Crosspicking on the Acoustic Guitar in Bluegrass and Old-Time Music

Crosspicking is a technique in which the flatpick is used to pick a

group of strings in a pattern that repeats. Typically, three

pitches are played repeatedly against a four-pulse rhythm so there

is a constant shifting of the pitches and of the accented pulse.

The consequence is something similar to a banjo roll, with notes seeming

to come from everywhere. Micky Cochran put it like this: “Crosspicking bombards the listener with a

barrage of notes. As is similar to bluegrass banjo, crosspicking

guitar doesn’t seem to pause for a breather. A continuous

series of notes pours forth establishing the melody while

filling in all of the spaces with harmony notes. Not only does the

guitar sustain itself, with spaces filled harmonically, but

crosspicking technique works effectively for supporting other rule

instruments and vocals.”

George Shuffler, who spent 18 years as a member of the Stanley

Brothers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is said to be the pioneer of

crosspicking. The crosspicking technique has been mastered by guitarists like Doc

Watson, Clarence White, Dan Crary, Norman Blake and Tony Rice.

Crosspicking can be used with two open strings against a single

string upon which you are playing melody notes on the frets. You can

throw a crosspicking pattern in here and there, mixing it in with

your other flatpicking techniques.

Let’s try a crosspicking exercise. We’ll use all open strings for

this, the D, G and B strings. For the strokes, I’ll represent the down strokes (the pick motions away from your confront) with the letter “d” and the upstrokes (the pick motions toward your

confront) with the letter “u.” George Shuffler crosspicks with a

pattern of two down strokes followed by one upstroke. Pick each

individual string in this repetitive pattern:


Play the D string with a down stroke, the G string with a down

stroke, and the B string with an up stroke, like this:

ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu

But remember, crosspicking is a pattern of three pitches played

repeatedly against a four-pulse rhythm, so in shared time (4 beats

to the measure, each quarter observe receiving one beat), the pattern

would look this when each string picked is a quarter observe with four

quarter notes per measure:


The picking pattern would be:

ddud – dudd – uddu – ddud – dudd – uddu – ddud

Now let’s try something that will probably be a bit challenging. I

learned this from one of Steve Kaufman’s instructional videos.

Crosspick the repeated pattern of DGB, but instead of using the

typical “ddu” stroking, play with alternating up and down strokes,

just like if you were picking out a fiddle tune. So, although you

are playing the repeated pattern of the three strings, your stroke

pattern is:

dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu

It will not be easy at first to keep the pattern of the three

strings going with the alternating pick motion, but think of your

forearm as a pendulum, swinging down, back and forth, to hit the

top of each string. The upshot of this stroke pattern is that each

observe is cleaner, crisper, and makes more of a statement.

I use both of these patterns, but I’m trying to develop the latter

and use it more often, because I think that overall it’s the best.

Have fun learning how to crosspick–it’s a great weapon to have in

your technique arsenal!

Copyright © 2007 Lee Griffith. All rights reserved.

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