Watch the Chicken Pickin' Technique online guitar lesson by Johnny Hiland from Ten Gallon Guitar
Now, let me clarify exactly what chicken picking really is. Chicken pickin’ is a term I use pretty much for the way I live, not only just how I play. I'm a good old country boy from the state of Maine and have been in Nashville 20 years. When you put on a cowboy hat like I am wearing, a beautiful Atwood hat, from all the way to the top of your Atwood cowboy hat to the tip of your cowboy boots. If you are going to put those things on top be who you are as a guitar player, that right there speaks volumes to the fact that you will be a country player and that you love country music and of course, I say the start of what makes chicken pickin’ what it is that you have a strong love for traditional country music and I always have. Now, let’s get into the technical side of what makes chicken pickin’ what it is. There is what you call your chicken pickin’ rig, which is important to have and we’ll talk about that later. Chicken pickin’ itself is where you incorporate the hybrid style of picking with s certain type of tone to emulate almost what a chicken would do, where you are plucking the string you’re not just attacking the string like if you were playing blues or rock or any other style. You’re not really going to be able to chicken pick fully unless you have on fingernails like I do so you can really pluck and pull on the string. I really think that is where I think the term came from. If you look back in history there are guys like Mr. James Burton who played with Elvis, but he also played on all the early Ricky Nelson stuff, Hello Mary-Loo and he played on Marl Haggard’s Working Man Blues, which is one of my favorite songs. I know every country guitar player loves that song. James was capturing that chicken pickin’ sound.
Let’s talk about the sound itself. It’s like a chicken plucking or chicken picking. What we are going to do is hold the pick naturally. Some guys prefer the thumb pick, but I prefer a flat pick and to use the middle finger and ring finger on my right hand. What you are doing is the flat pick is hitting the first note, and you are pulling with your fingernails underneath the pick, which makes it sound like a chicken creeping up on you. I think it’s a really hard thing to explain what chicken pickin’ is, because I think it is more of a life style thing and the form of music that you love, meaning traditional country. When you become a guitar player and you have a passion for playing guitar and you find that you gravitate toward country music as a guitar player. Now, I do love to play all kinds of genres of music, but I don’t take wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots for granted. It’s who I am and what I am, and when I put on a guitar and walk out on stage I feel proud to be what I am. Every guitar player has to have that kind of confidence when you play. When I walk out there and create that chicken pickin’ sound when I’m plucking the stings with the fingernails, I find that is very important to do. You can incorporate that in rock and in western swing and jazz playing and you can add those elements of where you chicken pickin’ in your blues player, absolutely. We are going to talk a whole bunch about that in this course. If you want to be a chicken picker, don’t be afraid to put on a beautiful Atwood cowboy hat, if you like. I’m wearing some Ariat boots; you can find any boots you want. When you put those on, it changes who you are as a person and sets the stage for what you are about to do when you grab the guitar. Have fun in this course and you’ll get a real taste of what chicken pickin’ is all about and how all the chicken pickin’ parts melds together with all the genres of music. At the end of the day it’s all about having fun and playing guitar. One of the reasons I love chicken pickin’ guitar is because it is a happy style of playing guitar. You can play light and it can be real bouncy feeling. I love train beats and I love the things that make country music what it is. Chicken pickin’ is actually a form of what makes traditional country music what it is. They still use elements of chicken picking in today’s country music but it’s growing to be a thing of the past in some cases. But I will be the one out there keeping chicken pickin’ alive because all my favorite guitar players did it like Don Rich, Roy Nichols, James Burton, Albert Lee, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, Vince Gil, Brad Paisley, Jimmy Bryant, Danny Gatton and the list goes on and on. There are so many more out there that have paved the way for me to do what I do and I am very blessed to be bringing this course on chicken pickin’. Have some fun with me – I know you will.