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Pick Control

Against popular opinion, searing single note lines are not the hallmark of having great pick technique. To play effectively with a pick you must have control and synchronisation between both right and left hands and be able to mute inside strings.

To keep the consistent sound of the pick throughout the entire chord is a craft that few guitarists are able to commit to.

Pick and fingers is a legitimate technique, but many use it as a short cut and sacrifice their sound for the easy way out.

A good example of inside string muting technique is the Johnny Smith rendition of Debussy’s Maid With The Flaxen Hair on the historic Man With The Blue Guitar album (Roost 2248). Sounding only the notated notes with the flick of a pick is not easy. The ability to accomplish this is a good indication of the guitarist who knows how to use a flat pick.

Example#1 is a short excerpt from this piece. Note measure two on the off beat of three looks very similar to a C7 chord structure. The sustaining notes on measure three, beat one, looks suspiciously like a G7, but once again “it ain’t so”.

You must curve your first finger (often referred to as a curved bar technique) to successfully accomplish this minor feat of finger gymnastic.


Another good example is Bill Leavitt’s arrangement of Bach’s Sarabande taken from Bach’s violin sonata in Bm. This arrangement can be found in it’s entirety in Bill Leavitt’s book: Classical Studies For Pick Style Guitar, Berklee Press Publications.

Also Al Dimeola recorded this piece on his first solo album Land Of The Midnight Sun (Columbia CK 34074). Example#2 is the first eight measures from this piece. Fight the temptations of using your fingers to execute this. Instead be conscious of only playing the string indicated and muting the others.


Even though burnin’ pick chops are impressive, and at times necessary, it’s control and coordination that often separates the good from the great guitarists.

About the Author
Charles is a Professor in the Guitar Department at Berklee College of Music. He is a jazz guitarist with extensive performing and recording experience. As a music journalist he is a frequent contributor to Guitar Player, Guitar Shop, Acoustic Guitar and Just Jazz Guitar magazines. Charles now has seven books published with Mel Bay and a new CD titled Come Sunset. For more info visit Charlie's Website

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