Chicken Picking Technique, Brad Paisley, The Nervous Breakdown

I’m new to chicken picking, trying to learn Brad Paisley’s “The Nervous Breakdown”. Great video with tab, see link below.

My question is: where exactly does the middle finger come in? I would think, in most of chicken picking, the middle (or ring fingers) come in, to allow some ‘relief’ from picking, allowing you to change from upstrokes to downstrokes in your picking. Is this the right way to think about it?

For instance, in the first measure here, I think I would do:

—3 p 0 ----- —0 ---------------------------
-------------6------------3 p 0 -------------0

where you downstroke the pull-off, upstoke the next note, grab the open high E with your middle finger, then repeat. Using the middle finger to grab that open high E (or B) allows you to use your next downstroke on the pull-off. To me that sounds right.

Thoughts? Thanks guys . . .

I love Brad Paisley! That is a great playthrough. Ben Eller breaks all the picking down here

Looks like he is doing U (p) D m for the main pattern. That seems like a USX solution though. I think what you have suggested will work too in a DSX context. I don’t have a guitar nearby to confirm but that is my best guess.

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Yeah, he’s doing U (p) D m . I’m doing D(p) U m . We’re both using the middle finger the same way. I think I prefer the Down stroke on the first pull off. I just can’t start a riff on an upstroke!

I’ve recently switched back to a thumb pick. But it’s the same if your using a regular pick.

Down strokes are the pick or thumb, upstrokes are either ‘i’ & ‘m’, or ‘m’ & ‘a’ as it might be in your case if your using a pick.

Think of them in quad groups.
First note with the pull off sets you up for next two notes in rapid succession.

The first note has to be an upstroke with this riff.

with thumb pick: i-0-p-m
with flat pick: m-0-p-a

classical finger names.
i - index
m - middle
a - ring
p - thumb or downstroke.
0 - here is my notation for open string, zero fret.

Using two different fingers for the up stroke is important to keep the tempo going smooth. Keep at it you’ll get it soon enough.

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Thank you, that was very helpful.

So it seems you’re only using the pick for the fretted note (fingers for the pull-offs and open strings).

For the first measure:
Finger(3p0), Pick(6), Finger(0)
Finger(3p0), Pick(5), Finger(0)

with the direction of stroke and finger being:
mU, pD, aU
mU, pD, aU

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Yes that’s exactly right.

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Try all the ideas suggested here and find what suits your playing style.

I’m not in agreement with the quotes above.

Specifically the inference that they may be required.

With respect to personal preferences, I am not saying Twantsta’s chosen solution is wrong, but I am saying that it is the wrong solution for me.

Like alternate picking preferences - hybrid picking is ruthlessly personal, with next to no genuine research on what is or isn’t efficient. So, we’re back to feel.

For me, the far more natural feel is to start the riff using a pick with a downstroke, then the pull off to open E.

The pull off, which replaces a picked upstroke, provides ample time to move the pick to the B string.

Yep. Starting with an upstroke would provide even more time since the pick is already up. But…

An upstroke on a downbeat?! Starting a phrase!!! That, that…well…that…feels “Hail nah!!!” weird to me.

Starting with a downstroke allows the motion for every string to be identical, and like so many alternate picking patterns that cross the neck, there is nothing to think about. The right hand is “down pick - up middle.”

Again with respect to player preference - I play this entire riff with a pick and middle finger, when I choose to alternate my middle and ring fingers for upstrokes becomes crowded and clumsy.

The ring finger is so much weaker than the middle that we often use it (or the pinky) strategically on our left hand. I don’t believe that changes for the right hand.

Back to my long winded point: Try all the ideas thrown out here and find what combo feels right for you.

Also, don’t just listen to the album version that’s near-perfectly and annoyingly articulated. When you hear it played live, Brad includes his fair share of clams at no extra charge. :slight_smile:

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Good points. Some things to think about though:

This tune cooks, but if it were much faster (or you played some other tune that required similar mechanics, that was faster) would your approach hold up? It feels awkward to me to have that many successive down strokes. Like, I feel like I’m close to something that’s going to be fatigue.

I’m a pretty experienced classical player and I think this needs some qualification. If I were to alternate between the ring and middle fingers, I’d agree. But if I alternate between either my thumb and ring, or my index and ring, there’s really no perceivable difference. Same goes for using the middle and ring in fast succession, then going to some *other * finger (i.e middle-ring-thumb OR ring-middle-thumb). We leverage this in classical guitar in things like arpeggios and tremolo. Also, in the cases where we have to use both fingers in succession quickly, it typically feels easer to go ring-middle than it does to go middle-ring. That’s why a classical tremolo is typically done “p a m i” and not “p i m a”. I’d asked Tom what he thought about this and he had a pretty interesting theory Picado and Efficient Digital Cycles - #4 by Tom_Gilroy

I just bring this up because a whole world can open up in hybrid picking (and just standard finger picking) if we add that ring finger into the mix. Merle Travis pretty much avoided it, Chet Atkins relied on it. Both great players, but I think most would agree that Chet’s playing had more ‘depth’ - he could probably play everything Merle played but I think Merle lacked the capability to play everything Chet played since that ring finger was required.

Is it a familiarity thing? Do you just not use that finger very often? I don’t remember having to give that finger special attention when I studied classical guitar. I guess the repertoire in general gives it enough use that it will “just be there” when we need it. I could see if someone’s avoided it, intentionally or not, then it could seem ‘weaker’.

He’s pretty accurate here!

Lol! I know what you mean though. I’ve seen versions where he isn’t as clean (still always great performances though). We give these guys a free pass all the time. They aren’t perfect either.

Sorry for the rant lol! I do largely agree with you. There’s not just one right way to do this. though, if I play this tune and try to floor it, the thing that feels easiest to me is to “middle (pull off) pick ring” if I’m playing with a pick. Sans-pick - “index (pull off) thumb middle”. To your point, that works for me. We can spend our careers trying to be well rounded and play “anything” with all various combinations of pick strokes and starting on upstrokes or downstokes, OR we can do what most of the pros do and figure out what we’re best at and exploit that.

I’ve played this significantly north of the normal tempo before and the technique works. My articulation stinks, but that’s not the technique reaching a speed limit. I’ve practiced this riff for longer periods than I care to discuss…my right hand was never in question.

Yeah - the riff is quick, but the down strokes really aren’t fast at all when you look at it. They’re pretty much every second note. So if the riff is 16th notes at 164, that’s not ‘slow’…but its nowhere near a speed limit. My wrist rotates much the same way it does when alternate picking.

Yes - alternating the middle and rig is the situation here and what I’m specifically referencing.

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I understand the push back. It’s just how i approach it. I don’t see the need to add a disclaimer to every personal post. It is what it is. At the same time I agree with all that is said. It’s personal how you approach hybrid picking. Nit pick till your satisfied.

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[quote=“Twangsta, post:10, topic:65760, full:true”] I don’t see the need to add a disclaimer to every personal post.

Too much time on The Gear Page most likely.


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Ha, a bit touchy yesterday, was in the sauce :blush: spitting Hangover :nauseated_face:

This could be the case too. I’m playing with a thumb pick, so on this riff index middle just fell natural, middle - ring to be honest was not the most comfortable, totally agree this hybrid is hing is rather personal and not set in stone. I may have been a little presumptuous about the way I sometimes put things.

Either way, i glad to have revisited and old tune. Absolutely love BP.

Yes. As we know, there is no “best” guitarist…but if there was one it would be Brad lol!

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Thank you, great post.

So, you’re suggesting:
Dpick(3p0), UmFinger(6), Dpick(0-highE)
Dpick(3p0, now on the B-string), UmFinger(5), Dpick(0-highB)

Or just the right hand fingering pattern:
Dpick, UmFinger, Dpick
Dpick, UmFinger, Dpick

Sonically, this actually sounds right to me. You’re accenting the pull-off and the open notes with a pick stroke, resonates nice. Using the Umfinger for the fretted 5 and 6, which (I think) are softer filler type notes.

My only problem with is, is that you have two consecutive Dpick motions.

That’s the reason i start with an up using. a finger. Unless you want to pick the open string too. So down up on the pick alone for the first two notes, or you can even pull off and use that time to escape.

I think we’re misunderstanding each other.

I’m not sure where the double-down pick problem is coming in to play here. There are never two consecutive down picks. Just as in alternate picking situations where you need to create some time and space, they’re always separated by a pull off or middle finger upstroke.

Below is my right hand pattern. A down pick is followed by a pull off. Then another down pick, followed by a middle finger upstroke. Rinse and repeat across the neck. Right hand: Done.

Pick - pull off - pick - middle (repeat) - it never changes.

My thumb/index are locked. Just like when I alternate pick. All the power and movement come from the wrist. Even the rotation of my wrist (supination) helps my middle finger. The pick rotates out of the way and my middle finger naturally travels toward the string its needed for.

I’m mostly a USX player, but for this I rotate my wrist similar to a DSX alternate picker’s normal position to create room for my fingers.

Rhythmically, the pick strokes are always on the beat, or on the ‘and’ (1 e & a 2 e & a 3…etc.). Both are natural feeling ‘down pick’ moments.

All that’s happened here is that the upstrokes are replaced by either a pull off of middle finger upstroke. The down picks are right where they should be if this were purely alternate picked (which I’ve seen someone do).

At this point - it becomes about pushing the velocity like any other learned pattern. With my right hand essentially locked in an efficient repeating motion…I can start to focus on hauling ass. :slight_smile:


I see what you mean, I think in the systems Troy has outlined, usually that little ‘break’ we get is not followed by a pick stroke in the same direction, but continues in alternate picking. Easy example is a USX player that’s doing some descending scales

8 7 5------
------8 7 5-8 7 5
D U p D U D U D D

That pulloff is preceded by an UP and followed by a DOWN, so it allows us to continue the alternate picking motion, just with the little break. The pattern you’re using for the Paisley tune uses this concept a little differently because there is a down stroke both before and after the pulloff. I think that has tripped others up (and myself) because…

While on the surface that might appear as not being maximally efficientI think it actually still can be maximally efficient. It all depends on the technique used really. I think you’re doing specific things in your version, conscious or not, that make this maximally efficient at high speeds. I’ve got a theory!!!

I think this might be pretty important. I’ve been messing with this in a couple different setups and picking combos. If I do DSX and keep an alternate picking motion happening, even during the pulloffs and hybrid picked notes, this follows all the rules of single escape playing. At least I think!!!

Sorry in advance for all this as it’s super pedantic, but consider the first fives notes

   D  (u) D (u)   D (pattern has started over at this point)

 *  = hybrid picked note
(u) = an upstroke that does not play a string - a "mimed" pick stroke

Imagine, during the first pulloff (our pick should be up in the air at this point as we’re DSX) we sort of ‘mime’ an upstroke that skips over the B string and comes to rest on the G string (or almost comes to rest, as per preference). There’s no inefficiency there at all. This is single escape playing. To our hand it feels like we’ve done 2 quick alternate pick strokes.

After we play the 6th fret on the B string with a down stroke, again our pick is up in the air. As we hybrid pick the open E string we can simultaneously do another one of these ‘mimed’ upstrokes. We again skip the B string come to rest (or almost come to rest, as per preference). At this point we can do the whole thing again. The pattern will repeat.

To me this is no different than a DSX picking pattern like this, where we play straight 16ths and always change strings after the first picked note of each beat

  D U D U D U D U D U D U D

Now I think if someone tried all this in a USX setup, OR they sort of hesitated between the down-stroked-picked notes (during pulloffs or hybrid)…it could turn into a hot mess.

This is pretty much exactly how I look at it.

Yeah after thinking through it this could be even more efficient than involving the ring finger. I’m rusty on hybrid. Even though I can play this both ways, I don’t know which is more efficient. Again, probably different strokes for different folks at the end of the day. I really like the simplicity of your approach. The less ‘things’ we have to tell our hands/fingers to do sometimes wins.

What we need to do is recruit Marshal Harrison to play this at 230 bpm for us, played each of these ways, under a magnet camera and see what we see :slight_smile: lol!

EDIT: I guess at that tempo the song should no longer be called “The Nervous Breakdown”. Calling it “Sudden Death” might be more appropriate.