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Frequently Asked Questions

On this page we are going to provide answers to frequently asked questions about the 8-volume Flatpicking Essentials book/CD instructional course as well as questions about playing flatpicking guitar in general. Since the series is brand new and readers are just now digging in, we have yet to receive many "frequently" asked questions. But keep checking back. As we get more questions, we will post the answers here! If you would like to email us a question, click <here>. Please put "Flatpicking Essentials" in the subject line.

    While this page is mainly dedicated to guitar players who are currently working with the Flatpicking Essentials course. The first few questions listed below are those being asked by individuals who have found us on the web, but have not seen the Flatpicking Essentials instructional course.

1) What is Flatpicking? This is the main question that guitar players who have found us on the web have been asking. If you are not familiar with this term, you can find the answer to this question by clicking <here>.


2) What is in the Flatpicking Essentials course?  You can find a more detailed description by clicking<here>


3)  Question:  Pick Choice?  This is a very good book but something I am struggling with a choice of flat picks. Medium, heavy, teardrop,triangle,large radius, pointed. Where to start?

Answer:  The choice of pick is really something that is a personal preference and all players, even the professionals, are constantly seeking the "best pick."  If you took a poll of all of the professional players, you'd find that there is a wide variety of pick types that are used, so there really is no "standard" pick for flatpicking.
     That being said, some guidelines in general, which you may already be aware of, are that the thinner the pick, the thinner and brighter the tone, however, the easier the attack (ability to manipulate the pick through the strings).  The thicker the pick, the more mellow and "woody" the tone, however, the attack is more difficult (harder to push the pick through the strings).  Also, the more pointy the pick's point, the brighter the tone.  The more rounded the pick's point, the more mellow the tone.
     Most flatpickers like a more woody, mellow, thick, rich tone, so they use a heavier pick, or one that has a more rounded edge, or both (think Clarence White, David Grier, Tony Rice, Larry Sparks).  However, some flatpickers like a brighter tone and use a thinner, pointier pick (think Steve Kaufman, Dan Crary, Beppe Gambetta).
     In addition to tone, you want the pick to feel comfortable in your hand and you want to be able to push the pick through the strings without feeling like it is a struggle.  I personally use a pick that is about 1.0 to 1.2 mm thick because a thicker pick is harder for me to manipulate.  However, there are those players who use thicker picks with great success.  
     I would recommend starting with a standard shape pick (teardrop), using the point of the pick (some people use the rounded shoulder), with a thickness of about .8 to 1.0 mm and see how that feels and sounds to you.  After you have gained a feel for that, use it has your measuring stick and try others of different shapes, sizes, and materials, and see if they feel and sound better or worse to you.
    In the end it all comes down to personal taste.  I think that every flatpicker that I know is constantly experimenting.  Even if they stick with one pick for years, they sometimes change later.  So I recommend that you start somewhere in order to set a standard and then experiment from there.

4)  Question:  Running out of Notes when Changing Keys:  If I am converting "This Land Is Your Land" in G to Carter Style, do I play it, as is, with a open 3rd string G, 3rd string A and second string open B or convert to a Bass G, open A, 5th string B?  If I go the Bass string G route, what do I do about the the final "this Land was made for you and me line". That goes A<A<A F#<D<F# <A<G?  If the A is the 5th String open A that I have used through out and the F# is the 2nd fret on the E string, where do I go for the D?  Hope this make sense?

Answer:  Yes I understand your question.  And thanks for asking.  You are basically running out of notes on the low end and don't know where to go.  There are several options.  I have attached a tab of "This Land" arranged in C <here>, and then arranged in G <here>.  I've provided you with three alternatives for the key of G version.  The first is in the tab and simply uses a D chord strum over that part that you are having trouble with.  This one is tricky because you have to modify your D chord when you are strumming (see tab).
The second alternative is listed towards the bottom of the page.  In this I simply modified the melody slightly to make it work.
The third alternative is at the bottom of the page and here I've gone up and used the higher octave notes.
    There are many ways one might handle a situation where you are running out of notes when changing keys, or figuring out breaks in different octaves.  I cover this situation in Volume 3, so you'll see some solutions there.  However, for the time being, here are three options to use when you are playing "This Land" in G.

5)  Question:  Running out of Notes when Changing Keys (2):  My question is about the homework part,  in the key of C, walking down from G to C, since there is no low D on the 6th string can you use the 4th open D, or just start the walk down on the open G 3rd string?  Also in the key of D the walk up to G, could you use the open D on the 4th then jump to the open E on the 6th, or just stay on the 4th and walk up?

Answer:  I am assuming that you are working with the progression on page 22 (example 11) and talking about the homework problem on that page where I ask you to take that progression and figure it out in the keys of C and D?
     If that is the case, then, yes, an option when moving from the G chord (V) back to the C chord (I) in the key of C is to walk starting on the open G on the third string, the F, E, D on the D string, then hit the C note on the chord change to C.
     Your solution in moving from D to G in the key of D is also a good one.  Play the open D, then play the open low E, then the F#, then land on G when the chord changes.

Your other option will also work as a variation. Play the open D, then play the E on the second fret of the D string, play the F# on the D string, and then land on the open G string for the chord change.  Both of these approaches work and sound great and using both adds variety and interest to you playing.  Work with both ways of doing it and then you can decide which one you like best in a given situation.

6)  Question:  Fingering for Exercise 15 in Volume 1:  What fingering are you most comfortable with when playing exercise 15 - "Rhythm Using Half-Note Bass Runs" beginning on the third beat of measure 5 through the first beat of measure 6?

Answer:  Click <here> to see a chart of the chord shapes that I use in this exercise.

7)  Question:  Long Rhythm Groove:  Most of the examples in Volume 1 work with a I, IV, V progression.  Could you record examples of this progression for a long duration so that they are repetitive and allow the player to lock into the instructor's groove - this is after all the most important thing for rhythm right?

Answer:  Great suggestion!  Based on your suggestion, our friend Brad Davis recorded 5-minute long I-IV-V rhythm grooves in the keys of G, C, and D for you to practice along with.  You can find the page where you can download them by clicking <here>.

8)  Question:  Will there be any new issues?

Answer:  We are currently working on a new course series for all forms of acoustic guitar.  We will then move on to other instruments.

9)  Question:  Keys of D and A:  I've been able to take the rhythm exercises in G and translate them over to C, but the key of D feels like a completely different animal. Do you have any advice about the key of D or the key of A which I haven't even tackled yet? Any advice you can give me is greatly appreciated.

Answer:  Regarding the keys of D and A, they are definitely more challenging that G and C.  I don't really have any advice other than practice in those keys as much as you can and as those chords and changes become more familiar it will get easier.  The one thing that I did which really helped me in the keys of D and A was to not use a capo in jam sessions.  As you may know, the majority of fiddle tunes are played in the keys of D and A, however, guitarists usually capo up two frets and play out of G or C positions.  At some point I decided that I was going to learn how to play the fiddle tunes that I knew out of the D and A positions so that when I jammed with other guitar players we wouldn't be playing out of the exact same positions.  When I started doing that, I started becoming more comfortable with playing both rhythm and lead in those keys and it became easier.

10)  Question:  What type of string gauge should I use?  Will thicker strings produce a louder volume?

Answer:  Regarding string selection, it is really a matter of personal choice, for reasons of playability, touch (or attack), and tone.  The response of the individual guitar also has something to do with it.  I'm not so sure that thicker strings sound louder. I think that the amount of force you have to use to pick through the thicker strings (attack) is what contributes to the increased volume.
     Thinner strings are usually easier to play, but, depending on the guitar and the player's attack, they can also have a brighter or "thinner" sound.  Most bluegrass players play with a pretty strong attack.  This probably comes from playing in a lot of jam sessions where the guitar is not amplified and they are trying to be heard over banjos, mandolins, and fiddles.  In that situation, it is hard to play with a real light touch.  If you have a strong attack and a fairly thick pick, sometimes the light gauge strings will not sound as "fat."  The guitar is also a factor.  For instance, if it the guitar has a stiff top, like a new guitar with a red spruce top, it takes a stronger attack to get the top vibrating and producing a good tone.  However, if the guitar top is not so stiff, like a cedar top or a spruce top on an older guitar that has been "broken in," it doesn't take as strong an attack to get the top moving, so light gauge strings would probably sound good.
     Most flatpickers use medium gauge strings because they provide a good balance and good tone for someone with a fairly strong attack playing in an all acoustic environment.  However, if you have a guitar that has a pretty loose top, have a light right hand attack, and/or play amplified most of the time, you may want to try the light gauge strings.  I have two guitars, one is a Dreadnought that has a red spruce top.  On that guitar I use medium gauge strings and play bluegrass and fiddle tune music.  I also have a smaller body 000 size guitar that has a cedar top (much softer wood).  On that guitar I use light gauge strings and play tunes that require a lighter touch.

Ultimately, it is your decision.  Try both light gauge and medium gauge on your guitar, using your choice of pick, and your personal attack, and then decide what strings feel and sound best to you.  

11)  Question:  Alternating bass on the C and D chords.  I am enjoying working through the Vol 1 course, as I mentioned to you in my original letter I am interested in accompanying myself mainly playing Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Ramblin Jack Elliott, etc. (which I have been doing for many years), so i am quite familiar with the alternating bass strumming patterns, as used in various ways.
      When i usually play Woody's stuff that requires the alternating bass pattern I use the same G pattern that you show in the beginning of the book, but I use a different C and D pattern...on the C chord I don't add the G note on the low E string, I use the E note (second fret D string) after the C instead, and for the D I usually use the same as you prescribe, or sometimes I use the open D followed by the A (second fret G string).  This sounds much more like Woody and Bob Dylan...where as if you use the notes as you describe, it sounds more Johnny Cash...that typical double bass pattern in nearly all of his music.  Perhaps Woody played it differently because it is quicker or easier for hammer ons and pulloffs.  I wondered what your thought on this are?

Answer:  You are right.  Playing the root note followed by the lower 5th as I show in the beginning of the course has more of a bluegrass sound, or in the case of Johnny Cash, that dark low bass sound that he liked.  The more "folky" sound is to play the higher note (E for the C chord and higher A note for the D chord).  As you progress through the material, you will see that I demonstrate both variations (see pages 46 and 47 in particular), and more.   When playing the C chord, hammering-on or pulling-off on that E note on the D string is a favorite lick of many folk guitar players, so in that aspect you are also correct.
     My feeling is that you should become familiar with a wide variety of alternating bass note choices, and bass runs, when playing rhythm and then select the ones that feel best to you in the given situation, or the one the best fits the song's groove, lyrics, or musical genre.