Do people actually play stuff like this?

This is from ‘The Last Baron’ by Mastodon, the tab is from the official tab book so it should be at least decently accurate.


I run into stuff like this occasionally and it’s always a brick wall for me in terms of learning a song. Accurately strumming/picking through different strings and groups of strings like that feels almost impossible.

Here’s part of the intro from the same song:

It’s not as awkward but it’s the same kind of line with different string groupings being played fairly quickly.

So are these tabs more of a rough guide for partially strumming a held chord? Or should I be able to precisely crosspick through these different string groupings note-for-note? I feel like I’m missing something.

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I have a feeling it’s just “comp these chords” and that’s what it sounds like they’re doing.

Man, now I wanna jam Mastodon!

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To me, this looks like it would be fingerstyle on the acoustic. So for that first example, you strum the first chord then pluck everything else in the bar with your thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. I think this is pretty standard for acoustic/classical stuff.

If it’s on the electric or you know they’re using a pick the whole time, then I would guess that the tabs are mostly a guide but hitting an extra note by accident could easily give you the wrong sound. It’s not really my style so I might be way off but I did write a piece that sort of has this look in tab form and you’ll see just two notes in the tabs but I’m actually holding more notes with my left hand. When I play it, I’m not really focusing on the smaller groups of notes, I’m just thinking “chord chord, bass strings, chord, treble strings, chord, chord” because I know that I want a deeper sound on this chord for this particular strum and a lighter sound on this chord for that particular strum and if I hit one too many of the bass strings, then the sound isn’t quite right.

If all else fails, find someone playing a cover on YouTube that you think sounds right, then slow down the video and see what they’re doing.

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Yeah, this kind of stuff is very easy to just improvise the picking around a chord shape, and a lot harder to actually replicate once it’s done. That’d be my guess too.


I wind up teaching songs that have these types of figures often. Generally I make a subjective call about importance/practically of hitting each string/strings as written vs approximating.

Basically I think of it in these layers:

  • most accurate - every note/group
  • almost - aim for every note/group, but one too many strings or one too few doesn’t make a significant difference in effect of the piece. You’ll still have the high/middle/low distinctions
  • high/middle/low/etc - rather than thinking of individual strings, breaking it off into general groups to aim and get the effect.
  • high vs low or high vs bass note, same deal as above
  • most general: - if it’s more ‘strummy’, strum the chord with the written rhythm, aiming to hit few strings per strum, if it’s more ‘picky’ pick through the chord with the general rhythm, disregarding which specific strings are written

As an aside, teaching so many beginner/strummy songs (but getting into some more ‘advanced’ strumming/picking things that can be kind of bluegrass related) it’s interesting that you can actually train yourself to be more specific than you might think when it comes to only strumming certain groups of strings.