Common Mistakes to Avoid While Chicken Picking on Electric Guitar

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As a guitar player, have you ever found yourself struggling to achieve that distinct, twangy sound of country music? Look no further than “Chicken Picking,” a technique that has become an essential element of country guitar style. However, while it may appear simple at first glance, mastering chicken picking can be a challenge. In this article, we will delve into the common mistakes that many guitar players make when attempting to chicken pick and provide tips to improve your technique. So, pick up your guitar and let’s get started!

Importance of Chicken Picking in Country Music

Importance Of Chicken Picking In Country Music
When it comes to country music, the sound of a perfectly executed chicken picking technique on an electric guitar can make all the difference. This technique, characterized by fast, staccato notes played with a combination of the pick and fingers, is an integral part of the genre’s signature sound. Not only does chicken picking add depth and complexity to your playing style, but it can also help you stand out as a skilled musician. However, to achieve this, it’s important to understand the role of the electric guitar in country music and the evolution of chicken picking over time. To learn more about chicken picking, check out our article on the history of chicken picking in country music.

1.1 Understanding the Role of Electric Guitar in Country Music

The electric guitar is an indispensable instrument in Country Music. It is known for its ability to create a unique sound that perfectly complements the distinct style of this genre. With the advent of chicken picking, the electric guitar’s role in country music has become much more significant.

Chicken picking is a technique of playing the guitar that emphasizes on playing individual notes using a finger-and-pick technique at a rapid pace. It involves plucking the strings with precise timing and rhythm to create a syncopated sound that is typical of country music. This style of guitar playing has become an essential part of many popular country songs, and it can make the most straightforward melodies sound complex and compelling.

To excel at chicken picking, it is vital to understand the importance of the electric guitar in country music. The guitar’s sound must be clear and crisp, with each note played precisely and distinctly. The ability to manipulate the sound of the electric guitar through various techniques, such as string bending and vibrato, is also what makes it popular among country musicians.

Some of the most famous country musicians, such as Brad Paisley, Albert Lee, and Brent Mason, have mastered the art of chicken picking. Their unparalleled ability to blend various techniques has made them some of the greatest guitarists in the world.

If you’re a beginner interested in learning chicken picking, it is essential to choose the right guitar for the job. A guitar with low action and a wide neck is ideal for this playing style. You should also choose a guitar that has a bright and punchy sound to get the most out of each note.

The electric guitar is a key component of country music. With chicken picking, this instrument has become an even more significant part of the genre, providing players with the ability to create complex and compelling sounds. To learn more about chicken picking, check out our beginner’s guide here.

1.2 Brief History of Chicken Picking and Its Evolution

Chicken picking is a technique of playing a guitar that draws its roots from country music. The style is characterized by strumming the strings with a combination of fingerpicking and pickpicking to create a plucking sound that is similar to the clucking of a chicken. This sound gave rise to the term “chicken picking.”

The origins of chicken picking can be traced back to the 1950s when guitarists began experimenting with new playing techniques to create a unique sound that would distinguish country music from other genres. Artists such as Jimmy Bryant, Merle Travis, and Chet Atkins were among the pioneers of the technique. They used the “hybrid” picking style to achieve the distinct sound that we associate with chicken picking today.

Over time, chicken picking evolved as more guitarists experimented with the technique. Today, the style continues to be a fundamental part of country music and has influenced other genres such as rock and jazz. Guitarists like Brad Paisley and Brent Mason have helped to popularize chicken picking, making it a technique that every aspiring country guitar player should master.

The evolution of chicken picking has also led to the development of new and advanced techniques that have challenged the boundaries of the traditional style. Advanced chicken picking patterns involve the use of different picking techniques, such as sweep picking and alternate picking, that require high levels of accuracy and finger dexterity. These patterns are common in modern country music and give the player a wider range of sounds to work with.

Learning the history and evolution of chicken picking can help you gain a deep understanding of the technique and its importance in country music. It can also help you appreciate the benefits of using the technique in your guitar playing. To learn more about chicken picking and how to improve your technique, check out these helpful tips or explore some popular country songs that feature chicken picking.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Common Mistakes To Avoid
As much as you learn the ins and outs of chicken picking, there are still some common mistakes that can hold you back. It’s important to note these vital pitfalls that most players make and avoid them at all costs. By doing this, you’ll improve your proficiency in the technique and be able to play with more precision and speed. Let’s take a closer look at these common mistakes to avoid. And if you’re wondering about the benefits of chicken picking, you can check out our previous article on why it’s worth mastering. Or if you’re ready for some advanced patterns, go straight to our article on next-level chicken picking.

2.1 Neglecting the Importance of Your Pick

When it comes to chicken picking on the electric guitar, the pick you choose is just as important as the technique you use. Unfortunately, many beginners neglect the importance of selecting the right pick for the job.

So, what is the right pick for chicken picking? Ideally, you want a pick that is thin enough to produce a bright and crispy tone, while also being sturdy enough to withstand the fast and aggressive picking motion required for chicken picking.

One common mistake is to use a pick that is too thick or too heavy. This can result in a dull and muffled sound that doesn’t capture the essence of the chicken picking style. On the other hand, using a pick that is too thin or flimsy can make it difficult to maintain control over your picking motion.

Another common mistake is to hold the pick too tightly or too loosely. If you grip the pick too tightly, you may find that your picking motion becomes tense and cramped, which can lead to mistakes or even injury over time. Conversely, holding the pick too loosely can cause it to slip out of your fingers, leading to sloppy playing.

To avoid these mistakes, it is important to experiment with different pick sizes, shapes, and materials until you find the one that works best for your playing style. Additionally, make sure to hold the pick with just enough pressure to maintain control over your picking motion without causing undue tension or strain.

Remember, the right pick can make all the difference when it comes to achieving the bright and twangy tone that is characteristic of the chicken picking style. So, don’t neglect the importance of selecting the right pick for the job!

2.2 Not Muting the Strings Properly

One of the most common mistakes that beginners make while chicken picking on electric guitar is not muting the strings properly. Failing to mute the strings can lead to unwanted noise and interference, making the overall performance sound sloppy and amateurish.

To help you avoid this mistake, here are some tips on how to properly mute the strings while chicken picking:

  • Use Your Palm: Try resting the palm of your picking hand towards the bridge of the guitar. This will help you mute the lower strings that are not being played, creating a cleaner and tighter sound.
  • Use Your Fingers: While playing a note on a particular string, use your non-picking fingers to lightly touch and mute the other strings. This will prevent them from vibrating and producing any unwanted noise.
  • Use Your Pick: You can also use the edge of your pick to gently mute the adjacent strings while playing a lick or riff. This will help you to get a clean sound and avoid any extraneous noise.
  • Practice: Effective muting technique takes time and practice to perfect. So be sure to incorporate this into your daily guitar practice routine in order to develop the necessary muscle memory and coordination.

Remember, mastering muting techniques can transform your ordinary chicken picking into an impressive, professional sound. So, do not skip out on this simple, but crucial step to elevate your guitar playing skills.

2.3 Incorrect Plucking Technique

One of the most common mistakes guitarists make while chicken picking is using an incorrect plucking technique. This mistake can lead to a lack of control over the notes you’re playing, and can result in inconsistent tempo and timing. In order to avoid this mistake, it’s important to understand and practice the correct plucking technique.

The incorrect way to pick:

Mistake Description
Picking with the arm Using primarily the arm to pick notes rather than the fingers, leading to a lack of control and precision over the strings.
Playing with stiff fingers Keeping your fingers stiff while plucking instead of allowing the natural motion of the fingers to create a distinct and precise sound.
Failure to use proper finger picking techniques Using only two or three fingers to pluck rather than using all four fingers, creating fewer options for note selection.

The correct way to pick:

In order to avoid these mistakes, it’s important to use the proper finger picking technique. This involves using all four fingers to pluck and utilizing a natural motion with the fingers rather than relying solely on the arm. Here are some tips to help perfect your plucking technique:

Technique Description
Practice slow Slow and controlled practice is the best way to form proper finger picking technique.
Relaxed wrist A relaxed wrist will allow your fingers to move in a natural way, increasing your control over the notes that you’re playing.
Pluck with fingertips Pluck the strings with your fingertips, not your nails or the pads of your fingers, for the most precise sound.
Utilize all four fingers Using all four fingers when plucking will give you more options for note selection and greater control over the strings.
Practice with metronome Practicing with a metronome will help you perfect the timing of your finger plucking and ensure that you’re playing at a consistent tempo.

By utilizing the correct plucking technique and avoiding common mistakes, you can create a clear and precise sound that truly captures the essence of chicken picking on electric guitar.

2.4 Improper Hand and Finger Positioning

When it comes to chicken picking, having the correct hand and finger positioning is crucial for both the correct sound and avoiding injury. This mistake is commonly made by beginners who are not yet familiar with the technique, but even experienced players can fall into bad habits. Here are some common improper hand and finger positions to watch out for, and ways to correct them:

Mistake Correction
Fingers too curled or straight When plucking the strings, make sure your fingers are slightly curved and relaxed. This will help you to hit the right string and avoid injury from repetitive strain.
Hand too tense or too loose Make sure your hand is relaxed, but not too loose. Tension can cause injury and affect your overall sound. Experiment with finding the right balance for your hand.
Plucking with the wrong part of the finger When plucking the strings, use the tip of your finger for a clearer sound. Avoid plucking with the fleshy part of your finger, as this may produce a muffled sound.
Plucking with the wrong finger It is important to use the correct finger for each string. Use your index finger for the G and B strings, your middle finger for the D string, and your ring finger for the A string. Use your thumb for the low E string.
Incorrect wrist position Make sure your wrist is straight and not bent. This will reduce tension in your hand and allow for smoother playing. Experiment with the height of your wrist to find what is most comfortable for you.

Proper hand and finger positioning can take time to develop and can vary from player to player. Take the time to analyze your own technique and don’t be afraid to experiment with different hand and finger positions to find what works best for you. By avoiding these common mistakes and practicing proper hand and finger positioning, you will be on your way to becoming a proficient chicken picker.

2.5 Excessive or Inappropriate Use of Effects Pedals

It’s no secret that effects pedals can add an interesting new dimension to your guitar playing, including chicken picking. However, it’s important to use them in moderation and with discretion, as excessive or inappropriate use of effects pedals can easily detract from the technique and overall sound of your playing.

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when it comes to effects pedals:

Avoid Why?
Using too many effects at once This can create a muddy, cluttered sound that makes it difficult for listeners to distinguish individual notes and nuances of your playing.
Dependence on distortion alone While distortion can add a gritty edge to your playing, relying on it alone can also mask mistakes and sloppy technique. It’s important to make sure your playing remains clean and precise, even with distortion added.
Using inappropriate effects for the style of music While certain effects can work wonders in one genre of music, they may clash or sound out of place in another. It’s important to choose effects that complement the style of music you’re playing and avoid those that clash with it.

The solution to these mistakes is to use effects pedals judiciously and thoughtfully, experimenting with different combinations and sticking to those that enhance your playing without detracting from it. Remember, the goal should always be to elevate your chicken picking technique, not to showcase your effects pedal collection.

2.6 Rushing Through the Technique

One of the most common mistakes that guitarists make while chicken picking is rushing through the technique. It can be tempting to play as fast as possible, especially when trying to impress others or keep up with a backing track. However, in doing so, the guitarist risks sacrificing precision and accuracy in their playing.

To avoid this mistake, it’s important to focus on playing slowly and deliberately at first. Take the time to perfect the technique at a slower tempo, ensuring that each note is clear and distinct. This will help to build muscle memory and improve coordination, making it easier to play at faster speeds in the long run.

Here are some tips to help avoid rushing through the technique:

  • Use a metronome to keep a consistent tempo and gradually increase the speed over time.
  • Focus on accuracy rather than speed – try to make each note as clean and precise as possible.
  • Practice in short bursts rather than long sessions to avoid fatigue and maintain focus.
  • Take breaks to stretch and relax your fingers to prevent tension and cramping.
  • Listen to recordings of other guitarists playing the technique at a slower tempo to get a sense of the proper timing and rhythm.

By taking the time to develop a solid foundation and avoiding the urge to rush, guitarists can achieve greater control and mastery over the chicken picking technique. Remember, it’s not about how fast you can play, but how well you can play!

2.7 Insufficient Practice and Patience

One of the biggest mistakes that novice chicken pickers make is not devoting enough time to practice and lacking patience. Becoming proficient in this technique takes time and effort, and without sufficient practice, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to master it. Additionally, chicken picking can be frustrating in the beginning, but it’s essential to remain patient and not give up.

Below are some of the reasons why insufficient practice and patience can hinder your progress in chicken picking:

Reasons Effects
Lack of Muscle Memory: If you don’t practice regularly, your fingers won’t be able to develop the muscle memory required for chicken picking. The technique involves intricate movements, and repetition is the key to improving your accuracy and speed.
Inability to Track Progress: Without regular practice, it’s difficult to track your progress in terms of speed and accuracy. This can be demotivating and cause you to lose interest in learning the technique.
Frustration: Chicken picking can be frustrating in the beginning, as it requires a lot of coordination between your picking and fretting hand. If you lack patience, you might get discouraged and abandon the technique altogether.
Slow Progression: Chicken picking is not easy, and it takes time to master. If you don’t set aside enough time for practice, your progression will be slow, and it might take a long time before you see any noticeable improvements in your playing.

To avoid the negative effects of insufficient practice and patience, it’s important to prioritize your practice sessions and create a routine that you can stick to. Even if you only practice for a few minutes a day, consistency is key. Additionally, try to track your progress by recording yourself and listening back to identify areas that need improvement. Remember, practice makes perfect, and with time and effort, you’ll become an adept chicken picker.

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Tips to Improve Your Chicken Picking Technique

Mastering chicken picking technique on electric guitar is no easy feat. It requires patience, consistency, and a lot of practice. In the previous section, we discussed some common mistakes that can hinder your progress. Now, let’s focus on some actionable tips that can help you enhance your chicken picking skills and take your country music playing to the next level. From the importance of listening and watching to investing in a decent setup, these tips will help you develop a strong foundation and refine your technique. So, grab your guitar and let’s dive in!

3.1 The Importance of Listening and Watching

It cannot be overstated how crucial listening and watching are to improving your chicken picking technique on electric guitar. As you practice, it’s essential to pay attention to the nuances of the particular style you’re attempting to master.

One way to enhance your listening and watching skills is to study the greats. Listen to recordings of iconic chicken picking guitarists like Brent Mason, James Burton, and Albert Lee. Pay attention to their use of dynamics, their timing, and their phrasing. Use their playing as a model for your own practice.

Another way to improve your listening and watching skills is to slow down your playing. By playing at a slower tempo, you can better focus on the technique and hear any errors or inconsistencies in your playing. Additionally, slowing down your playing can help you to train your ear to the specific notes and timing of the chicken picking style.

To keep track of your progress, consider recording yourself and then watching it back. This will allow you to see any mistakes you’ve made and identify areas where you need to improve. Additionally, it can help you to work on your body posture and hand placement while playing.

By listening carefully to the music and studying the playing of other guitarists, you can improve your ability to play chicken picking on the electric guitar. Additionally, regularly recording and reviewing your playing can help you to identify areas for growth and progress towards your goals.

Ways to Improve Listening and Watching Skills
Study the playing of iconic chicken picking guitarists like Brent Mason, James Burton, and Albert Lee.
Focus on dynamics, timing, and phrasing.
Play at a slower tempo to train your ear to specific notes and timing of the chicken picking style.
Record yourself and watch it back to identify mistakes and areas for improvement.

3.2 Consistency of Rhythm and Timing

To improve your chicken picking technique, it’s crucial to have a consistent rhythm and timing. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:

  • Start slow: When you’re practicing, start at a slower tempo than you would normally play. This will help you focus on your timing and ensure that you’re hitting the notes at the right time.
  • Use a metronome: A metronome is a tool that can help you keep time. Set it to a slow tempo, and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable with the technique.
  • Focus on the downbeat: The downbeat is the first beat of each measure. It’s important to emphasize this beat when you’re chicken picking. This will help you stay in time and ensure that your playing sounds tight and precise.
  • Practice with a backing track: Playing along with a backing track is a great way to improve your timing. Choose a track that’s at a slow tempo and make sure that you’re playing in time with the music.
  • Record Yourself: Record yourself while you practice and listen back to it. Listen for any sections where your rhythm and timing may be off. Take note of these sections and repeat them until you have mastered the timing.

Remember: Consistency of rhythm and timing is essential for chicken picking. With practice and patience, you can improve your chicken picking technique and ensure that your playing sounds tight and precise.

3.3 Investing in a Decent Setup

Investing in a decent guitar setup is crucial for achieving good chicken picking tone and technique. A well-maintained and properly set up guitar will not only enhance your playing but also reduce the chances of injury or discomfort from playing for long periods.

A guitar setup typically involves the following components:

Component Description
String height The distance between the fretboard and the strings, also known as action. This affects the ease of fretting notes and the overall playability of the guitar.
Intonation The accuracy of the guitar’s tuning across the entire fretboard. Incorrect intonation can result in notes sounding out of tune, making it difficult to play in tune with other musicians.
Truss rod adjustment The truss rod is a metal bar inside the guitar’s neck that can be adjusted to correct the neck’s curvature. Correct neck curvature is important for both playability and intonation.
Pickup height adjustment The height of the guitar’s pickups can affect the tone and volume. Adjusting the pickup height can help achieve a balanced and clear tone.
Fret polishing Frets can become worn or corroded over time, affecting the guitar’s playability and intonation. Polishing the frets can improve the smoothness of the fretboard and help notes ring out more clearly.

Getting a professional setup can also solve any issues with:

  • Unwanted fret buzz
  • Uneven playing action (some strings harder to press down than others)
  • Incorrect intonation causing chords to sound out of tune
  • Pickups not working properly

Keep in mind that different guitars may require slightly different setups depending on the player’s preference and the type of music they’re playing. Make sure to communicate your needs and goals with your guitar technician.

Investing time and money in a decent guitar setup can greatly improve your playing experience and is an important step towards achieving proficiency in chicken picking.

3.4 Incorporating Other Techniques

One way to improve your chicken picking technique is by incorporating other techniques. This can help create more dynamic and interesting phrases while also increasing your overall skill level on the guitar. Here are some techniques to consider incorporating:

Technique Description
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs Hammer-ons involve using your fretting hand to play a note without picking it. Pull-offs involve pulling your finger off a fretted note to play a lower note. Both techniques can add speed and fluidity to your playing.
Bends and Vibrato Bends involve pushing or pulling a string to raise or lower the pitch of a note. Vibrato involves adding a slight variation to the pitch of a note to give it a more expressive sound. Proper execution of these techniques can add emotion and depth to your solos.
Slides Slides involve moving your finger up or down the fretboard while maintaining contact with the string. This technique can add a smooth transition between notes and create a playful and melodic sound.
Harmonics Harmonics involve lightly touching a string over a fret to produce a high-pitched ringing sound. This technique can add an ethereal and mystical quality to your playing.

Remember to practice each technique slowly at first and gradually increase your speed as your muscle memory develops. Incorporating these techniques into your chicken picking will not only make your playing more interesting, but it will also make you a more versatile and skilled guitarist overall.


After reading through this article, it should be clear that chicken picking is a vital technique in country music, and mastering it can greatly enhance your overall playing ability. However, it’s also important to become familiar with the common mistakes that many guitarists make while learning this technique. By avoiding these mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a proficient chicken picker.

One key takeaway from this article is the importance of your pick choice in chicken picking. Your pick should be lightweight, flexible, and slightly textured to allow for better grip and control. You should also make sure that you’re muting the strings you’re not playing to prevent unwanted noise and ensure a cleaner sound.

Additionally, correct plucking technique and proper hand and finger positioning are crucial components of successful chicken picking. You should take the time to practice these techniques and be patient with yourself as you improve.

Remember that the use of effects pedals should be limited and appropriate. Too much reliance on pedals can detract from the natural sound and feel of chicken picking.

To improve your chicken picking technique, listen to and watch other skilled players, emphasize consistency in your timing and rhythm, invest in a decent setup, and practice regularly.

In conclusion, chicken picking on the electric guitar is a unique and influential aspect of country music. By following the tips and avoiding the common mistakes outlined in this article, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this technique and taking your playing to the next level.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is chicken picking on electric guitar?

Chicken picking on electric guitar is a technique commonly used in country music that involves a combination of hybrid picking and muting techniques, resulting in a staccato, percussive sound that resembles the clucking of a chicken.

2. What makes chicken picking an important technique in country music?

Chicken picking is an important technique in country music because it allows for a dynamic and expressive sound that complements the genre’s storytelling and upbeat tempo.

3. What is the history of chicken picking on electric guitar?

Chicken picking originated in the 1950s and 1960s as a way for country guitarists to stand out and add excitement to their playing. The technique evolved over time, incorporating influences from rock and roll and blues music.

4. How do I avoid the common mistake of neglecting the importance of my pick?

To avoid neglecting the importance of your pick, use a high-quality pick that is appropriate for your playing style and the sound you want to achieve. Experiment with different materials and thicknesses until you find what works best for you.

5. How do I mute the strings properly while chicken picking?

To mute the strings properly while chicken picking, use your palm to lightly touch the strings below the bridge while plucking the strings with your pick. This will prevent unwanted string noise and create a clean, percussive sound.

6. What is the correct plucking technique for chicken picking?

The correct plucking technique for chicken picking involves using a combination of hybrid picking and fingerstyle techniques to achieve a dynamic sound. Experiment with different hand positioning and finger techniques until you find what works best for you.

7. How do I improve my hand and finger positioning while chicken picking?

To improve your hand and finger positioning while chicken picking, practice slowly and deliberately, focusing on the proper technique and hand positioning. Additionally, experiment with different fingerpicking exercises and drills to build strength and agility in your fingers.

8. Why should I avoid using excessive or inappropriate effects pedals while chicken picking?

Using excessive or inappropriate effects pedals while chicken picking can detract from the percussive and dynamic sound that defines the technique. Instead, focus on the natural sound of your guitar and amp to achieve the desired sound.

9. How do I improve my rhythm and timing while chicken picking?

To improve your rhythm and timing while chicken picking, practice with a metronome or backing track, focusing on consistency and precision in your playing. Additionally, focus on the dynamics of the technique, practicing both soft and loud notes and incorporating rests and pauses for added interest.

10. How do I incorporate other techniques into my chicken picking playing?

To incorporate other techniques into your chicken picking playing, experiment with different chord progressions, scales, and arpeggios, and incorporate them into your playing gradually. Additionally, try to incorporate different hand and finger techniques, such as hammer-ons and pull-offs, to add variation and interest to your playing.


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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