Stuart Ryan shows you the blistering picking of US bluegrass sensation Molly Tuttle, and explains the secrets to her incredible ‘crosspicking’ style.
When seeking picking inspiration we often turn towards legends from the rock, metal or jazz-fusion worlds. However, check out US bluegrass sensation Molly Tuttle and you’ll hear one of the best pickers around today. Tuttle’s main focus is a technique called ‘crosspicking’ which is one of the standard picking systems used in bluegrass and country. The technique, as the name suggests, involves picking across the strings, generally picking one or two notes per string. The idea is to replicate fiddle and banjo tunes on guitar and this often means playing in the open position and using chord shapes and open-string scales as the basis for what you are doing.
Crosspicking is a tricky technique to master, for many reasons, but watch Molly Tuttle at work and you’ll be amazed at her speed and fluidity. One of the biggest challenges with crosspicking comes from playing in the open position where the physical gaps between the notes are larger than your typical 12th fret box shape. Also you need a great deal of relaxation in the picking-hand wrist in order to get the power and drive you need, to get to required bluegrass volume levels. Finally, playing out of chord shapes typically means that you are playing no more than one or two notes per string so you are constantly picking down and up across all six strings. Relaxation is key to mastering this technique so ensure the wrist is loose and snappy.
In this study you’ll see how to tackle both the open position side of things and a more typical alternate picking position pattern higher up the neck.
NEXT MONTH Stuart returns to his Celtic Fingerpicking series with a new piece for you to learn
I recorded this month’s piece with a Collings OM1 Julian Lage model, although you’ll usually find bluegrass players using dreadnought models for their deeper tone and higher volume. However, an OM sized body is fine and will provide the bright, fast attack that’s needed for this style. On challenging pieces like this, players will often use a capo to bring the action down and make fretting duties a little easier.
“Crosspicking is a tricky technique to master, but watch Molly Tuttle at work and you’ll be amazed at her speed and fluidity”