September 21, 2023


Entertain Reaching Stars

Crosspicking on the Acoustic Guitar in Bluegrass and Old-Time Music

3 min read

Crosspicking is a technique in which the flatpick is used to pick a
group of strings in a pattern that repeats. Typically, three
pitches are played repeatedly against a four-pulse rhythm so there
is a continual shifting of the pitches and of the accented pulse.
The result is something similar to a banjo roll, with notes seeming
to come from everywhere. Micky Cochran put it like this: “Crosspicking bombards the listener with a
barrage of notes. As is similar to bluegrass banjo, crosspicking
guitar doesn’t seem to pause for a breather. A continuous
succession of notes pours forth establishing the melody while
filling in all of the spaces with harmony notes. Not only does the
guitar support itself, with spaces filled harmonically, but
crosspicking technique works effectively for supporting other lead
instruments and vocals.”

George Shuffler, who spent 18 years as a member of the Stanley
Brothers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is said to be the pioneer of
crosspicking. The crosspicking technique has been mastered by guitarists like Doc
Watson, Clarence White, Dan Crary, Norman Blake and Tony Rice.

Crosspicking can be used with two open strings against a single
string upon which you are playing melody notes on the frets. You can
throw a crosspicking pattern in here and there, mixing it in with
your other flatpicking techniques.

Let’s try a crosspicking exercise. We’ll use all open strings for
this, the D, G and B strings. For the strokes, I’ll represent the down strokes (the pick motions away from your face) with the letter “d” and the upstrokes (the pick motions toward your
face) with the letter “u.” George Shuffler crosspicks with a
pattern of two down strokes followed by one upstroke. Pick each
individual string in this repetitive pattern:


Play the D string with a down stroke, the G string with a down
stroke, and the B string with an up stroke, like this:

ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu ddu

But remember, crosspicking is a pattern of three pitches played
repeatedly against a four-pulse rhythm, so in common time (4 beats
to the measure, each quarter note receiving one beat), the pattern
would look this when each string picked is a quarter note with four
quarter notes per measure:


The picking pattern would be:

ddud – dudd – uddu – ddud – dudd – uddu – ddud

Now let’s try something that will probably be a bit challenging. I
learned this from one of Steve Kaufman’s instructional videos.
Crosspick the repeated pattern of DGB, but instead of using the
typical “ddu” stroking, play with alternating up and down strokes,
just like if you were picking out a fiddle tune. So, although you
are playing the repeated pattern of the three strings, your stroke
pattern is:

dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu – dudu

It will not be easy at first to keep the pattern of the three
strings going with the alternating pick motion, but think of your
forearm as a pendulum, swinging down, back and forth, to hit the
top of each string. The upshot of this stroke pattern is that each
note is cleaner, crisper, and makes more of a statement.

I use both of these patterns, but I’m trying to develop the latter
and use it more often, because I think that overall it’s the best.
Have fun learning how to crosspick–it’s a great weapon to have in
your technique arsenal!

Copyright © 2007 Lee Griffith. All rights reserved.

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