Different Flatpicking Patterns in Country Songs

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When it comes to playing country music on the guitar, flatpicking is an essential technique to master. Whether you’re a seasoned guitarist or a beginner, exploring different flatpicking patterns can add depth, complexity, and interest to your playing. In this article, we will delve into various flatpicking patterns that can be used to enhance your country guitar playing. From basic to advanced patterns, we will cover everything you need to know to create beautiful, intricate melodies. So grab your guitar, put on your cowboy hat, and let’s get started with uncovering the secrets of flatpicking in country music!

What is Flatpicking?

Flatpicking is a popular guitar technique used in country, bluegrass, and folk music. It involves striking the strings of the guitar with a flat pick, as opposed to fingerpicking which uses the fingers of the right hand. This technique produces a bright, clear sound that is well-suited to fast, rhythmic playing.

Flatpicking originated in the early 20th century and was influenced by a variety of styles including old-time music, blues, and ragtime. It quickly became a popular technique in country music and is now an essential skill for any guitarist interested in this genre.

The popularity of flatpicking has given rise to a number of different patterns and styles that guitarists can use to create a unique sound. These patterns include the forward roll, the backward roll, the pinch, the Carter scratch, the double-stop roll, and the crosspicking pattern.

For beginners, it’s important to start with the basic flatpicking patterns before moving on to the more advanced techniques. It’s also a good idea to practice flatpicking finger exercises to improve your speed and accuracy.

Flatpicking is an important technique for any guitarist interested in country, bluegrass, or folk music. By mastering the different patterns and styles, you can create a unique sound that sets you apart from other guitarists.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of flatpicking in country music, check out our article on the history of flatpicking in country music. And if you’re looking for tips on how to improve your flatpicking technique, be sure to read our article on technique for speed and accuracy in flatpicking as well as our article on common mistakes to avoid when flatpicking on an acoustic guitar.

Basic Flatpicking Patterns

Basic Flatpicking Patterns
When it comes to playing country songs on the guitar, flatpicking is an essential technique. This style of playing involves using a pick to pluck the strings and create a bright, crisp sound. Learning basic flatpicking patterns is the perfect place to start for anyone interested in mastering this technique. By mastering these patterns, you’ll be well on your way to playing your favorite country songs. If you need to learn the basics of flatpicking and country music check our guide that will help you or do some finger exercises first. Alternatively, if you want to learn more about famous country guitarists and their styles, read about flatpicking bluegrass vs traditional country.

The Forward Roll

One of the most fundamental and widely-used flatpicking patterns is the Forward Roll. This pattern involves playing three consecutive notes, with the melody note (the note you want to emphasize) always played on the downbeat. It is often used in conjunction with chords to create a full, layered sound.

To play the Forward Roll, first, place your pick on the third string, which is typically the G string. Then, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Pluck the third string with your pick
  • Step 2: Pluck the second string with your middle finger
  • Step 3: Pluck the first string with your index finger

This creates a smooth, rolling sound that can be repeated as many times as necessary. It is a great pattern to use for slower, more emotional songs.

It’s worth noting that this pattern can be played with different finger placements, depending on where you want the melody note to be. For instance, if you want the melody note to be on the first string instead of the third, you would start the pattern on the first string instead of the third.

While the Forward Roll is a basic pattern, it is an essential building block for more complex patterns, including the Backward Roll and the Double-Stop Roll. It is also a core technique in bluegrass flatpicking, as well as traditional country music.

If you’re interested in learning more about the differences between flatpicking in bluegrass and traditional country, check out our detailed article on Flatpicking: Bluegrass vs. Traditional Country.

The Backward Roll

The Backward Roll is another fundamental flatpicking pattern that every country guitar player should be familiar with. It involves plucking the strings in a different order than the Forward Roll: starting with the first string and moving upwards. Here are the steps to play the Backward Roll:

  1. Thumb – Pluck the 5th (A) string with your thumb.
  2. Index finger – Pluck the 2nd (B) string with your index finger.
  3. Middle finger – Pluck the 3rd (G) string with your middle finger.
  4. Ring finger – Pluck the 1st (E) string with your ring finger.
  5. Thumb – Pluck the 3rd (G) string again with your thumb.
  6. Index finger – Pluck the 2nd (B) string again with your index finger.

The Backward Roll creates a beautiful, flowing sound that can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, it can be used to create a sense of tension and release in a song. Try using it in combination with other flatpicking patterns to add more variation and interest to your playing.

Remember to start slowly and focus on getting the pattern right before you try to speed up. Once you can play the Backward Roll comfortably, you can experiment with varying the timing and string selection to make it your own. Keep practicing and you’ll be a master of the Backward Roll in no time!

The Pinch

The Pinch is another flatpicking pattern that is commonly used in country songs. It’s a versatile technique that can be used in different contexts, at different tempos and with different chord progressions.

To play the Pinch, start by strumming the bass note of a chord with your thumb. Use your index and middle fingers to play the higher strings of the chord simultaneously, forming a pinch. This technique creates a distinctive sound that adds texture and dimension to your playing.

Here are some tips to master the Pinch:

  • Practice the Pinch slowly at first, focusing on accuracy and evenness of tone. As you become more comfortable with the technique, you can gradually increase the speed to match the tempo of the song you’re playing.
  • Experiment with different fingers to find the right balance and tonal quality. You may find using your ring finger instead of your middle finger gives you a brighter tone, for example.
  • Incorporate the Pinch into your playing with a variety of chord progressions. Start with simple progressions that include the most common chords used in country music, such C, G, D and A. Once you feel confident, you can try more complex progressions with more varied chords.
  • Remember that the Pinch is just one of many flatpicking patterns available to you. Try combining the Pinch with other patterns such as the Forward Roll and Backward Roll to create more complex arrangements.

The Pinch is a great technique to have in your arsenal as a country guitarist. It adds a distinctive sound to your playing, creating a rich and complex texture that can elevate your performance. Practice it slowly and consistently, and you’ll soon be able to master this technique and incorporate it into your playing with ease.

Advanced Flatpicking Patterns

Advanced Flatpicking Patterns
You’ve learned the basics, and it’s time to take your flatpicking skills to the next level. It’s time to explore some challenging and intricate flatpicking patterns that will impress your friends and fellow musicians. These advanced patterns require precision and finger dexterity, but the payoff is worth it. With these patterns in your arsenal, you’ll be able to elevate your country song performances to new heights. Let’s dive into some of the most complex and sophisticated flatpicking patterns out there.

The Carter Scratch

The Carter Scratch is a flatpicking pattern that combines strumming and picking techniques to create a rhythmic and percussive sound. It is named after Maybelle Carter, who is known for popularizing this style of playing in country music. Let’s take a look at the steps involved in playing this pattern:

Step Description
1 Place your thumb on the bass string (usually the sixth string) and your index finger on the fourth string.
2 Strum all the strings downward using your thumb, followed by an upward strum using your index finger on the fourth string only.
3 Pick the second string with your middle finger.
4 Strum all the strings upward using your index finger on the fourth string, followed by a downward strum using your thumb on the bass string only.
5 Pick the third string with your middle finger.
6 Repeat steps 2-5 to create the rhythmic pattern.

Pro tip: To add variation to this pattern, you can change the order in which you pick the strings or add extra strums in between.

The Carter Scratch is commonly used in country songs, especially in slower ballads where a more gentle and flowing sound is desired. A great example of this pattern can be heard in the classic song “Wildwood Flower” by The Carter Family, which is a prime example of Maybelle Carter’s signature style.

Mastering the Carter Scratch requires practice and patience, but it can add a unique and distinctive sound to your flatpicking repertoire.

The Double-Stop Roll

If you’re looking for a flatpicking pattern that can add some spice to your country guitar playing, look no further than the double-stop roll.

This pattern involves playing two notes at the same time, creating a harmonized sound that can add depth to your playing. Here’s how to play it:

Step 1: Place your first finger on the first string at a certain fret and your second finger on the second string at a fret two frets higher than the first.

Step 2: Pluck both strings at the same time.

Step 3: Move your two fingers to the next set of strings without changing frets and repeat the plucking process.

This creates a rolling sound that alternates between two notes. You can use this pattern in a variety of ways, such as playing it quickly for a bluegrass-style sound or slowing it down for a more laid-back country feel.

To take this pattern to the next level, try incorporating it into other flatpicking patterns. For example, you can use a double-stop roll instead of a single note in the forward roll pattern to create a more complex sound.

Here’s an example of a double-stop roll in action:

Measure Chord Flatpicking Pattern
1 G Double-stop roll: Place first finger on 3rd fret of first string and second finger on 5th fret of second string. Pluck both strings at the same time and roll your fingers down to the 2nd fret of each string, plucking them again. Repeat this motion down to the open strings, then switch to the C chord.
2 C Forward roll: Pluck the 5th, 3rd, and 1st strings in that order, then pluck the 2nd string, followed by the 3rd and 1st strings together.
3 G Double-stop roll: Use the same pattern as in measure 1, then switch to the D chord.
4 D Backward roll: Pluck the 1st, 3rd, and 2nd strings in that order, then the 3rd string, followed by the 1st and 3rd strings together.

As you can see, the double-stop roll adds a unique flavor to this chord progression. Experiment with incorporating it into your own playing and see where it takes you.

The Crosspicking Pattern

The crosspicking pattern is an impressive flatpicking technique used for playing melody notes, chords, and arpeggios in a single run. Crosspicking involves picking individual strings in a pattern that alternates between upstrokes and downstrokes. This pattern can be used for a variety of instruments, including guitar, mandolin, and banjo.

One common crosspicking pattern involves playing a repeating arpeggio that moves up and down the scale. To play this pattern, start with your pick on the fourth string, and then play the third, second, and first strings in succession. Then, move down to the fifth string and play the same pattern, but using an upstroke to start. Repeat this pattern, moving up and down the scale, and alternating between up and downstrokes to create a smooth, flowing sound.

Another variation of the crosspicking pattern involves playing melody notes or chords within the pattern, rather than arpeggios. To do this, simply adjust the pattern to include the notes or chords you want to play within the alternating up and downstroke pattern. This can create a complex, layered sound that’s perfect for intricate country melodies.

Mastering the crosspicking pattern takes time and practice, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s a versatile flatpicking technique that can add a unique flavor to your playing and make your country songs stand out. Try incorporating it into your practice routine and experimenting with different variations to see what you come up with.

Tip: To help you play the crosspicking pattern more smoothly, try using a metronome set to a slow tempo at first. This will help you keep the alternating up and downstrokes in time and develop a stronger sense of timing.

Here is a breakdown of the crosspicking pattern using an html table:

String Pickstroke
4 Downstroke
3 Upstroke
2 Downstroke
1 Upstroke
5 Upstroke
3 Downstroke
2 Upstroke
1 Downstroke

Adding Variation to Flatpicking Patterns

Adding Variation To Flatpicking Patterns
As with any other musical technique, once you become comfortable with basic flatpicking patterns, it’s important to add variation to keep things interesting and push your skills to the next level. There are several ways to achieve this, from varying the timing to selecting different strings to play on. In this section, we’ll explore some tips and tricks for adding variation to your flatpicking patterns to help you sound more dynamic and expressive. So let’s dig in and start exploring!

Varying the Timing

When it comes to flatpicking, varying the timing of your patterns is a great way to add complexity and interest to your playing. By playing with the rhythm, you can create a sense of tension and release that will keep your listeners engaged. Here are some ways to change up the timing of your flatpicking patterns:

Technique Description
Syncopation One way to alter the timing of your flatpicking is by using syncopation. Syncopated rhythms occur when you emphasize the off-beats (the “and” between the main beats) instead of the downbeats. For example, instead of playing a standard quarter-note pattern on the beat, you could play a pattern that accents the upbeats. This will give your playing a bouncy, lively feel.
Swing Rhythm Another way to mix up the timing of your flatpicking is to use a swing rhythm. Typically used in jazz music, the swing rhythm involves playing two eighth notes as a long-short pattern. This gives the rhythm a “laid-back” feel that can be a great contrast to more straightforward rhythms.
Double-time/ Half-time Playing a pattern at double time or half time can create interesting rhythmic variations. Playing at double time means you’ll be playing twice as fast as the original pattern, while playing at half time means you’ll be playing half as fast. This can create a sense of tension and release, as well as give your playing a different feel and groove.

By incorporating these timing techniques into your flatpicking patterns, you can add a layer of complexity and interest to your playing. Experiment with different rhythms and beats, and see what feels best for the songs you’re playing. Remember, timing is everything – the way you play your notes can be just as important as the notes you play!

Varying the String Selection

When playing flatpicking patterns, varying the string selection can add dimension to your sound and create interesting melodic variations. Here are some tips for experimenting with string selection:

  • Try alternate strings: Instead of always playing on the same string, try moving the pattern to the adjacent string. For example, if you’ve been playing the forward roll pattern on the G string, try playing it on the D string instead.
  • Use open strings: Incorporating open strings into your picking patterns can create a bright, ringing sound. Experiment with using open strings in between notes or as part of the pattern itself.
  • Play across strings: Rather than playing the pattern on one string, try playing it across multiple strings. This can create a more complex and layered sound. For example, you could play the forward roll pattern on the D, G, and B strings in succession.
  • Focus on different intervals: Instead of always playing notes in a specific interval, such as a third or fifth, try using different intervals to create unique patterns. For example, you could try playing the backward roll pattern using a fourth interval instead of a third.
  • Switch up picking directions: Don’t always feel like you have to play a pattern with the same picking direction. Experiment with playing a pattern starting with a downstroke and then with an upstroke. This can create a different feel and emphasize different notes.

By varying the string selection in your flatpicking patterns, you can add a new level of complexity and interest to your playing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what sounds good to your ear.

Applying Flatpicking Patterns to Country Songs

Applying Flatpicking Patterns To Country Songs
As we explore the world of flatpicking, it becomes essential to apply what we’ve learned to actual songs. Country music, with its emphasis on acoustic guitar, is an excellent genre to showcase your newfound flatpicking skills. From the classic twang of Johnny Cash to the modern hits of Luke Bryan, there’s no shortage of options to choose from. In this section, we’ll dive into a few country songs that specifically feature flatpicking and examine how we can apply the patterns we’ve learned so far to make our guitar playing truly shine. So grab your guitar and let’s get started!

Song Example 1: ‘Wagon Wheel’ by Old Crow Medicine Show

When it comes to exploring different flatpicking patterns in country songs, one great example to study is the beloved classic, “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show. This song features a simple and catchy chord progression, making it a popular choice for beginners and experienced players alike.

To start, let’s take a look at the basic chord progression for the song:

Verse: G – D – Em – C
Chorus: G – D – Em – C – G – D

Now, let’s explore some flatpicking patterns that would work well for this song.

The Forward Roll

The forward roll is a simple and versatile flatpicking pattern that can be used for a variety of songs, including “Wagon Wheel.” Here’s how to play it:

  1. Start by playing the G chord.
  2. Use your pick to pluck the low G string.
  3. Next, pluck the D string.
  4. Then, pluck the B string.
  5. Finally, pluck the high G string.

Repeat this pattern for each chord in the progression.

The Carter Scratch

The Carter Scratch is another popular flatpicking pattern that can add a nice rhythmic element to “Wagon Wheel.” Here’s how to play it:

  1. Start by playing the G chord.
  2. Use your pick to pluck the low G string.
  3. With the back of your index finger, lightly brush the middle strings (D and G).
  4. Then, use your pick to pluck the B string.
  5. Finally, use the back of your index finger to lightly brush the middle strings again.

Repeat this pattern for each chord in the progression.

The Crosspicking Pattern

For a more advanced flatpicking pattern, try the crosspicking pattern. This involves playing multiple strings at once to create a full and complex sound. Here’s how to play it:

  1. Start by playing the G chord.
  2. Place your middle finger on the B string at the second fret.
  3. Use your pick to pluck the D and high G strings at the same time.
  4. Then, use your middle finger to pluck the B string.
  5. Next, use your pick to pluck the low G string.
  6. Finally, use your index finger to pluck the high G string.

Repeat this pattern for each chord in the progression.

By practicing these flatpicking patterns and experimenting with variations, you can add excitement and flavor to your performance of “Wagon Wheel” and many other country songs.

Song Example 2: ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is a classic country song that features a catchy flatpicking pattern. To explore this pattern, let’s break it down step-by-step:

Step 1: Start with a standard G chord, and pick the 3rd fret of the high E string with your thumb.

Step 2: Next, pick the 2nd fret of the B string with your index finger.

Step 3: Then, pick the open G string with your thumb.

Step 4: Follow that up by picking the 4th fret of the D string with your ring finger.

Step 5: Finally, pick the 2nd fret of the G string with your index finger, and hammer-on to the 4th fret with your ring finger.

Repeat this pattern several times throughout the song, adding in some occasional variations and fills to keep things interesting. For example, you can try adding in a quick hammer-on or pull-off between the 2nd and 4th frets of the D string, or throwing in a few chord arpeggios between verses.

The key to mastering this flatpicking pattern is to start slow and focus on getting the timing and finger placement just right. Gradually increase your speed as you get more comfortable, and soon you’ll be able to play it with ease.

If you’re looking to add some variety to your flatpicking, try experimenting with different chord progressions and string combinations. You can also try incorporating some other flatpicking patterns that we’ve explored in this article, such as the backward roll or the double-stop roll.

With a little practice and creativity, you can take this classic country flatpicking pattern and make it your own. Happy pickin’!

Song Example 3: ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band

One popular country song that showcases some impressive flatpicking techniques is ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ by Charlie Daniels Band. The song tells the story of a fiddle competition between the devil and a young boy named Johnny. The fiddle parts in the song are played with lightning-fast flatpicking patterns that are sure to impress any listener.


The verse of the song features a simple flatpicking pattern played on the G and C chords. The pattern consists of a forward roll followed by a pinch. The timing of the pattern is quick, with each note being played twice as fast as the previous note. Here’s a table showing the pattern:

Chord Flatpicking Pattern
G Forward Roll
C Pinch
G Forward Roll
D Pinch


The chorus of the song features a more complex flatpicking pattern that requires some finger dexterity to pull off. The pattern involves playing individual notes on the G chord followed by a double-stop on the D chord. Here’s the pattern in a table:

Chord Flatpicking Pattern
G Single-Note Runs
D Double-Stop Roll
G Single-Note Runs
C Pinch

If you’re looking to improve your flatpicking skills, ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ is a great song to practice. It’s technically challenging, but also a lot of fun to play. Plus, who wouldn’t want to impress their friends with some lightning-fast guitar playing?

Tips for Practicing Flatpicking Patterns

Practicing flatpicking patterns can be challenging, but with the right tips and techniques, you can become a proficient flatpicker. Here are some suggestions to help you improve your skills:

1. Start Slowly: One of the most important things to keep in mind when practicing flatpicking patterns is to start slowly. It’s better to play a pattern cleanly at a slower tempo than it is to play it sloppily or with mistakes at a faster tempo. Gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable and confident with the pattern.

2. Focus on Accuracy: While speed can be impressive, accuracy is key to mastering flatpicking patterns. Make sure that each note is clear and distinct, and that your technique is clean and precise. This will not only make your playing sound better, but it will also help you build a solid foundation for more advanced flatpicking techniques.

3. Use a Metronome: One of the most effective ways to improve your timing and accuracy is to use a metronome. This will help you develop a sense of timing and rhythm, and ensure that you are playing at a consistent tempo. Start at a slow tempo and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable with the pattern.

4. Experiment with Different Dynamics: Playing with different dynamics is an important part of flatpicking, as it can add depth and nuance to your playing. Experiment with playing loudly and softly, and try to find the right balance between the two. This will help you add expression to your playing and make your music more dynamic.

5. Practice Consistently: As with any skill, consistency is key when it comes to practicing flatpicking patterns. Try to practice every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. This will help you develop muscle memory and improve your technique over time.

6. Learn from Others: Finally, don’t be afraid to learn from others. Listen to recordings of flatpicking masters, watch videos of performances, and take lessons if you can. This will help you gain new insights and techniques, and give you the motivation to keep practicing.

With these tips in mind, you can start improving your flatpicking skills today. Remember to be patient, practice consistently, and most importantly, have fun with your playing!


After exploring different flatpicking patterns in country songs, it’s clear that flatpicking is an essential skill for any guitarist interested in playing country music. Basic patterns, such as the forward roll, backward roll, and pinch, provide the foundation for more advanced techniques like the Carter Scratch, Double-Stop Roll, and Crosspicking Pattern.

To add variation to these patterns, guitarists can vary the timing and select different strings, allowing them to create a unique sound while still maintaining the basic pattern. Additionally, by learning how to apply these patterns to specific country songs, such as “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, “Fishin’ in the Dark” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels Band, guitarists can master the art of country flatpicking.

While becoming proficient in flatpicking takes practice and patience, with dedication and hard work, guitarists of all levels can master these patterns and add their own unique style to their country playing. So whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, don’t be afraid to dive into the world of country flatpicking and explore the endless possibilities it offers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between flatpicking and fingerpicking?

Flatpicking is using a pick to strike the strings, while fingerpicking is using the fingers to pluck the strings.

What kind of pick should I use for flatpicking?

The best pick for flatpicking is generally a medium to heavy gauge pick made of materials like celluloid or tortoise shell.

Can flatpicking be used in genres other than country music?

Absolutely! Flatpicking can be used in many genres including bluegrass, folk, and even rock.

How do I improve my flatpicking speed?

Practice with a metronome and gradually increase the tempo. Start slow and build up speed over time.

What are some common mistakes made by beginners learning flatpicking patterns?

Common mistakes include not holding the pick properly, not positioning the picking hand in the correct place on the guitar, and not muting strings that are not being played.

What is crosspicking?

Crosspicking is a flatpicking technique that involves playing a repeating pattern across multiple strings.

How can I add my own personal touch to flatpicking patterns?

Experiment with timing and string selection to create variations on the basic patterns. You can also try adding slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs to add more complexity and interest to your playing.

What are some tips for playing flatpicking patterns in a band setting?

Practice playing with other musicians to develop your sense of timing and dynamics. Pay attention to the other instruments and adjust your playing accordingly. Communicate with the other musicians to stay on the same page.

Can beginners learn advanced flatpicking patterns?

While it may take some time and practice, beginners can learn advanced flatpicking patterns with dedication and patience.

Where can I find more resources to learn flatpicking?

There are many online resources including tutorials, tablature, and instructional videos available for free or for purchase. You can also consider taking lessons from a guitar teacher who specializes in flatpicking.


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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