Guitar 101: Heavy Metal Hybrid Picking

(Image credit: Cindy Moorhead)

Hybrid picking—the practice of interspersing flatpicked notes with notes plucked by your middle or ring finger—is a technique that many metalheads mistakenly believe is just for country, blues and jazz players.

The fact that it remains underutilized by the shred guitar community means that hybrid picking can be smartly employed as a shredder’s “secret weapon”—just ask Zakk Wylde, John 5, Jason Becker, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins, George Bellas, Dave Martone, Marshall Harrison or the scariest hybrid picker known to man, former GIT instructor Brett Garsed.

Hybrid picking involves using your plectrum along with your pick-hand fingers to articulate certain notes. This fingers-as-extra-plectra approach is especially handy for string skipping. Suddenly, notes on adjacent or non-adjacent strings are a cinch to play in quick succession, without the laborious movement of “airlifting” the pick back and forth.

Let’s get this lesson started with an E minor pentatonic exercise (FIGURE 1) that begins with a middle-finger pluck (m) on the high E string, followed directly by a pick downstroke on the B string. (To finish off each four-note grouping, use a pull-off followed by a hammer-on.) FIGURE 2 is nearly identical, the only difference being the highest note, G, which is fretted as part of a ring-finger mini-barre across the top two strings.

In FIGURE 3, we take the concept one step further by applying all four fret-hand fingers to the E natural minor scale. Use your index finger on the 12th fret, your middle finger on the 15th, your ring on the 17th and your pinkie on the 19th fret. FIGURES 4 and 5 are Paul Gilbert–inspired licks that use the same concept as the previous examples but with three-notes-per-string fingerings.

For our hybrid picking shred finale, I present FIGURE 6. This extended run makes ample use of the E blues scale and E Dorian mode. For the opening barrage of notes (bar 1), you’ll need to use all four fret-hand fingers and make some wide stretches. For bars 2–6, three-notes-per-string fingerings will suffice. Watch out for the wide-stretch, string-skipping pentatonic mayhem that runs from the latter part of bar 3 all the way to the end of the lick.

I hope these examples provide some inspiration for your own unique ideas. Take these concepts and mutate and twist them into your own demented licks. Also, YouTube the heck out of the names I mentioned earlier and strive to steal their mojo. For more twisted shred-ucation, check out my book, Shred Guitar: A Guide to Extreme Rock and Metal Lead Techniques (Hal Leonard).

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