Chris Eldridge

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Billy In The Lowground

Cultivating Physical Intelligence

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Billy In The Lowground > Cultivating Physical Intelligence

Hello All!

This week’s lesson is a review of sorts - but a very important one. Because Billy In The Lowground is a fairly technical tune in the sense that it is pure flatpicking, I wanted to remind everyone about good physical habits and kinesthetic mindfulness. It can be easy to get lost in the puzzle of flatpicking - where are the notes, what are the chord changes, am I supposed to be playing an upstroke or a downstroke, etc. - but it is always important to stay aware of how your body is reacting. Are you tense, are you holding your breath, is the pick moving freely? A lot of times the good physical habits that you’ve worked on cultivating go out the window when you’re working on something new. In this weeks lesson we’ll look at some common pitfalls, as well as some useful tips to keep your flatpicking loose and easy.






Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:00 Run-Through of Billy In The Lowground


Download the Sheet Music PDF


Loop 1:57 Tension and Flow

Loop 17:46 Closing Thoughts





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Christopher Lane
Christopher Lane Jul 31, 2019

I'd passed over this lesson initially and I just came back to it and I'm glad I did.  More and more I've been trying to be mindful of tension during live performance and all of the ideas in this lesson are just more tools in the toolbox, so to speak.  Thanks for it.  

Chris, I wonder if you can share a bit about how to deal with the natural things that create physical tension during live performance.  For example, when I'm playing in a large string band and I'm about to take a break, I tend to get caught in the "I need to be louder" frame of mind and soon my right hand will be stiff with tension.  Or just knowing that the audiences' musical attention is now focused on me sometimes creates higher levels of anxiety and therefore more tension (and less-great playing).  Basically I'm asking if you have any tricks to getting the ideas in this lesson out of the practice room and onto the stage. 


James Macklin
James Macklin Jul 31, 2019

Those are great questions that I am curious about too!

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 14, 2019



Hey Christopher, great questions indeed! The natural fight or flight stress response can sometimes kick in and make you feel like no matter how mindful you are trying to be you're gonna wind up tense. I have a few concentration techniques that I tend to use. The first one is making sure that I'm remembering to breathe. There's nothing more foundational than that and yet we sometimes hold our breath and it causes tension. So I have gotten in the habit of taking a calm breath and closing my eyes - even for just a brief moment - before I have to play a solo or a difficult technical passage. I might also check in with my feet's connection to the earth (the connection is always solid) and register if my pelvis feels balanced and neutral (it always does). Basically, I focus by checking in with my body to make sure that all of these foundational elements are ok. Unless something is really wrong, they're always going to be ok. This serves to ground me and bring me to the present.

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 14, 2019



If you tend to get stage fright you might also rehearse the on-stage scenario in your mind. Picture yourself onstage and imagine everything going exactly as you would want it to go, including staying relaxed and in a focused flow-state. Or, when you’re imagining how it could go you might ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen would be if you didn’t play well. If you follow that train of logic you’ll find that the worst case scenario really isn’t a big deal. You’ll still be your same self, your friends and family will still love you just as much and the sky won’t fall down. Ultimately, you’ll realize that playing well or not well in that moment doesn’t actually define who you are. So you might as well relax and enjoy yourself and the experience of being around your friends/bandmates/audience/whoever. 



There is a GREAT book called The Inner Game of Tennis. I HIGHLY recommend that you read it. It is excellent and it deals in depth with exactly the issues that you are asking about.

Mike Widman
Mike Widman May 19, 2018

How do you keep the left-pinky middle-joint from collapsing? This may occur for example when playing an open position D/C# chord, where the fourth finger is fretting the low C#. The image below is not a guitar (duh! obviously) but captures the fourth finger foible.

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge May 24, 2018

Honestly, I think it just has to do with finger/hand/forearm strength. When I first started playing I couldn’t play a G chord without my ring and pinky finger collapsing. Eventually they just stopped collapsing. That said, I still have joints that collapse like that when I’m playing certain chords. If you wanted to train your fingers to not do that, I would think about playing on your finger tips a lot more. But I would advise not dedicating too much practice time to that, because playing on the absolute tips of your fingers isn’t necessary or even desirable. Another thing you could do is let your finger collapse and then slowly bring it into an arched position. Then keep going until you notice that they are collapsed again. Then slowly bring them back to the arched position. This kind of mindfulness, where you cultivate a habit of awareness, calmly correct when things aren’t as you want them to be then keep moving forward is very effective in my experience. Let me know how it goes!

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge May 16, 2018

Hey everyone, thanks for your thoughtful comments! Yes, it really is all about “getting out of your own way.” There are all sorts of roadblocks that we put up for ourselves that we aren’t even aware of. 

Christian, although I do float freely in my right hand sometimes, I also let my ring and pinky fingers either touch the top or wrap slightly around the first string. As far as what kind of technique or anchoring to use, I really feel like we’re all built differently and different techniques will work better or worse for different people. I didn’t develop the floating technique until I started playing with Chris Thile. He was employing a similar technique and because he has an INCREDIBLE right hand, I figured I would try that out. It was good in some ways (I could move my arm more freely and therefore had access to more timbres; crosspicking difficult things became easier; certain groove things became easier) but bad in others (I can’t play as fast or accurately with the closed hand). And pardon my ignorance, but can you explain what you mean by ”sweeping” technique? Do you mean the unanchored technique?

Christian Frentzen
Christian Frentzen May 16, 2018

Hi Chris, thanks so much,that is very interesting! I meant floating not sweeping - I confused those two. I would still be interested in your floating technique. Could you show us a bit more about your right hand technique in an upcoming video?

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge May 24, 2018

Sure, happy to talk about that more in detail in an upcoming video! I definitely do switch between the various types of right hand techniques depending on what I’m playing. There are many ways to get the job done!

Christian Frentzen
Christian Frentzen May 15, 2018

Hi Chris, thanks for that lesson and your very inspiring music! I am still a beginner when it comes to flatpicking but I noticed that you are among a few players I know who don't (or rarely) use the pinky in your picking hand to stay anchored when flatpicking. Can you explain a little bit more about that "sweeping" technique you use (I read that some call this technique sweeping)? It feels a little bit difficult for me when flatpicking and playing lines that involve several strings. At that point it seems to be easier to use the pinky or using the palm of my hand to lay my hand down so I am centered somwhere and don't accidentally hit other strings. It  looks so easy and elegant when you play - how do you get such good control in your picking hand when you're mostly touching the guitar with your elbow?

James Macklin
James Macklin May 13, 2018

LIke Kip said, great reminder and lesson. A few weeks ago I was preparing to play a series of gigs with a bluegrass band---my first ever paid bluegrass gigs!!--that liked to play pretty quick tempos. One day I was working on Dear Old Dixie and was really intent on trying to play fast, not paying much attention to much else. By the end of my practice session my right hand /forearm was killing me, which freaked me out. So I went back to basics, slowed down, and went into that awareness mode that you talked about. In fact I focused on the very same spot you mentioned at 7:00! It made a huge difference. 

Another thing I've found that helps with relaxation is, kind of like you said, having an internal groove or click to play to. I tend to think of a mandolin chop, so I'm kind of playing to an imaginary mandolin player. I find that when I do that my right hand goes into that groove you were talking about and gets that nice flow that I'm aiming for. 

You're spot on about getting to that point where you trust your technique and just allow it to happen. I'm not nearly there yet but that is certainly where I want to be. I think Eric Johnson calls it getting out your own way and allowing yourself to make music. 

Thanks for the great lesson and tips!


Kip Marchetti
Kip Marchetti May 12, 2018

Chris -

Great reminder and lesson. To a relative newbie to flatpicking - can I still say that after 3 years - I find that tension is one of the single biggest hurdles to overcome. It is essential to just about everything including speed, flow and even tone. I don't know if it is ever entirely overcome, as it requires constant mindfulness and attention.  I suppose the key is to get to a point where you're not thinking about it but to someone like me who gets out of bed in the morning tense, I need to always think about it.  The one string ... single note stream ... that Bryan Sutton preaches helps immensely and I have devoted a lot of time to that exercise and in my mind it really helps. I would recommend that all of your students do that for a bit everytime they pick up the guitar as a warm up and reminder to stay loose.

Looking forward to the rest of the Billy in the Lowground lessons and may post one soon.


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