Bluegrass

In Cracking the Code, when we say “crosspicking”, we’re talking about a mechanical concept, not a type of music. It’s a picking style where all pickstrokes are fully escaped — the counterpart to the “pickslanting” style, where you use an angular picking motion, and only half the pickstrokes escape.

Crosspicking is used by players in all genres — everyone from Steve Morse to Albert Lee to Molly Tuttle to Andy Wood. But it’s particularly closely associated with bluegrass, which has given us the clearest starting path we have when it comes to learning this technique. So that’s what we’ll focus on here!

Crosspicking and Pickslanting

Even if you’re purely interested in bluegrass crosspicking, it will most likely still be useful for you to follow the path outlined earlier in this guide, watching the Intro to Picking Motion broadcast and experimenting with a variety of motions.

Why? Very few players use crosspicking exclusively, 100% of the time, without exception. It’s quite common to switch to a pickslanting approach when playing high speed tremolo lines, for example. So we recommend starting with an overview of the broader landscape of picking motions, then continuing with the suggestions below.

Also note that our explorations of crosspicking remain unfinished. Well, nothing about our inquiry into the mysteries of music and mechanics is ever really complete; these explorations are just more unfinished-er! We don’t yet have extensive crosspicking tutorial material, as we’re still sorting out how these methods work. The following path is recommended for bluegrass-style playing; keep in mind it may be different for country, fusion, or other applications. There are multiple ways to do this — there’s no “the” crosspicking movement, but many possibilities!

The Basic Crosspicking Motion

In this chapter from our series of Albert Lee analysis videos, we show how wrist-based crosspicking techniques actually work. If you like this chapter, it’s worth watching all of them!

Chapter 4 - The Compound Curve

 

Wrangling the Roll Pattern

If you want to learn bluegrass tunes, a great way to practice is to start with roll patterns, because they are essentially like mini bluegrass songs. If you can do the pattern, then you can do things like this which are halfway to bluegrass, minus the standard melodies.

If you’re using wrist-based motion, and you want to learn crosspicking, then the most detailed description of at least one method for doing that is actually right here on the forum:

Everything you need to know about crosspicking

And lower down in that discussion, we have a great example of some roll patterns you can try practicing:

Forward Roll Etude, Take 3

Try not to get too hung up on “speed” when it comes to roll playing. The roll patterns are great because they are like little puzzles for learning a new movement and doing it smoothly. Once you can do that movement at all, you’ll be able to do it a range of useful tempos, and you won’t feel much difference between them. You won’t care too much whether they are a few ticks faster or slower than the players we have interviewed because you’ll sound good at all points in between.

The discussion can get pretty technical here, but to recap our recommended path to start:

  • Work through the Picking Motion broadcast and try the different arm / hand movements. There is some fundamental knowledge in there, like forearm position and anchoring and wrist offset, that is common to all picking styles, whether they are pickslanting or crosspicking.
  • While you do this, even if you want to learn crosspicking movements, we still recommend trying the pickslanting motions themselves because they are the simplest movements you can make, mechanically, and it’s a good learning experience to understand how your parts work!
  • You may want to watch through the Pickslanting Primer as well, for more detail on pickslanting applications.
  • Once you’re done with that, watch the Albert Lee video and try to understand the concept of how the wrist is supposed to move in a crosspicking style.
  • Then once you’re done with that, watch the roll tutorial and read through its forum discussion.

The general idea works for any wrist-based player, like Molly Tuttle and David Grier. You may want to check out those interviews as well, for further examples of what this looks like in practice.

One More Example

We also recommend taking a look at this forum topic, where @tomatitito gives a great demonstration of this technique in action:

Crosspicking Wildwood Flower

What he’s doing here looks almost exactly like our examples in the above videos. So far as we can tell, this form, because there are so few moving parts — only wrist — is the simplest way to try and cop at least one simple, functional way of doing bluegrass roll patterns. So it’s worth trying that and seeing if you can make it work.

Use the videos as a reference and see if you can make your movement look like what you’re seeing. Once you have at least a week of attempts under your belt, post a clip and we’ll take a look. This is a simple movement of primarily one joint with a single anchor position, and if you eliminate all other variables and simply attempt to copy exactly what you’re seeing in these clips, you’ve got a good shot at reproducing it.

There’s a lot here, and in the future we’ll be simplifying this with more concise tutorial material. But that’s the roadmap for now!

Next Steps

That concludes our brief introduction! If you have further questions, let us know on the Forum and we’ll be happy to help you out.

If you’re still having trouble after practicing these techniques for a couple weeks, post a clip using the process described here, and we’ll take a look.

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