most beloved and recognizable tunes in the genre feature this signature sound. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at some of the top country songs that showcase the art of chicken picking. Get ready to tap your boots and nod your head along to the guitar magic of these legendary tracks!
Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
One of the most iconic examples of chicken picking in country music is heard in the classic rock and roll hit, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry. The guitar riff that opens the song is instantly recognizable, and has been covered by countless musicians over the years.
To play the opening riff of “Johnny B. Goode” using chicken picking, you will need to use a combination of fingerpicking and percussive strumming techniques. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to play the riff:
- Step 1: Start with your thumb resting on the 6th string at the 3rd fret.
- Step 2: Use your middle finger to pick the 2nd string at the 3rd fret.
- Step 3: Use your index finger to pick the 3rd string at the 2nd fret.
- Step 4: Use your middle finger to pick the open 2nd string again.
- Step 5: Use your ring finger to slide up to the 5th fret on the 3rd string, and then quickly release the note.
- Step 6: Use your index finger to pick the open 3rd string.
- Step 7: Use your thumb to pick the 6th string at the 3rd fret, followed by a percussive strumming motion on the strings with your fingers.
Repeat these steps to play the main riff of the song, which is used throughout the verses and chorus.
If you’re new to chicken picking, “Johnny B. Goode” is a great place to start practicing. It’s a relatively simple riff that will help you build the necessary skills to play more complex patterns in the future. So grab your guitar and start strumming!
The Devil Went Down to Georgia – The Charlie Daniels Band
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a beloved country classic that showcases the incredible skill of the band’s guitarist, Charlie Daniels. Using a combination of flatpicking and chicken picking, Daniels creates a style that is instantly recognizable and sets the tone for the entire song.
One of the key features of this song is the use of call and response between the guitar and the fiddle. Daniels’ chicken picking technique allows him to play complex, rapid-fire riffs that perfectly complement the fiddler’s melody. This creates a dynamic, energetic sound that has been enjoyed by audiences for decades.
The song tells the story of a fiddle-playing boy named Johnny who challenges the devil to a musical competition. If Johnny wins, he gets the devil’s golden fiddle. If he loses, the devil gets his soul. As the song progresses, Daniels’ guitar playing becomes more frenzied and intense, building up to the final showdown between Johnny and the devil.
Throughout the song, Daniels’ use of chicken picking adds a distinctive flavor to the guitar parts. Rather than strictly adhering to a standard picking pattern, he blends in quick, staccato notes and bends to create a unique sound that perfectly matches the rest of the band.
Overall, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is a perfect example of how chicken picking can be used to create memorable, iconic guitar parts in country music. Whether you’re a guitarist looking to improve your skills or simply a fan of classic country music, this song is a must-listen.
Hot Rod Lincoln – Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
One of the most popular country songs that utilizes chicken picking is “Hot Rod Lincoln” by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. This upbeat song features a catchy guitar riff that is instantly recognizable.
The chicken picking technique is used throughout the song, particularly during the guitar solos. The guitarist switches effortlessly between picking individual strings and strumming chords, creating a unique and dynamic sound.
One of the standout moments in “Hot Rod Lincoln” is the guitar solo, which features a fast and impressive display of chicken picking. The guitarist uses quick and precise movements to pluck each note, creating a flurry of sound that is sure to impress any listener.
Fun fact: “Hot Rod Lincoln” was actually a cover of a song originally recorded by Charlie Ryan in 1955. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s version became a hit in 1972 and has remained a popular country song ever since.
If you’re interested in learning how to play “Hot Rod Lincoln” or other songs that feature chicken picking, there are a variety of resources available. From online tutorials to in-person lessons with a professional teacher, there are many ways to improve your skills and master this unique guitar technique.
Tip: As you practice chicken picking, start slow and gradually increase the speed. Focus on accuracy and precision, rather than speed, and work on developing a consistent picking technique.
Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or just starting out, learning the art of chicken picking can add a unique element to your playing style. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is just one example of how this technique can be used to create memorable and iconic country songs.
Rocky Top – The Osborne Brothers
One famous country song that is well-known for its use of chicken picking is “Rocky Top” by The Osborne Brothers. Released in 1967, this classic tune has become an anthem for the state of Tennessee.
The instrumental break of the song is a prime example of chicken picking at its finest. The lead guitar work, performed by Bobby Osborne, features lightning-fast runs and intricate fingerpicking patterns that are sure to impress any listener.
In the first section of the instrumental break, Osborne starts out with a classic chicken picking riff that utilizes open strings and muted notes. He then transitions into a series of lightning-fast runs up and down the fretboard, showcasing his impressive technique and precision.
The second section of the instrumental break features more intricate fingerpicking patterns, with Osborne utilizing hybrid picking to achieve a full and rich sound. The notes fly by at breakneck speed as he seamlessly transitions from one pattern to the next.
Overall, “Rocky Top” is a fantastic example of chicken picking in action. To learn this technique, aspiring guitarists should study the work of Bobby Osborne and other chicken picking pioneers. With practice and dedication, anyone can master this impressive technique and create their own memorable solos.
Mercury Blues – K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins
One of the most popular songs that showcase the chicken picking technique is “Mercury Blues” by K.C. Douglas and Robert Geddins. This song has been covered by various artists, including Steve Miller Band and Alan Jackson.
The song is played in the key of E and uses a combination of quick downstrokes and hybrid picking. The main riff of the song is played with a shuffle rhythm and involves playing the root note with the thumb and the higher strings with the index and middle fingers.
To play the main riff of “Mercury Blues,” follow these steps:
- Step 1: Start with your ring finger on the 4th fret of the 6th string.
- Step 2: Use your thumb to pick the 6th string and your index and middle fingers to pick the 3rd and 2nd strings, respectively.
- Step 3: Move your ring finger to the 2nd fret of the 5th string and repeat the picking pattern.
- Step 4: Move your index finger to the 1st fret of the 5th string and repeat the picking pattern.
Repeat these steps throughout the song, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the chicken picking style. To help you further, here’s a table that shows the chords used in the song:
|E||E, B, E, G#, B, E|
|A||A, E, A, C#, E, A|
|B7||B, F#, B, D#, F#, A|
Remember to practice at a slow tempo before gradually increasing the speed. It may take some time and patience to get the timing and accuracy of the notes down, but with dedication and consistent practice, you can master the chicken picking technique and play songs like “Mercury Blues” with confidence and flair.
Act Naturally – Buck Owens
One prime example of the chicken picking technique in use can be found in Buck Owens’ hit song, “Act Naturally.” The song, famously covered by The Beatles, features a catchy guitar riff that is both simple and effective.
The guitar part consists of mainly staccato notes played in quick succession, giving the song a bouncy and energetic feel. The riff is played on the lower strings of the guitar, mainly focusing on the E and A strings. Take a look at the table below for a breakdown of the riff:
|1||E5 (open), A5 (fret 5), E5 (open)|
|2||A5 (fret 5, muted), E5 (open), A5 (fret 5, muted)|
|3||E5 (open), A5 (fret 5), E5 (open)|
|4||A5 (fret 5, muted), E5 (open), A5 (fret 5, muted)|
To achieve the true chicken picking sound, it’s important to use a combination of flatpicking and fingerpicking. The notes played with the flatpick should be sharp and staccato, while the notes plucked with the fingers should be smooth and round. This creates a unique contrast in tone that is characteristic of the chicken picking style.
If you’re new to chicken picking, learning this riff is a great starting point. Once you’ve mastered it, try experimenting with variations and incorporating chicken picking into your own playing. Who knows, you might just become the next Buck Owens!
Cannonball Rag – Merle Travis
One of the most popular and challenging country songs that make use of chicken picking is Cannonball Rag, a classic instrumental piece written and performed by Merle Travis.
Travis was a skilled guitarist who developed the fingerstyle technique in the early 1940s, which later became known as Travis picking. Cannonball Rag is a prime example of this technique, and it’s considered one of the most important fingerstyle guitar pieces ever written.
The song features a complex series of patterns, rhythms, and chords, which creates a fast-paced, energetic style that is both intense and impressive. The instrumental piece has become a staple of country music and has been covered by numerous artists over the years.
If you’re interested in learning the chicken picking technique, studying the Cannonball Rag is a great place to start. However, it’s important to note that the song is quite challenging and will require a lot of practice and patience to master.
Here’s a table outlining the key elements of Cannonball Rag:
|Travis picking||A fingerstyle guitar technique that involves alternating the thumb and fingers to create a complex pattern of bass, melody, and rhythm.|
|Chord progressions||The song features a series of chord progressions, including G–C–G–D–G and G–C–D–G.|
|Improvisation||One of the key features of chicken picking is the ability to improvise and create variations on the original melody. Travis was known for his ability to improvise and create variations on his songs.|
|Speed and accuracy||To play Cannonball Rag effectively, you’ll need to master both speed and accuracy. This means keeping a consistent tempo and hitting each note cleanly and clearly.|
It’s worth noting that while Cannonball Rag is a challenging song to learn, it’s also incredibly rewarding. Not only will you gain a deeper understanding of chicken picking, but you’ll also develop your fingerstyle technique and gain valuable experience in improvisation and musicality.
Redneck Jazz Explosion – Danny Gatton
One of the lesser-known yet highly influential guitar players who used chicken picking in his playing was Danny Gatton. His unique style, often referred to as “redneck jazz,” blended elements of country, rockabilly, and jazz.
In his song “Redneck Jazz Explosion,” Gatton showcases his mastery of the technique with lightning-fast runs and intricate licks. Some of the standout moments in the song include the use of harmonics and double stops to create a cascading effect, as well as the use of chromaticism in his runs.
Gatton was known for using a thumb pick and fingerpicks to produce a sharp and precise sound, allowing him to execute complex patterns with ease. His use of hybrid picking, a technique that involves using a combination of fingers and pick, also contributed to his distinct sound.
But Gatton’s talent extended beyond just his technical ability. He had a deep understanding of music theory and was able to incorporate elements of different genres seamlessly. He also had a playful sense of humor that shone through in his music, with unexpected twists and turns that kept the listener on their toes.
Danny Gatton’s contribution to the world of chicken picking and guitar playing cannot be overstated. His innovative style and virtuosic playing continue to inspire and influence musicians today.
Tiger Rag – Brad Paisley
One great example of chicken picking in country music is Brad Paisley’s rendition of “Tiger Rag.” This classic jazz tune gets a country twist with Paisley’s masterful guitar skills.
In “Tiger Rag,” Paisley showcases his ability to combine fast, intricate picking with melodic phrasing. To achieve this, he employs a number of techniques, including hybrid picking, which involves using both the pick and individual fingers for picking patterns.
Additionally, Paisley uses a lot of double stops in his playing, which involves playing two notes simultaneously to create a fuller, more complex sound. He also incorporates slides and bends to add flavor to his solos.
Here is a breakdown of the guitar tab for the main riff of “Tiger Rag,” as played by Brad Paisley:
|G||7||Hammer-on and pull-off|
To learn “Tiger Rag” and other chicken picking tunes, it’s important to practice consistently and master the necessary techniques. There are many resources available for aspiring guitar players, including online tutorials and lessons from experienced instructors. By following the advice of skilled musicians and putting in plenty of practice time, anyone can learn to play like Brad Paisley and other Nashville greats.
The Claw – Jerry Reed
One of the most famous examples of chicken picking in country music is Jerry Reed’s “The Claw.” This instrumental tune has become a cornerstone of the fingerstyle guitar repertoire, remaining popular amongst players of all skill levels to this day.
The Song Structure
“The Claw” is an instrumental tune that is typically played on acoustic or electric guitar. The song features a repeating melody that is played over a set of chord changes. The melody itself is made up of a series of “licks” or short phrases that are repeated throughout the song.
The song is played in the key of E, and the chord changes follow a basic I-IV-V pattern. The chords used are E, A, and B7, which are all common in country music.
Chicken picking is characterized by a distinct picking technique that involves using the fingers to pluck the strings in a percussive manner. The technique is similar to playing a banjo, with the thumb and first two fingers of the picking hand used to strike the strings.
To play “The Claw,” the picking pattern involves striking the bass note of each chord with the thumb and then quickly plucking the next few notes with the fingers. The pattern repeats throughout the song, with variations added to keep the melody interesting.
Jerry Reed’s “The Claw” remains a popular example of country chicken picking to this day. It has been covered by countless artists and is often used as a learning tool for guitar students looking to master the chicken picking technique.
If you’re interested in learning how to play “The Claw” or other chicken picking tunes, there are many resources available. Online instructional videos, guitar tablature, and private lessons are all great options for learning this unique and challenging style of guitar playing.
Stratosphere Boogie – Brian Setzer
Brian Setzer’s “Stratosphere Boogie” is a fast-paced, high-energy song that showcases some impressive chicken picking technique. Here are some key elements to focus on when learning this song:
- Speed: Setzer’s chicken picking in this song requires a lot of speed and accuracy. To build up your speed, start playing the song at a slower tempo and gradually work your way up to the full speed.
- Alternate Picking: This song relies heavily on alternate picking. Practice using both upstrokes and downstrokes to pick the strings with precision.
- Sixteenth Note Runs: The guitar solo features a lot of sixteenth note runs that require quick and precise picking. Practice these runs slowly at first and gradually work your way up to full speed.
- Double Stops and Bends: The song also features some double stops and bends that add to the overall sound. Work on using your fingers to press down on two frets at once and bending the strings to hit the desired notes.
Learning “Stratosphere Boogie” is a challenging but rewarding task for any aspiring chicken picker. With practice and dedication, you can master the techniques used in this song and add it to your repertoire.
How to Learn Chicken Picking
If you’ve been inspired by the iconic country songs that feature chicken picking, you may be wondering how to learn this distinctive style of guitar playing. It can seem overwhelming at first, but with practice and the right resources, you can start to master the techniques that make chicken picking so unique. In this section, we’ll explore some tips and strategies for learning chicken picking, as well as some recommended resources and teachers to help you along the way. So grab your guitar and let’s get started on this exciting journey!
Practice Techniques and Tips
To master the art of chicken picking, there are some specific techniques and tips that can help you along the way. Here are a few to keep in mind:
- Start Slow: It’s essential to start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become comfortable with the technique. This will help you develop muscle memory and accuracy.
- Alternate Picking: Chicken picking typically involves alternate picking (down-up-down-up) with the right hand. Focusing on this technique will help you produce that signature sound.
- Palm Muting: To create a crisp, precise sound, try using palm muting with your picking hand. This technique involves resting the outside edge of your hand on the bridge of the guitar to mute unwanted strings.
- Playing with Dynamics: Dynamics play a key role in chicken picking, so it’s important to practice playing with varying levels of volume and intensity to create a dynamic and interesting performance.
- Use a Metronome: A metronome can help you maintain a steady tempo while you practice chicken picking. Start with a slow tempo and build up gradually over time.
- Master Chord Progressions: Many famous country songs that use chicken picking follow a specific chord progression, so mastering those progressions can greatly enhance your skills. Work with a chord chart and practice transitioning between chords smoothly and quickly.
- Watch and Learn: One of the best ways to learn chicken picking is by watching other guitarists play. Look for instructional videos online, attend concerts, or connect with a local guitar teacher who specializes in this technique.
By incorporating these techniques and tips into your practice routine, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art of chicken picking and creating your own signature sound. Remember to start slow, use a metronome, and focus on dynamics to produce a polished and impressive performance.
Recommended Resources and Teachers
When it comes to learning chicken picking, having the right resources and teachers can make all the difference. Here are some recommended resources and teachers to consider:
|Chicken Pickin’ Guitar by Johnny Hiland||A DVD series that covers the basics of chicken picking and includes exercises, techniques and examples. Great for beginners and intermediate players.|
|Country Guitar Heroes by Arlen Roth||A comprehensive book and CD set that covers the history of chicken picking along with lessons from famous players such as Chet Atkins, Albert Lee and Jerry Reed.|
|Fretboard Roadmaps – Country Guitar by Fred Sokolow||An instructional book that covers the basics of chicken picking as well as techniques such as double stops, string bending and slides. Great for players who want to improve their overall guitar skills.|
|Guthrie Trapp||A Nashville-based session player and teacher who offers online Skype lessons. Trapp has worked with artists such as Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton, and is known for his chicken picking and other country guitar styles.|
|Brent Mason||Another Nashville-based session player and teacher, Mason is a sought-after session player and has worked with artists such as Alan Jackson and George Strait. He is known for his chicken picking as well as other guitar styles.|
Remember, the key to mastering chicken picking is practice and patience. Using these recommended resources and teachers can help you develop your skills and reach your full potential as a chicken picker.
In conclusion, chicken picking is a unique and intricate guitar style that has made its mark on the world of country music. It has a fascinating history that dates back to the early 20th century, when guitarists started experimenting with new techniques and sounds.
Through its evolution, chicken picking has become an essential part of many famous country songs. Some of the most iconic tracks of all time, such as “Johnny B. Goode” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” showcase this distinctive guitar style, and it has been responsible for inspiring many musicians throughout the years.
If you are interested in learning how to play chicken picking yourself, there are plenty of resources and qualified instructors available to help you along the way. By practicing regularly and perfecting your techniques, you can master this impressive guitar style and add it to your musical repertoire.
So, whether you are a long-time country music fan or simply interested in exploring a new guitar style, chicken picking is definitely worth exploring. With its unique sound and rich history, it is sure to continue captivating audiences for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between chicken picking and regular fingerpicking?
Chicken picking is characterized by the use of hybrid picking, a technique that combines fingerpicking with the use of a pick to achieve a unique sound that is not commonly heard in other genres.
Can chicken picking be used in other genres of music besides country?
Hybrid picking can be used in a variety of genres such as blues, rock, and jazz, but chicken picking is most commonly associated with country music.
Do I need a special type of guitar to play chicken picking?
No, any type of guitar can be used for chicken picking, but a guitar with single-coil pickups is preferred to achieve the twangy sound that is commonly associated with country music.
Can chicken picking be played on an acoustic guitar?
Yes, chicken picking can be played on both electric and acoustic guitars. However, the sound may differ slightly due to the differences in the instruments’ construction.
What are some common techniques used in chicken picking?
Common techniques used in chicken picking include string bending, double stops, and the use of open strings to create a unique sound.
What is the best way to practice chicken picking?
The best way to practice chicken picking is to start slow and gradually increase speed as you become more comfortable with the technique. It is also important to practice with a metronome to ensure your timing is accurate.
Is it possible to learn chicken picking without a teacher?
Yes, there are many resources available online that can help you learn chicken picking without a teacher. However, it may be helpful to have a teacher to provide personalized feedback and guidance.
Are there any famous guitarists known for their chicken picking skills?
Yes, some famous guitarists known for their chicken picking skills include Brad Paisley, Jerry Reed, and Danny Gatton.
Can I incorporate chicken picking into my own songwriting?
Yes, incorporating chicken picking into your songwriting can add a unique element to your music and help you stand out as a guitarist.
Is chicken picking a difficult technique to learn?
Like any technique, chicken picking takes time and practice to master. However, with dedication and hard work, anyone can learn how to chicken pick.