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The Mighty David Grier Returns!

A second interview with the flat pick master investigates his high-speed lead technique

By June 18, 2019News

Man do we have some great stuff coming up. The amazing David Grier stopped by last week for some fantastic playing and fantastick-er conversation that helped us get to the bottom of his high-speed lead playing.

In our first interview with David, we focused on his signature arpeggio parts and the crosspicking technique necessary to play them. It was an invaluable meeting, and along with our interviews with Andy Wood and Molly Tuttle really helped us crack the code of alternate picking bluegrass roll technique.

This time around I wanted to take a look at more up-tempo single note playing, and how David’s technique changes to accommodate that. To that end, here’s some amazing Wheel Hoss for you:

We’ve been doing a lot of work updating the Primer with motion tutorials, and when David kicks it into gear, he’s a textbook example of how you can use a pickslanting approach for bluegrass with fantastic results. What you see in the above clip should be pretty familiar to almost anyone who has watched any of our features or lessons on pickslanting.

It’s not just the motions I wanted to talk about, but also all the other parts up the chain, and how they fit together. When you’re playing a big dreadnought guitar running 13 gauge strings with a wound G string, and you want to go fast, you’re going to run out of volume if your technique isn’t solid. And no matter what pick or guitar David is playing, or what tempo he’s playing at, David always gets that crystal clear sparkly tone that lets you know instantly that it’s him.

So we talked about how that happens. In short, David uses a low-degree edge picking angle and backs off from the sound hole to get more sparkle. That’s one of the reasons why the pronated arm approach works for him — it flattens out your edge picking. This arm position also makes downstroke escape motion the obvious place to start, so all these pieces fit together like a puzzle.

And in fact, you’ll see that lots of players in bluegrass are principally downstroke-escape players when they play fast. It’s a common approach used by great players like David, Bryan Sutton, and Jake Workman, and even up-and-coming phenoms like Presley Barker. Somehow, the need for volume, treble frequencies for sparkle and projection, and a repertoire of compulsory phrases like the G run, eventually lead many great players to a similar formula of downstroke escape motions, even if they haven’t had specific instruction in picking mechanics.

TLDR: If you want to play fast bluegrass, a wrist or elbow DSX / UWPS technique is a great place to start. Head on over the Pickslanting Primer to learn more about how this all works. We’ll get this one edited and out the door soon!

Top Comments

  1. tommo says:

    Great news :smiley: looking forward to this!
    Is there going to be a full-length tune among the transcriptions? (Just being spoiled).

    PS: it seems a lot of these great cross-pickers don’t anchor or slide the unused fingers on the pickguard, is this an integral element of the technique or just an accident?

    PPS: I just noticed that for the last phrase around 0:55 he instead does anchor the ring and pinky fingers - similar to what I do. Do you have a guess as to why he approaches this part differently, and could you see this last hand position working for the whole tune?

    Thanks :slight_smile:

  2. Troy says:

    Dave always plays tunes! This here is a complete tune — Wheel Hoss — actually with a few bars pulled out so it fits on Instagram. So it’s not too long but it’s long enougn to get the sense of the AABB structure of the song.

    Re: form Dave has various mechanical modes. Wheel Hoss is the high speed form which is 2wps primary up, pronated version, as is pretty obvious. But at more moderate speeds he sometimes uses a mode which has only a forearm anchor, slightly supinated arm, lightly flexed wrist, sometimes with light fingers grazing, sometimes without. “As It Rolls To The Sea” from the last interview is a great example of this and you’ll see him switch between all of these in the first few bars:

    David doesn’t use these alternative forms for his fastest playing but Carl Miner and Bryan Sutton both plant fingers on the guitar top and it works fine. Many, many ways to do this.

  3. Great to see the ‘birds eye/player view’ camera angle in addition to the magnet and ‘audience view’. As much as the magnet view clearly shows the pick escape paths/slant etc, this other viewing angle is definitely more relatable for me (and perhaps others who don’t have a magnet?) to see roughly what the movements look like when observing our picking hand and arm. Personally, I was quite surprised by how it actually looked. In any case, great to see! When it was side by side with the magnet view on the screen it was most potent!

  4. Troy says:

    Yep we have that set up in the studio now and can turn it on by default. In fact, we have it set up so the player can see it on a monitor. Most players hunch over the guitar and totally block the camera. So it really needs to be something the player can look at and adjust themselves.

    David is an exception. He barely moves at all, and stays back behind the guitar body. So he never blocks the camera and the view is always dead-centered over the low E string so that it looks like he’s playing a one-string guitar. It’s uncanny. His footage will probably be the best footage of that we’ll ever get.

    In David’s case, his playing looks pretty much exactly like what I would expect. His high speed mode is a pickslanting mode so you don’t see the big air gaps below the pickstroke any more on the upstroke. We hope it will help acoustic players to understand this. You don’t have to always make a crosspicking-style motion to play bluegrass, and when great players like Bryan Sutton and Jake Workman and probably lots of others click into high speed mode, they switch to a motion that probably looks a bunch like what David uses.

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