Chicken Pickin Pioneers
The country guitar chicken picking, or "Chicken Pickin" style evolved back in the 50's by pickers like Don Rich, James Burton, Roy Nichols and others. I think of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard when I think of this early country guitar twang style. Another pioneer of chicken pickin was Luther Perkins, who played guitar for Johnny Cash in his early days. Be sure to check out my instructional video called "Folsom Blues Solo Ideas" DVD lesson.
James Burton played on many of the early recording for many artists, including Merle Haggard and the infamous "Workin Man Blues" song that every chicken pickin country guitar player is familiar with. Burton uses a flat pick and a steel finger pick, the same one that a steel guitar player would use to get his unique chicken pickin sound.
I've had many requests to make a video that would teach players some cool solos to play over the Workin Man Blues progression, so I know have an instructional video available that teaches you four modern country chicken pickin solos, including my own version of the James Burton lead played on the record. See Workin Man Blues Solo Ideas DVD lesson here.
Chicken Picking Techniques
The chicken pickin style used for playing country guitar involves many different techniques. The most common technique is called "string popping". By using a finger on the picking hand you simply pull the string up and when its released it "pops" against the fret board making that distinctive snappy chicken pickin sound. Although it is definitely a great sounding technique, it's only one of many that make up the chicken pickin sound.
Some other techniques for getting that snappy aggressive sound is the use of hybrid picking. In this technique you use one or more of your fingers along with the pick to pluck the strings. In order to play banjo rolls, you need to know the art of hybrid picking.
Banjo Rolls create another distinctive sound that defines the chicken picking style. Banjo rolls can be played in a forward roll or a backward roll by alternating between the pick and two or more fingers.
Double Stops are an important part of playing the modern chicken pickin style. To play double stops you use two fingers in conjunction with a pick. Generally, the pick hits one string, and the two fingers simultaneously pluck two others strings.
String Muting is incorporated into all of these various techniques too. This includes the use of both the picking hand and the fretting hand. The palm of the picking hand rests gently against the strings just slightly in front of the bridge. You can achieve various tones by changing the amount of pressure that's applied to the strings. By muting or "stubbing" a string with the fretting hand, you can create a cool snappy sound that works great for chicken picking. Again, the tone changes depending on the pressure being applied to the string. My "Modern Chicken Pickin" DVD will teach you all these techniques.
The kind of pick you use will also affect the tone of your guitar. I like playing with a thumb pick, but I think I get a more aggressive sound with a flat pick. Brad Paisley is a good example of this. He gets a very aggressive, in your face, kind of tone with a flat pick. On the other hand, Brent Mason gets an incredible tone using the thumb pick. Some great chicken pickers don't use a pick at all. Mark Knopfler from the band Dire Straits is probably one of the best examples of this. He is certainly one of the best chicken pickers out there, and he uses just his thumb.
Telecasters are the style of guitars that you will see used most often by chicken pickers. The Tele just has the sound that lends it's self very well for this style of music. But that is certainly not a requirement or hard writen rule.
Roy Nichols (pictured on the right), seems to have favored a Les Paul over the Tele. Albert Lee plays his signature Ernie Ball, which sounds more like a Stratocaster, and Johnny Hiland now plays on Ernie Balls too, but previously he played on a PRS.
Don Rich - Buck Owens
Luther Perkins - Johnny Cash
Learn how to play country guitar, chicken pickin style, quickly and easily with these no-nonsense instructional dvd's. Every lesson is straight forward and to the point! Download versions available as well. Each video lesson is approximately one and a half hour in length and includes a CD containing Jam Tracks, Tabs and more!
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