Chris Eldridge

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Holding the Pick and Releasing Tension

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Fundamentals > Holding the Pick and Releasing Tension

Hello Everyone!

I'm very glad to be joining you here at Sonic Junction. I've been enjoying watching Corey and Duke's videos, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of what I've learned with you all!

To that end, in this first lesson I want to talk about fundamentals. I really believe that spending a little time every day on fundamentals will do wonders for anyone's playing. Things that are as simple as breathing and relaxing, staying mindful of how you hold the pick, etc; these are all a great way to orient oneself before diving into playing. We've all created bad physical habits in how we play the guitar that we know are holding us back; tension is the common denominator in all of them. The first line of defense against tension is mindfulness. I know that might sound strange - and I promise we'll dive into plenty of bluegrass guitar - but for this first lesson I would like to ask you to really pay attention to how your body feels when you play. Getting in the habit of doing that will set us up for success in everything else down the road.

The song we'll be learning while we work on these concepts is the Stanley Brothers classc "White Dove." It's a really beautiful song, perfect for a campfire, that every bluegrass musician should know.





Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:
White Dove
Chris Eldridge
Stanley Brothers

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:49 Introduction

Loop 2:29 The Importance of Fundamentals

Loop 4:07 Holding the Pick and Arm Position

Loop 6:35 Getting Rid of Tension

Loop 9:35 Breakdown of White Dove Song Form


Download the Sheet Music PDF


Loop 12:56 Run-Through of White Dove


In the deep rolling hills of old Virginia

There's a place that I love so well

Where I spent many days of my childhood

In the cabin where we loved to dwell


   White dove will mourn in sorrow

   The willows will hang their heads

   I'll live my life in sorrow

   Since mother and daddy are dead


We were all so happy there together

In our peaceful little mountain home

But the Savior needs angels up in heaven

Now they sing around the great white throne


As the years roll by I often wonder

If we will all be together someday

And each night as I wander through the graveyard

Darkness finds me as I kneel to pray


Loop 16:38 What to Practice This Week





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John Greer
John Greer Dec 23, 2020

Hey Chris! Not sure how active these threads are any more but just wanted to say thanks for doing these. Long time fan of your work and the effortlessness with which you play flat-picking music has made me really want to take a crack at loosening up to learn this kinda music (church/folk/jazz backgrounds here).

Here's my White Dove. One place of tension I can actively feel while playing is in my neck/tip top of my back. I think this might be general performance anxiety, but you can see me try to roll it out a few times when it creeps in.

Any feedback appreciated 🙏


Torgeir Jorem
Torgeir Jorem Jan 18, 2021

Nice singing voice!

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Feb 04, 2021

John Greer
John Greer Feb 05, 2021

Wow Chris thanks so much for the video reply! 🙏 I'll start working out that right-hand technique 

JANGHYUNHO Jul 18, 2020

Hello, Chris

I usually put my hand on the bridge pin side and hit it, but I don't think it will lean on your video. Can I know why?

Or is it different when you lean against the bridge and then strike?

 In my video, the first part is to hit the bridge pin or 6 string with your hand slightly fixed,

and the secondis to remove it


And I have another question.

When you play the melody on the 1st, 2nd,3rd string, do you mute with your palm on the

6th or 5th string?


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 21, 2021

Hi JiMyeong! Do you hear how much more open the sound becomes when your hand doesn't touch the bridge pins. That, to me, is a wonderful sound. 

I will definitely use my palm or the fingers on my left hand to mute any strings that may be ringing sympathetically. But that doesn't mean that I would keep the palm of my hand down all the time to prevent any ringing. Its more that I can use that palm to mute anything if i need to. Sometimes you might even want some of those other strings to ring. 

Hope that helps!


JiMyeong Seo
JiMyeong Seo Nov 23, 2019

Hi, Chris. 

Your class is very helpful. I have one question.. I hold my fourth finger and little finger lean on 1st string, unlike you when I picking. I've been picking like this for a long time. But these days, I'm worried about incorrect pickings. Your right hand always seems to pick up independently from the string. Is there a problem with the way I'm doing it? Is this the problem that I sometimes touch other strings? I kept touching another line that I didn't want. Do you think it's a picking style problem?


It's quite painful to fix a closed style. 


Thanks ! Chris !

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Dec 27, 2019

Hi JiMyeong! Nice to see you on here! 

I don't think there's any problem with how you're doing it. Everybody is built differently, with different bodies, hands, etc. So what works best for me might not be what works best for you. The main thing that I would avoid is resting the palm of your right hand on the bridge or bridge pins because that can dampen the top and lead to a less powerful sound (Although Molly Tuttle does exactly this and she's wonderful!). And actually, I often let my middle finger lean on the first string which I learned from watching Tony Rice because he does that too. 

Happy holidays and hope to see you soon!


Mike Apr 05, 2019

I appreciate Mathew's submission and Chris' response.


Chris: Please! Come back to New York. As far as I know you haven't been around since August, except for maybe a tapeing of Prairie Home Companion. Come play a show with Jules or Michael. Please!!! If you did a duo with Chris it would probably be cost prohibitive unless it was on the D/L at Jalopy or some place super low key.


Chris: If you're playing in open/first position, practically speaking, will that not necessitate a different left hand "position" than say if you were playing up the neck in a closed position.I notice when I picked up a mandolin, of which I have very little experience with, my left hand moved almost perpendicular to what I understand to be correct positioning. When I say perpendicular - this is what I mean: my finger nail is facing the fret as opposed to facing the ceiling. It's hard to explain in words. It just made aware of something I could fix on the guitar fingerboard. Are your fingers always finger-nail-facign-the-ceiling? 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jun 19, 2019

Hi Mike, thanks for the kind words! I love NYC and there's always plenty of it in my future. Re: hand position and finger orientation, yes, the positioning of your hands should be dynamic and able to adjust. Usually my fingers are mostly vertical but with a slight forward angle toward the body, but other times they will be totally vertical. There are times when I may be reaching back with my index finger toward the headstock to grab a note in a chord and that finger might have a "backward" tilt. Ultimately your hands should be dynamic and able to conform to all of these different needs. It's easy and natural to do this if your hands are really relaxed. If you hold much tension in your hands this sort of adaptability will be limited. 

Mathew Putman
Mathew Putman Mar 25, 2019

Hi Chris, 

I've just started the lessons in the past week. I wanted to submit this video so you could give me some feedback. Also, I wanted to know the best way to approach the lessons. Should I only watch one of the lessons a week and then do the next one the following week or can I skip ahead? I also wanted to know if you had any suggestions for exercises to help with speed and cordination.  

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Apr 01, 2019

Hello Matthew, welcome to our little guitar community!

First of all, I enjoyed hearing you play and sing this song. You have a great, strong voice and a good sense of musical pacing. Your right hand, what I could see of it, looked nice and relaxed, which is great. I notice 2 things immediately in your left hand that are hindering your ability to make a clean sound. 

1) You never want to fret any further back than the exact midpoint between two frets, and in bluegrass, you generally want to press your finger down just behind the fret. This leads to a much more crisp sound, and you’re less likely to have errant buzzing. 

2) The position of the thumb on your left hand can make or break the ease with which you fret notes. In short, by having your thumb solidly on the back of the neck you can take advantage of the motion of *clasping* your hand together between thumb and fingers, which provides leverage and mechanical advantage.

There are lessons that cover both of these things in detail. I would suggest going all the way through this fundamentals series because it lays out some fundamental principals that we return to again and again. After that I would go through the Honey, You Don’t Know My Mind and Soldier’s Joy lessons because they lay out other fundamental principals that will be very useful. After those, whatever strikes your fancy. Generally speaking, the first week of any series lays out the basic parameters of the song, and in subsequent lessons we use the song as a vehicle to study specific techniques, approaches, or solos.

Let me know if you have any other questions!


Barry Chabala
Barry Chabala Dec 16, 2018

Hi Chris, new to SJ and your lessons. In terms of relaxation, im noticing some discomfort in the crook of my elbow where it meets the front edge of the guitar. Do you think this is from tention or a pressure point of some kind?  I'm trying to relax it more and release tention in my arm as i work though these first few lessons. 


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 05, 2019

Hmm, can you describe the discomfort a bit more? Is it an ache or something more acute? And did it just start?

Barry Chabala
Barry Chabala Jan 05, 2019

its an ache inside part of elbow area, right where the guitar meets it. it just started, so im thinking its probably tension brought on by trying to concentrate here on not having tension! 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 06, 2019

Yep, it’s entirely possible that in “trying too hard” to not have tension and putting too much focus into that area, you can actually create tension! I think your diagnosis is probably correct. Try taking a break and shaking your arm out if you start noticing that feeling coming on.

It can also be good to stand up and move around a bit. Move your torso, move your back, move your spine. Julian Lage taught me that keeping those areas loose can really help loosen the rest of your body. Keeping your trunk limber helps keep the branches limber.

Robert Heaton
Robert Heaton Dec 12, 2018

Hello, Chris; Is the White Dove an A7 chord, or an true A chord, you make note of the A chord but the music  shows, A7. Should I learn the A 7 or just play the A, Thanks I am having a great time, Best to you, and yours, Robert; 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Dec 19, 2018

Hi Robert, you can use either one. They’re functionally exactly the same. The 7th just adds a bit of color and tension that the regular A doesn’t have. 

Torgeir Jorem
Torgeir Jorem Oct 08, 2018

Great discussion, welcome! You have maybe seen this one, but for others here is Chris Tile talking about his teqhnique:

I remember Chris E. saying he has been influenced by Tile's right hand teqhnique. 

Wiam Otto
Wiam Otto Oct 08, 2018

Thanks Torgeir! I saw this this week, so I feel that I am at least in a good camp. Someone like Grier uses both ways, but it is definitely something to work hard at, if you want to be able to move easily between both approaches.

Wiam Otto
Wiam Otto Oct 07, 2018

Bottom line question:

- Why and how have you come to move from the loose finger style to a closed fist style?

- Do you still use some of the other approaches when needed?

- Do you advocate one above the other?

- Do you think one can generate the speed and punch the loose finger guys get with a closed grip?

-Do you think the approaches can be mixed?

 It feels weird and unnatural to me to cross over from one to another and back again ( maybe it is something to get used to)

Appologies for the long winded post! I have been thinking a lot about this, and I am ready to start finalising it so that I can focus more on playing and writing J

 Thanks Chris!

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Oct 29, 2018

Hi Wiam!

Thanks for your super thoughtful question. Right hand posture an issue that many of us have experimented with and wrestled around over the years.

When I first started to play I would extend out my ring and pinky fingers and rest them on the top of the guitar the way that banjo players tend to hold their hands. The only reason I played this way was that both of my parents were banjo players and so I mimiced them. I was young and no one ever told me otherwise! What I got out of that hand position was a very solid sense of timing, but I had a lot of tension and the tone wasn't great. But it served me well. From a technical standpoint of playing fast and loud I kind of peaked around 2005, before I started to change to more of a closed fist style.

The reason I made the switch was that Thile used a closed fist and we had started to play together. He had strong opinions that he had more control with the closed fist. Also, in some of the music that he was writing and that I started playing (The Blind Leaving the Blind from the first Punch Brothers record) I needed to play some very complex crosspicking with lots of string changes and big leaps from low to high strings. I found that immediately the closed fist technique helped me with the crosspicking. Beyond that I just took it on faith that, "if it works for Thile - who has possibly the most capable right hand ever in American stringband music - it must be the best method." 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Oct 29, 2018

I leaned in pretty hard to working on playing with a closed fist and it was helpful for playing some of that music. But in the process I lost a lot of control that I never quite got back. For instance, like you said, I could never play driving bluegrass as well with the closed hand technique. Also, my timing and feel changed to where I can't play with Tony Rice-esque timing as well as I once could. But I gained a new ability to swing when playing 16th notes. So there are advantages and disadvantages to both techniques.

With the benefit of hindsight and wisdom, I've learned that what works best for someone else is what works best for them, not necessarily for me. I think that's true for all of us. To answer some of your other questions:

-I do still revert to some semblance of the old technique when I'm playing bluegrass, but I'm not as good at it now as I once was. But I think that the ability to move between the different techniques is good, even if they're all a bit weaker for switching around and not dedicating to only one. So yes, I definitely think that the approaches can be mixed. I would encourage that you experiment with them.

Remember too that even though these different techniques have their strengths and weaknesses, just on account of how you are built, you may do better with one than another. And that's ok too. Just be open to what feels good to you. Try to be kinesthetically open and aware and see how you can best make the sound you want to hear. Stay in touch with whether or not you're staying relaxed. Your body is a great teacher - listen to it. 

I hope all of that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!


Wiam Otto
Wiam Otto Oct 07, 2018

It just seems that a lot of great pickers  have used both approaches, but that the loose fingers approach are favoured by the more ‘traditional’ flatpickers. Maybe because it is louder/punchier? Maybe the the closed fist style by more modern approach guys because the tone is more balanced?

I’ve herd your compadre - Thile advocate a definite ‘right way’, which is the closed fist way, which made me feel that if it works for him it can’t be too bad/inhibiting.

Wiam Otto
Wiam Otto Oct 07, 2018

I’ve played the Rice way for about 4 years( started to dig a hole in my top from grabbing the strings), but have been playing ‘closed fist’ for the last three years or so, and I really  do like it. I feel that I get a full round tone, and it is great for crosspicking. I can manage to play crosspick arrangements with the Rice/Sutton style, but it does not flow nearly as nicely.

So, the loose fingers approach sometimes feels cleaner/clearer on fiddle tunes and a bit crisper on rhythm, but that was actually the main reason I drifted away from that approach. It can very easily sound to thin to my ears. I like a full, round, warm sound, but I have found that I think the closed fist lacks volume and punch when compared to the other approaches especially when playing leads.

 I don’t want to make this too long and I am willing to carry on with this discussion as long as it takes J

Wiam Otto
Wiam Otto Oct 07, 2018

Hey Chris!

I am a newcomer on this platform and really loving your content I’ve seen so far. I am really looking forward to get into all your materials here, but I’d like to dive in with an issue I have been grappling with and exploring and experimenting with A LOT this year. It has been coming up pretty much every day when I practice this past year, and I signed up with you specifically because I love your tone and have huge respect for your playing and approach, and I believe that you have also undergone some changes in your playing over the years ( no pressure J )

The topic is my right hand.

1)Closed fist( Grier, your self, Molly Tuttle…)

2)bottom three fingers loose( Doc, Sutton, Blake)

3)Grabbing E and B strings with ring and pinkie fingers like Tony

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Dec 06, 2017

Hi David, I took some pictures and made a video. Hope this helps! 

Kip Marchetti
Kip Marchetti Dec 10, 2017

Thanks for the unexpected Bonus. There is so much talk about pick grips and the angle that the pick hits the strings that I felt that this, the most basic and fundamental action of playing/flat picking the guitar wasn't worth worrying about, or so I thought.  I went with the - whatever you're comfortable with formula for the past couple of years.

About 2 months ago, I started the process of experimenting with the way I grip my pick and found that any, ever so slight, adjustment with the grip totally threw me off my game and blew up my string accuracy. I'm getting a little better with the new grip which looks much like yours, and concede that pick grip does play a fundamental role in creating better tone and worth the effort.

EDIT: I should add that pick grip is one component to achieving better tone which may or may not excede the whatever feels comfortable theory. I have no idea as the more I play the more I realize I can't ... sometimes. 

David Nov 27, 2017


Your description of the pick grip or pick placement is one of the most helpful descriptions I've seen.

Would you be willing to post a few photos of your pick grip from a couple of different angles? 

Does your pick grip change at all when you play mandolin? (I've seen a video of you tearing it up on the mandolin and I'm curious because I started out on the mandolin).


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Nov 28, 2017

Hi David,

Yes, happy to take some pictures in the next day or so. Traveling now. In the meantime, I use the same pick grip whether playing mandolin or guitar.



B. Thomas
B. Thomas Aug 25, 2017


Want to thank you for taking the time to provide such a thoughtful answer to my question about rest strokes.  I meditate regularly and practice the  concept of acknowledging tension and thoughts and letting them melt away, but I had never thought about applying the same ideas to guitar practice.

Yes to using the metronome! It always makes my playing just a little bit better each time, so why don't I use it more often? 

Thanks again,


B. Thomas
B. Thomas Aug 11, 2017

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the advanced rhythm embellishments video - I love this stuff.  I appreciate your line about it being simple, but not easy.  Any tips for getting the rest strokes down?  I have seen/heard other players do this and the power/volume the rest stroke gets really seems to move the music and wake up your ear.  Unfortunately I am struggling to incorporate this technique. The switch from the steady rhythm with the right hand to the rest stroke movement just isn't coming to me.  Appreciate any ideas you have to work on this. 

Many thanks,


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 18, 2017

Hi Brian,

I have to be honest, they're hard for me too. I think the real trick is practicing mindfullness as you do it. You already know the basic task you are trying to accomplish: switching from strummed rhythm to rest-stroke based single notes. In a way, it's as simple as you just do it. BUT here's the trick. In just doing it, you don't have to be correct, you just have to amplify your kinesthetic awareness in your *whole body*. You'll probably notice most of the tension appearing in your right arm. Acknowledge it, breathe for a few seconds and try it again with that heightened sense of awareness. You might notice that your jaw clenches, or you stop breathing for a second, or whatever. Acknowledge, take a moment to breathe and try again. You really can't force these things to happen, you have to create the conditions where they CAN happen by noticing impediments that you are creating and slowly letting them melt away. 

Also, PRACTICE SLOWLY. It's really easy to be too goal oriented and practice things too fast - I am really bad about this - but by slowing down and breathing you create the space where you can approach this unfamiliar physical act in the most calm, open way possible. Once you get that down, then you can try speeding up (and even exceeding a speed where you are comfortable, but only to promote staying aware and relaxed at that faster speed).

Also, once you have got the basic transition down to where you can be relaxed while doing it, get the metronome out and use it. It's the best tool a musician has for getting better, no matter the speed.

Good luck!

Sarah H
Sarah H Aug 10, 2017

Hey Critter,

I just started going through the fundamental lessons on the site. I don't know if you talk about this later in any of your lesson series, but I was curious about strings. I've been trying to dabble in different types & gauges to get an idea of what I like and really how it affects sound and playability for me. I was just wondering what strings you tend to use -- and do you use the same type of strings for most of your playing -- or do you change depending on the project/style?



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 18, 2017

Hi Sarah, welcome! It's timely that you should ask about strings because I am newly enthused about a particular string. I recently tried D'addario Nickel Bronze and I absolutely LOVE them. Seriously. So much so that I subequently sought out an endorsement from D'addario last month after having been fairly ambivalent for the last several years about which strings I used. To my ear they have plenty of life, but they have less "artificial" overtones than phospher bronze or brass strings. The result is you wind up hearing more of the fundamental of the note/more of the guitar and less of the string.

I've never gotten into making up my own custom string guages - I just use mediums if I'm playing a drednaught and lights if I'm playing anything else. 

All of this said, some guitars still might favor certain strings over other ones so you really should try different things. But I am truly psyched about the D'addario Nickel Bronze and have loved them for the same reason on every guitar I've tried them on so far. Martin makes the Tony Rice strings which are similar which might be worth checking out as well.

Good luck!


Sarah H
Sarah H Aug 25, 2017

Heya Eldridge,

Now look what you've made me go and do....

Haha -- no really though, thanks for the recommendation. They're on deck for the next string change. I'll let you know what I think!

And actually -- an additional question if that's all right. What is the main reason that flatpicking is the style for bluegrass? Is it mostly just volume? I'd been doing a lot more fingerstyle lately -- being in a folk-y groove a lot of the time. I almost do need to retrain myself to flatpick -- so these lessons have been good. But yeah -- is there any other...history, reason, etc. for flatpicking being the real go-to for bluegrass and that sort of thing? Are there any bluegrass guitar players who DON'T use picks? Or even...I guess use finger picks, or just fingers/nails?

I'm guessing you, personally, got into this style from the people you were into growing up, like Tony Rice and other greats. But I guess...I might even be asking where flatpicking started, like, originally. Where did it really come from in the tradition of guitar playing and bluegrass specifically?

Ok, cool -- I think that's it for now. Thanks for your time! :)


Rémy Aug 26, 2017

Thanks Sarah and Chris for this interesting point on strings. I will follow you and buy D'addario Nickel Bronze strings, but I hesitate to cross the step to the Medium gauge from light one. I saw the phosphore bronze "light top / med bottom" strings named "Bluegrass strings". There are also Nikel Bronze "light top / med bottom" strings. What are the pros and cons of that king of mixed gauge ? Why do they name these "light top / med bottom" phosphore bronze strings "bluegrass strings" ? Is this special gauge better for bluegrass ? Many thanks for your insights (and sorry for my poor english level, I'm french... ^^ )

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 02, 2017

Hi Sarah, yes, please let me know what you think! As you can tell, I really like them.

The reason that people in bluegrass use some sort of pick (Lester Flatt played rhythm guitar with a thumb pick) is simple: volume. The guitar is *by far* the quietest instrument in a bluegrass ensemble of banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and bass (and dobro). You simply can't compete volume-wise with those other instruments if you are just using your nails/fingerpicking if you're playing bluegrass in any traditional sense. Now, if bluegrass is just a stylistic jumping off point and you are playing with sensitive players then you might be able to hear fingerpicked guitar. But the guitar will naturally be putting out maybe 25% of the volume as a banjo. So that's really it. There were times in Flatt and Scruggs' music when Earl would set down the banjo and pick up the guitar still playing in his 3 finger style. This was usually (but not always) for gospel songs. He was using finger picks and it sounds killer! Check out the song God Loves His Children for a good example of this.

Re the pioneers of flatpicking solos in a bluegrass or fiddle tune context: Doc Watson was the first of noteriety, with Clarence White a few years later. But Don Reno and George Shuffler (crosspicking innovator with the Stanley Brothers) were also there in the beginning. 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 02, 2017

Hi Remy, the main reason to choose your own string guages has to do with feel and the tonal balance of an individual instrument. It's very personal really. If you feel comfortable using lights then stick with lights. I prefer a medium guage string on a drednaught because I can lean into the guitar more on rhythm. "Bluegrass Guage" is just a marketing term - just a way to sell more strings. I don't think I actually know anyone who uses them. That said, if they feel better to you then by all means use them!



Sarah H
Sarah H Dec 18, 2018

Hi again. Another question about this -- I still haven't tried Nickel Bronze on my guitar -- but I've tried them on my mandolin.

Over the past year I've gotten a much better understanding of what I like and where I hear imperfections in sound and what I'm looking for. I still don't necessarily know HOW to achieve that -- but I'm staring to get a real sense of what I'm looking for.

So -- I acutually DON'T like them on my mandolin. They seem to sound.......too dead? Is it possible that they're enhancing the flaws in my instrument? I have a Loar LM-400 -- so it's a WONDERFUL starter instrument that I'm hoping to be happy with for the next 10 years. I already have a luthier in mind to get one in....2028....but until then.....

So I guess there are a lot of possibities -- either I just don't like the strings, the strings are enhancing flaws in my instrument, or my mandolin just needs a full workup by a good luthier (including a new bridge).

Um...I guess I don't really have a SPECIFIC question -- just if you have time any input and thoughts on the matter.

I'll still give them a shot on one of my guitars.....or maybe I'll try them on all of my guitars just to see the difference. This kind of stuff fascinates me so I'm excited to keep exploring all of my options.

Thanks for your time! I appreciate it! :)

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 05, 2019

Hey Sarah, thanks for sharing your experience! I think there are a couple of things to mention here:

1) Personal preferences vary, and that's a good thing! I think it's great that you're refining the idea of the sound that you want to hear. Whatever you're into, stick with that. There's absolutely no right or wrong here because liking a either bright or dark sound is like liking either sorbet or ice cream. It may just be that I tend to like a string with less overtones. 

2) Different instruments like different things. Whenever I get a new instrument I try different strings on them. At this point, because I know that I tend to like what the Nickel Bronze strings do, I'll try them first, but the particular timbre of a particular guitar might work better with a set of Phosphor Bronze, or even 80/20 strings. Norman Blake takes this to a whole other level: every time he gets a new guitar he goes string by string trying out different string guages on each string to see what the guitar likes best. But the reason a person would have more that one instrument would be so that they could get a different sound. We don't want all of our guitars to sound the same. Your string choice is part of that sound.

Rémy Jul 28, 2017

Hi Chris, 

Thank you for that lesson !

what kind of pick(s) do you use for bluegrass ? I've always played fingerstyle and try to begin learning flatpicking but I don't success in using pick for rythme... :/

are they rather thick and rigid or thin and supple ones ? Have you specific picks to recommend (brand, thickness, material )?

Many thanks :)

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jul 31, 2017

Hi Remy, welcome! 

For bluegrass it's important to use a stiff pick. My favorite picks are made by a company called Bluechip. Currently I'm using their TP48, which I really love. Generally speaking, I like picks that fall somewhere between 1.2 - 1.4mm, but different situations call for different things so there are no hard and fast rules in this department! 

The Bluechip picks are rather expensive - $35 or so for a pick, which seems like a lot, but they wear out VERY slowly. So as long as you don't lose your pick it should work for you for years. (The Bluechips are so expensive because they're made out of some crazy material that is used in semiconductor manufacturing - so not normal plastic). There is another brand, Dunlop Primetone that are of a similar idea and are much cheaper. I personally don't like them as much, but many people have good success with them. Also, Fender Extra Heavy picks can be great. They wear out pretty quickly, but they're super cheap and they sound good. 

Good luck!


Rémy Jul 31, 2017

Many thanks Chris for these expanded advice ! I'll try some picks among your suggestions.

Thank You :)

John Simon
John Simon Mar 12, 2017

Forgive me if you've addressed this elsewhere, but do you have any advice for playing loud and maintaining a relaxed right hand?  I always feel like when I am struggling to hear myself in a group, my technique falls apart to some extent.  What do you do when you're in that situation?  

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Mar 13, 2017

Hi John, 

The first thing is to ask the people you are playing with to quiet down a bit when you are playing a solo. When I take a solo in Punch Brothers the whole band probably gets 50% quieter because it's the only way the guitar can be heard. The band *has* to quiet down for a guitar solo.

Beyond that it can sometimes be useful to imagine playing to a person or object across the room. Think about playing to/for them, rather than just trying to play louder. I find that when I do that I'm able to get a bit more volume, but I can stay relaxed as well.



Marty Kerner
Marty Kerner Feb 28, 2017

Chris -- I've just started going through your lessons. Any suggestions/advice about an order to work through them?

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Mar 06, 2017

Hi Marty, 

My recommendation, no matter where you are in terms of proficiency,  is to go through all of the "fundamentals" lessons (which would include Honey, You Don't Know My Mind and Soldier's Joy). At that point I would start going down the list on the rights side of my artist page: 

Those lessons are presented roughly in the chronological order in which they were recorded so the information becomse cumulative. There are things in the later lessons that build on things we talked about earlier. 

Good luck!


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