Chicken Picking 101

The step-by-step guide to percussive hybrid picking technique.

“Chicken Picking” is a phrase that gets thrown around with abandon, with no real consensus as to what the hell it really is.

Inigo Montoya

Even Johnny Hiland—who is unquestionably a master of the technique—can’t seem to define it. Here’s him rambling for several minutes about hats, boots, confidence, gear… while only briefly hinting at things involving technique, sound, or style.

[I recommend skipping this video, though the rest of his course is solid.]

Right off the bat, here’s a few things that aren’t chicken picking, at least not in and of themselves:

  • faux pedal steel bends
  • double & triple stops
  • B benders
  • behind-the-nut bends
  • open-string pull-offs
  • banjo rolls
  • “melodic” style runs
  • Telecasters
  • compression pedals
  • slapback delays

So what is chicken picking?

Chicken Picking is a percussive guitar technique.

It’s commonly used in (but not limited to) honky tonk & country music.

It is almost always played with hybrid picking.

The percussive nature can come from:

  1. snapping the strings against the frets
  2. staccato achieved by near-instant unfretting of a note
  3. staccato achieved with palm muting
  4. staccato achieved by muting with the pick or picking finger
  5. picking a muted string

In this free course, I'll walk you through each of these in turn (and give you exercises to practice them with).

...oh yeah:

Who the hell am I?

Why should you believe anything I have to say?

This is me.

My name is Josh. I’ve been a self-taught guitarist for twenty-plus years. It’s been my only job for over a decade.

For most of the 23 years I played guitar, I sucked.

Like you, I’ve seen more than my fair share of “I-was-once-just-like-you-but-then-I-discovered-this-long-lost-secret-and-now-my-life-is-amazing!” sales pitches.

Don’t worry: I’m not trying to go all sleazy internet scam artist on you and tell you that I learned some magical “secrets” that made me amazing at guitar.

The truth is more subtle and nuanced than that:

In any field of expertise, there are some things that are best understood & explained by someone who was emphatically not a natural.

After all, how can someone who could always “just play” explain to you what’s really going on under the hood?

Academics call it “the curse of knowledge”—the inability of experts to remember what it was like when they were still newbies.

We talked before about survivorship bias, which lets us see only those players who—through some combination of good luck, hard work, and excellent taste—have “survived” long enough for us to be aware of them.

I’m a guy who has experienced both good luck & hard work.

I lucked my way into a scene of world-class musical badasses—people who’ve played & toured with iconic artists like Stevie Wonder, Sting, Jay Z, Elvis Costello, Pat Metheny, John Mayer, Night Ranger, and a crap-ton of others.

Then I worked my ass off trying to deserve that amazing good fortune.

Along the way I learned how to practice. I got my time & feel together. I learned to think & speak using the language of working professional musicians.

And I figured out how to get my hands to reliably do what I want.

For each of those huge wins, I’ve created a course to share what I’ve learned, so people like you can go straight to the good stuff, without all the pointless flailing about, false starts, and dead-ends.

In fact, let’s hear from some of those people just like you.

"I hate you. But in a it’s-really-nice-to-feel-like-I’m-building-a-good-foundation-but-damn-is-this-hard-work sort of way."

-Ben K, Chicago

"Awesome. It has genuinely helped my playing."

-Todd L, Los Angeles

These are people just like you. Once you've taken the course, I hope you'll write me a note like this so I can include it here.

Want to know what my fellow teachers have to say about it?

"This is genius. Thank you."

—Lara Mirinjian, author of The Sight Reading Solution & consistently voted one of the top music teachers in Los Angeles

"Focused, thorough instruction that supplies the missing ingredients we guitarists need in order to excel."

-Larry Newcomb, renowned guitar instructor & PhD in music

"Josh cuts through the all noise surrounding technique and gives you clear, step-by-step instructions on how to develop picking chops that work for you. Recommended."

-Eric Justen, owner & lead instructor at Guitar Smart Studios, guitarist for Tripping Billies, badass sideman

So how 'bout it?

Are you ready to learn some chicken picking?


Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.
So... is this a video course? A live masterclass? A series of emails? A long PDF filled with spelling errors? What's the format?
The course is online. The lessons are text supported by a shit ton of photos, GIFs, videos, audio clips, memes & dad jokes. Work at your own pace.
Why should I buy your course instead [this other person’s]?
Great question. I’m heavily indebted to the work of people like Tuck Andress, Troy Grady, Carl Verheyen, Gustav Assis-Brasil, & Tim Miller, not to mention a hundred guys & gals I know in real life, all of whom have been exceedingly patient with my incessant questions. All of them contributed to my understanding of this subject in ways big & small. But none of those people assembled a set of universal principles into a systematic, understandable, achievable course of study. At the same time, I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. If someone else established a name for something, I use their terminology. And if you decide you want to chase something down a rabbit hole to its extremes, I’m not shy about pointing you to the articles, books, courses, lessons, and subscriptions that shaped my understanding of this material.
Do I need to read music?
No. I’m generally pretty dismissive of TAB, but for learning technique it’s the best tool for the job… so that’s what we use in this course.
Who Is This For?
Like my other courses, this is filtered through my experience. Pure dumb luck thrust me into the world of musical badassery long before I was qualified, and I’ve been scrambling like a madman to try to deserve that luck. The things I teach are 1) the same things I used to attain badassery myself, and 2) stress-tested in the world of professional musicianship. Have you been frustrated with your technique before? Or frustrated by the conflicting information meted out in drips by self-proclaimed gurus? Do you want to learn shit that works? And works on the big stage and not just the basement of your guitar teacher’s mom’s house? Then this is for you.
Who Is This Not For?
That said, this is not for you if you’re lazy. It’s not for you if you want someone to wave a magic wand that turns you into a badass. It’s not for you if you’re not willing to show up and practice.
Does it work for left handed Armenian klezmerbop?
Yes. These principles are rooted in human physiology and guitar construction, neither of which changes all that much from person to person, style to style, guitar to guitar.
So is this a licks course?
No. Most of the examples aren’t licks that you’ll want to break out on your next gig. In fact, many of them are straight-up boring. Are you familiar with drum rudiments? They’re like that—exercises for building up the capacity to play the music you’re imagining. Or maybe like weightlifting—no basketball player expects to do barbell squats on the court. They lift weights because it translates into better performance at dunking, rebounding, and blocking shots.
I've done some of your other courses. Where does this fit in with Practical Theory, Practice Habits, and Metronome Boot Camp?
The bird’s-eye view of the whole process of learning guitar is something like: hands theory ear repertoire Practicing is the meta skill that enables the rest of it. There are thousands of sub-steps. There are some interdependencies (playing with good feel is both a hands thing and an ear thing). There's some extra credit steps (if you want to play professionally, you'll need to tackle sight reading and sound design). This course is about your hands. Practical Theory is about theory. Metronome Boot Camp is at the intersection of hands & ears. Practice Habits is (unsurprisingly) about getting practice right. But for this course I’ve also included a fairly robust section on practicing.

Your Instructor

Josh Frets
Josh Frets

A lucky break forced me to make the jump from "fairly decent bar band guitarist" to "professional musician" long before I was ready or qualified.

Suddenly I was surrounded by elite professional musicians, people who'd toured with huge acts and had long lists of recording credits.

It was a baptism by fire as I scrambled to quickly develop the skills & knowledge necessary to operate in this new space.

Along the way, I discovered something surprising—internet gurus and big-name music schools alike are focused on all the wrong shit.

Badass musicians the world over share a common language & a set of priorities I've never seen taught anywhere else.

It took me awhile to piece it all together & put it all in the right order.

But now that there's a clearly defined path, all that's left is for you to decide you're done with wandering blindly in the darkness, done depending on luck, ready to show up and put one foot in front of the other on the road to badassery.

I hope you'll join us.

Get started now!