Fiery “Chicken Pickin’” Techniques, Applied to Metal Guitar

Ratchet up the tempo and pick aggressively to make the chicken pickin’ sound as feisty and fiery as possible!
By Mike Orlando,

This month, I’d like to build on the soloing applications of the “chicken pickin’ ” technique we looked at in previous columns. To review, “chicken pickin’,” which is an a specific stylistic application of hybrid picking (pick-and-fingers technique) is often performed on pairs of adjacent strings, wherein a flatpicked downstroke on the lower of the two strings alternates with a fingerpicked upstroke on the higher string. The signature “clucking”-type sound is achieved by fingerpicking the higher notes aggressively and snapping the string against the fretboard as you pluck it.

The three licks presented in this month’s column originate from a song of mine called “Burn,” which I recorded for the Atomic Stomp II album. All of them emphasize the use of chromatic passages, wherein sequences of notes on multiple sets of strings either descend or ascend the fretboard in half steps, or one fret at a time.

FIGURE 1 is based on the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G), in bars 1–3, with chromatic passing tones added in the first and second endings. The first ending, shown in bar 4, is a one-bar phrase played on the top three strings, and the second ending continues this chromatic approach by extending the pattern onto the D and A strings in bars 5 and 6.

I begin with a conventional flatpicked downstroke on the open A string, followed by a fingerpicked A note one octave higher (D string, seventh fret), which I then pull off to the open note. Through the remainder of this bar and across beats one and two of bar 2, the open pull-offs alternate between the seventh and fifth frets. On beat three of bar 2, a C note on the G string’s fifth fret is pulled off to the open string. After a repeat of bar 1, I move to a descending chromatic line played on pairs of adjacent strings, starting on the top two. For all the descending chromatic licks here, the pinkie frets both strings at the eighth fret, the ring finger frets at the seventh fret, the middle finger at the sixth fret and the index finger at the fifth. This quick alternating-string technique is facilitated by “rolling” the fingertips across both strings as I descend in pairs.

A cool variation on this idea is to incorporate intervals of sixths and thirds into the chromatically descending patterns. FIGURE 2 begins in the same manner as FIGURE 1, but bar 4 is built from sixths—pairs of notes that are the interval of a sixth apart—which descend one fret at a time while also including pull-offs to the open B string. In bar 5, I switch to third intervals while repeatedly pulling off to the open G string.

Our last variation, shown in FIGURE 3, simply reverses the chromatically descending idea of FIGURE 1 by ascending instead, starting on the A and D strings and progressing across all strings until we get to the top two strings.

Once you have these shapes firmly under your fingers, ratchet up the tempo and pick aggressively to make the chicken pickin’ sound as feisty and fiery as possible!   

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