Flatpicking Guitar Network

For Fans of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine

The most frequently asked question we receive from guitar enthusiasts who discover us on the web and are not familiar with the term "flatpicking" is: "What is flatpicking?"

Answered by Dan Miller.

The simplest, and most general, answer to that question is that "flatpicking" is the technique of playing a guitar with a flat pick (or flat plectrum) versus the use of bare fingers, finger picks, or a thumb pick. When asked about why a guitarist would want to use a single flat plectrum versus multiple fingerpicks, a thumbpick, or bare fingers, Dan Crary put it best in an article written for Frets Magazine (June 1985) by saying, "The answer seems to be that the plectrum--a simple piece of plastic, or nylon, or tortoiseshell, or whatever material a player holds dear enough to hold in his fingers--is capable of bringing something out of a steel-string guitar that nothing else can."

Traditionally in America, from the 1800s through the 1930s, the guitar was primarily used as a rhythm instrument. As more and more guitar players began to play lead breaks on the guitar throughout the 1940s and 50s, two main styles emerged--"fingerstyle" and "flatpicking." The term "flatpicking" originated with early lead acoustic guitar players in traditional country and bluegrass music who used a plectrum to play the guitar. The plectrum of choice was called a "flat pick" or "straight pick." They devised the "flatpick" term in order to distinguish their technique from "fingerstyle" players who used finger picks, thumb picks, or bare fingers to pick the guitar's strings (such as Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, Maybelle Carter, Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, Edd Mayfield, and others).

Because the origins of the term "flatpicking" grew out of traditional country, old-time, early folk, and bluegrass music, and the term is most generally used in these circles, our definition of flatpicking, for the purposes of providing a narrower scope for our Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, limits the term to genres of music played on an acoustic steel-string guitar (e.g. we do not cover any electric guitar music or nylon string guitar music).

With those parameters in mind, we can now loosely define "flatpicking" as a technique for playing the acoustic steel-stringed guitar with a flat pick. Although the term is most often used in bluegrass circles, the genres of music that are also covered in our magazine include old-time (fiddle tunes), traditional country (Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Delmore Brothers, Hank Snow, etc.), Celtic, new acoustic (acoustic jazz, newgrass), folk, gypsy jazz, acoustic swing, western music, acoustic blues, and acoustic rock.

Because the guitar was traditionally used as a rhythm instrument, the technique of playing lead breaks on the acoustic guitar with a flat pick in bluegrass, old-time, folk, and country music did not really begin to become wide spread until the late 1950s. Prior to that, most of the people who were playing lead breaks on the acoustic guitar, or using the acoustic guitar to accompany their singing in these genres, were either using the fingerstyle techniqiues or primarily playing rhythm guitar with the occasional lead run used as an embellishment between vocal lines.

Some of the pioneering players, during the 1920s through the 1950s, who did use the technique which was to become known as "flatpicking" included George Shuffler, Don Reno, and Bill Napier in bluegrass music; Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang, and Nick Lucas in jazz music; and the Delmore Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, Jimmie Rodgers, and Hank Snow in country music. Additionally, a few influential players in early country and bluegrass music, including Mother Maybelle Carter, Riley Puckett, Roy Harvey, Charlie Monroe, Lester Flatt, Carter Stanley, and Edd Mayfield played a thumbpick style which was readily adapted to the flatpicking technique.

During the 1960s and 70s the flatpicking technique became more widespread as lead guitar became more prominent in bluegrass, folk, and traditional music. The most well know of the flatpickers from this era are such guitar greats as Doc Watson, Dan Crary, Clarence White, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, Larry Sparks, Charles Sawtelle, and Russ Barenberg.

Rice and Barenberg were also influential flatpickers outside of the bluegrass genre. During the 1970s and into the 1980s, they, along with Mark O'Connor, Pat Flynn, David Bromberg, and others began exploring the flatpicking boundaries and included "new acoustic music" and jazz in their repertoires. This early experimentation with the parameters that had previously defined flatpicking as a country or bluegrass style has led the way for a new generation of flatpickers, such as David Grier, Scott Nygaard, Bryan Sutton, and Kenny Smith to name a few, who continue to take the art of flatpicking the acoustic steel-string guitar in new and innovative directions.

What began as a technique to play fiddle tunes in old-time and bluegrass music has now blossomed into a technique of wide and varied musical proportions.

Last updated by Dan Miller May 11, 2008.

Don't Miss These!

Badge

Loading…

Latest Activity

Profile IconMartin Keimig and Dag E. Josang joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
yesterday
Dale Galgozy updated their profile
Tuesday
Jim Cornwell posted videos
May 16
Profile Iconchris deczynski, Ray Desjardins and Dawn A Miller joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
May 15
Profile IconDane Tollas, Dave Siler and CHECA philippe joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
May 1
Larry posted a discussion

Easy Solution To a Common Acoustic/Electric String Problem

Found a solution to an often mentioned problem when having installed a piezo type bridge plate pickup transducer. The consensus of several Internet responders who have done this is that while the sound from strings 2 through 6 is good, the high e-string  is way too quiet with no real ring, sustain, etc. Some have suggested moving the transducer for that string away from a brace, Adding a 4th transducer, a not so easy job, etc.I recently installed a JJB pickup (jjbelectronics) in a 40 year old…See More
Apr 21
Sam Byerly posted videos
Apr 19
Sam Byerly posted a photo
Apr 19
Bill Davenport left a comment for Roger Knowles
"Hi Roger...hope all is well across the pond. Hope all is well.  Haven't heard anything about Dave...he may be retired by now."
Apr 14
Profile IconJohn Quibell, Steve Mooney, Alastair Macdonald and 7 more joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
Apr 9
Jeffrey Glen West left a comment for dan huckabee
"Dan -- I ran out of time to say much but I want to thank you for your beginner's articles in FGM. I work them out fingerstyle on a nylon-string baritone ukulele."
Mar 30
Jeffrey Glen West posted a blog post

FGM DGBE

I play two-thirds of a guitar. I have some wrist issues with fretting the 6th string. I enjoy finger picking but have been an avid follower of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine for about 6 years. I find Dan Huckabee's beginners arrangements great for the bari-uke. I have also found much of Adam Granger's work suits my DGBE tuning.I once took a class from Dan Miller in Palo Alto, California and he told me that his daughter was playing the baritone uke. I have e-mailed Adam about his new FGM…See More
Mar 30
Jeffrey Glen West commented on Jeffrey Glen West's photo
Thumbnail

IMG_20160720_100804276_HDR

"Learning mountain tunes from Wayne Henderson July 2016 at the California Coast Music Camp"
Mar 30
Jeffrey Glen West posted photos
Mar 30
Profile IconMary Stewart and Steven Bocon joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
Feb 20
Arthur Knowler replied to William Gray's discussion Heavy Picks Anyone?
"I have a left handed Blue Chip TAD 3R 40 pick and I find it a great pick to use, no scraping and quick on the strings. The only problem is that the tone is quite bass-y which is great for lead picking or Mandolin but not so good for rhythm…"
Feb 18

© 2017   Created by Dan Miller.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service