Chris Eldridge

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The Pick on the String

Given that this whole sub-genre of guitar music is called "flatpicking," I feel that for this week we should spend some time discussing how the flatpick actually is interacting with the string. You'll notice that just as you can change the tone of the guitar by moving your hand from the sound hole (which sounds bass-y) to just in front of the bridge (which is treble-y), you can also change the tone by the angle of the pick when you play a string.  We'll walk through the various options, and why they sound and feel the way they do. We'll also talk about "rest strokes" and how they can help your g-runs to be loud and authoritative*.




*There's nothing sadder than a wimpy g-run!



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

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:41 Different Tones with Pick Rotation

Loop 5:53 String Vibration and Rest Strokes

Loop 10:13 Breakdown of G-Runs and D-Runs

Loop 13:12 Run-Through of White Dove with G-Runs and D-Runs


Download the Sheet Music PDF


Loop 14:31 How to Practice and Taking a "Mental Snapshot" When Your Playing Well





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James Reed
James Reed Apr 27, 2021

Hi Chris,

I had a couple of Skype lessons with you a few years back during a brief excursion into Bluegrass-land and have been revisiting things recently. I've been playing for 15 years and teaching for nearly 8 now but I just wanted to say that really coming back to the foundations in depth is really helping me to improve again - especially after a year of teaching online at awkward angles!

I've adjusted my grip on the pick and experimented with different shapes, switched to a floating right hand instead of anchoring, and found issues with tension in my arms even when I'm not playing which I'm working on. My playing is already sounding smoother and my right hand is the most accurate it has ever been. I'm really looking forward to working through more of this series and hope to catch you on tour when you're in the UK next.

All the best,

Chris May 15, 2020

Hi Chris,


I'm loving this lesson! Having wanted to play some bluegrass for a while but too afraid to make my fingers move so fast, I found this an instant success!

I have a few problems I'm trying to work out.

One of which is just going to be up to me to repeatedly watch one bit of your video till it sinks in... Which is are you downstroking every pluck (I end up just relying on a 'hammer-on' the 5th string second fret)? Does it matter if I pluck up or down?

The other is how to fit in the d-run with the rythym, I'm struggling a bit with that. I think I'm right in saying that the last pluck on the open D string is on the first beat of the bar? Other than that I don't quite kno when to start the run to fit in with the rythym.


Nat Worden
Nat Worden Nov 30, 2018

Hi Chris, thanks for your wonderful lessons. I've developed some bad habits over years of playing that you're helping me fix. My question is this: the pick-on-string method that you describe in this lesson works very well for me for flat-picking individuals strings-- playing melodies and solos--but I'm struggling with it when it comes to playing chords-- playing multiple strings on the guitar. Perhaps I missed it, but I haven't really seen you address chord strumming in your lessons (let me know which lesson I should look at if you've addressed it, please). I guess my question is this: does your pick-on-string method change at all for strumming chords and how does your pick positioning change, if at all, between an upstroke and a downstroke in a chord strum? I have particular issues with executing an upstroke strum with the pick angled the way you describe. Isn't there some rotation of the pick--or change in the pick-on-string position that takes place when you strum up and down?

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jan 05, 2019

Hi Nat!

To be totally honest, I've never thought too much about the details of how the pick itself interacts with the strings when strumming. But I think that's because the bigger movement of the strum solves some of the issues that we are trying to solve in this lesson with our focus on single-string pickstrokes. The big movement of a strum will inherently drive the top of the instrument in a satisfactory way. That said, I have paid attention to how rotating my forearm during a strum rather than entirely hinging from the elbow can make a punchier, more percussive sound. I feel like I've incidentally talked about this rotation-strum technique in lessons here and there, but I can't find those spots now in the 40+ hours of lessons I have here.🙃 This tells me that I should do a whole lesson on the subject! Expect that one soon.

The bottom line is don't worry about micromanaging the pick during your strums. Whatever feels natural will be good.



Stephen Wallpe
Stephen Wallpe Oct 18, 2018


Hey Chris!

I am new to the site and glad to be here!  Thus far, I have worked through the first 5 lessons in the “Fundamentals” section and I have not yet seen these 2 topics discussed anywhere so here are my 2 questions:

1.) You mention that when playing, especially rhythm guitar, we want the downbeat/bass note to be just as loud or even louder than the second and third beats. This poses a challenge given that the bass note is a single note and it is a lower pitch versus beats 2 and 3 which are multiple notes and higher in pitch. Also, it's easier to get more volume on beats 2 and 3 because you can follow through in your strum but you realy can't follow through on the bass note in the same way without sounding additional strings. These factors seem to make beats 2 and 3 stand out, naturally. With that being said, are you playing your bass notes/down beats with rest strokes or free strokes? It’s difficult to tell from the videos.

2.) There has been a lot of discussion as to how the right hand holds the pick and how the pick strikes the string on a downstroke but there has been little to no discussion in regards to the upstroke. Could you please address that a little? On the upstroke, does the pick essentially pass over the string in the same way but in the opposite direction? Is there any “toggling” of the thumb, wrist, or forearm to change the orientation of the pick relative to the string on an upstroke vs. a downstroke? Any discussion of this topic will be greatly appreciated!


- Stephen    

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Nov 20, 2018

Hi Stephen, and sorry for the slow response time! I‘m writing from JFK airport where I just touched back down in the States after a few weeks overseas. To answer your questions:

1) It depends on the context, but yes, it is important to be able to play your bass notes as loud or louder than the strums. That said, a loud strum is always going to be louder than a single bass note. But you can control the dynamics of your strums to make them a bit quieter, and you can play rest strokes on your bass notes to make them louder. The main context in which you would want your bass notes to be consistently louder than your strums is when you are playing rhythm guitar for old-time music. It’s counter intuitive to do, but the guitar’s rhythmic emphasis is on beats 1 and 3 in old-time so the bass notes are supreme. Bluegrass is a lot more flexible. But old-time provides the foundation for bluegrass, so I think it’s important to be able to do both. 

2) It’s hard to write about those kinds of kinesthetic details, but I will say that, for me, the angle of the pick relative to the string will not change on an upstroke vs a downstroke. So no toggling. To me, rotating the flat pick would introduce a large variable in the pick stroke that would make things harder to control. I will make a close-up video when I get home and post it here to show you how I do it. (FWIW, Tony Rice does employ some pick toggling, but it’s very unorthodox. He will actually flip the pick and play with the back edge when he is playing downward rest strokes!)

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Nov 21, 2018

Greg Aug 27, 2018


Hi Chris - I've been playing for almost 20 years and am noticing that I rotate between three anchoring techniques.1) laying my arm across the soundboard and resting my wrist above the low E string 2) resting my wrist on the bridge and my pinky on the pickguard 3) resting my pinky on the high E.  The first one occurs when I play fingerstyle and negatively impacts the tone. The second and third are occurring when I play with a pick and seem to make the playing feel less fluid. With I abandon these techniques, I struggle with accuracy. Any recommendations for breaking these habits after so many years? 



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 20, 2018

Hi Greg, good question.

I'm going to get a little philosophical here because you are asking about changing deeply ingrained habits and that can be a tricky thing to do. So we're going to go a little outside the box.

I would first point out that there is nothing "right" or "wrong" about those various techniques, or any others. That said, they will each have an impact on the sound that you produce. Whether you are laying your arm across the sound board or resting your wrist on the bridge, these habits will reduce the resonance and power of the guitar because your arm and wrist are dampening the most resonant parts of the top. I think it's important to not think that this is "wrong." Instead I think that it's vitally important that you can take a detached, honest and impersonal assessment of what you are doing and what the results are.** In this way you are empowering your intuitive, unconscious self - the self that figured out how to walk and talk when you were a baby - to become engaged with the process. This is the only part of you that can actually make effective changes of this nature. Your conscious mind can't really direct you to play guitar any more than it can tell you how to walk. If you tried to micromanage and direct the very complex process of walking, you'd fall over in a matter of seconds. So it's important to realize that your conscious mind is not up to the task of making changes to your guitar technique. What it IS good for is shining the attention of your awareness on useful things. 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 20, 2018

By being detached and impersonal you are also disempowering the part of you that has an emotional stake in whether or not you are accomplishing what you are aiming for. 


So with all of that being said, aside from dampening the top, I don’t actually know if those “bad” habits are bad. There’s nothing saying that your technique can’t change from application to application. I know I have certain things I do physically if I’m going for a certain sound versus another sound, even if I were going to play the same sequence of notes. 

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 20, 2018

To wrap all of this up in practical terms, try focusing on what “feels” good rather than what sounds good for a little while. Strive to experience a sense of fluidity at the expense of clarity or timing or tone. Once you have felt that fluid sensation, slowly start considering your timing, cleanliness or tone again. Slowly bring them back in to your consciousness, but don’t forget how it felt to feel fluid. If you trust the process, over time you will begin to integrate them all. 




**I've talked a lot about cultivating awareness in many videos here at Sonic Junction - this detached assessment is what I'm talking about. 

Stephen Bettridge
Stephen Bettridge Jul 17, 2018

Hi Chris,

I've been practing the bass runs and I was wondering about your picking pattern on those runs. Or at least what pattern you might suggest starting with to balence speed and the desired tone. Alternate picking? A hybrid of alternate picking?



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jul 27, 2018

Hi Stephen, the basic idea is that we want to maximize the use of rest strokes so that those bass runs can speak at (or possibly even above) the volume of a strum. So I’m using all downstrokes (and most of those are rest strokes) with the exception of one upstroke after the slide when I’m striking the next higher string. You can see this pretty clearly at 11:34. When I play it 10 seconds later, the right hand pick directions are off because I’m not really playing it in time.



jack Aug 18, 2017

Hello Chris, this is Jack. I stumbled recently upon your lessons on line, and I am so glad I did. I’m one of those guys you describe working with tabs, not being really able to sing what they do, maybe not hearing first before playing. I think you may be the one able to put me on the right track, the track of music.Your method is brilliant, starting from a simple and beautiful song like White dove, and building up on that. Learning things in a context. Thanks to the late Marcel Dadi I discovered Doc Watson years ago, saw him in Paris in the 80s, and at the Merlefest 2001. On that instance I met and talk to Chris Thile, Merle’s widow, Jerry Douglas, … I saw performances by Tony Rice, Bela Fleck, Dolly Parton accompanied by Chris and Doc, unforgettable. Having listened to Doc for years I realised now that I have this repertoire in my head, making your lessons very precious. As for rest strokes, very interesting subject. In classical, while doing an arpeggio they rest the ring finger, making the melody (usually played by this finger) stand out. They never rest the thumb, flamenco players always do. It gives their bass notes a power and depth remarquable. Slight remark for the singing of White dove : it took me a little while to get that it begins on beat 3 : White on beat three, dove on beat one.

Very warm regards to you from France, and to this very likeable music community.

PS : sorry for so long a message, I won’t do it again.

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Aug 22, 2017

Jack, so nice to have you here in our community and thank you for this post! I was also at Merlefest in 2001 - that was where/when I reconnected with Tony Rice. I have great memories from that festival. Cheers!

lewis Feb 18, 2017

Hi Chris,

Here you go!

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Feb 21, 2017

Great, thanks for sending the video! Yes, I do wind up changing the angle of the pick as I play across the strings. It's purely an ergonomic thing, but as I get to the lower strings (5th and 6th) my pick angle in towards the guitar flips so that a rest stroke could come on an upstroke. I'm not actually playing rest strokes, but it is the same concept of driving in toward the top. The rotation of the pick on the imaginary axis from the point through the back of the pick stays consistent however.

So, to be clear, the flip doesn't happen because I am playing in a certain direction per se; it happens because I physically wind up on the lower strings and the ergonomics change. 

Make sense? 

Thanks for asking this question because I never realized that I do this!

lewis Feb 21, 2017

Makes perfect sense. Thanks very much for taking the time to answer the question!



lewis Feb 18, 2017

Hi Chris,

This is such a great lesson. I come back and watch it regularly!

A quick question - when it comes to angling the pick around the string you talk about doing that with a downward you ever angle it in other words making your upstrokes play into the guitar as opposed to your downstrokes? As I play around with this downward slanting I find it makes certain things more "sticky" to play for want of a better phrase. Example - the first bar of Gold Rush B section where it's descending two notes per string down the pentatonic scale.

I know a lot of rock players are into the two way pick slanting thing but would love to know what you think about that...electric guitars players have more help when it comes to tone generation, obviously.



Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Feb 18, 2017

Hey Lewis, thanks for the question. I think I understand what you're talking about, but just to be sure, can you show me on a video?




David Hurd
David Hurd Jul 04, 2016

Well, I'll be! I am echoing a couple of the comments below, but--still!--I'm really quite astounded about what a difference it makes in sound to rotate the pick by flexing the thumb, to change that axis so that the pick is no longer parallel to the string when it strikes. Wow, what a gorgeous sound, and I had no idea, nor had ever considered it. Thank you so much, Mr. Eldridge. Besides the fact that I have enjoyed, very much, all of the fundamentals lessons (and looking forward to the others) this alone changes everything. Best, David

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Jul 11, 2016

Glad to hear it! The little things can make a big difference.

Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 23, 2015

Hi Nick, if you'll permit it, I've copied and pasted my response to a similar question from last week:


Yes, it's very important to use a thick pick when playing bluegrass. You've hit the nail on the head about a thick pick helping out with the getting a stout, well-defined bass.

I usually use a pick that's approx 1.4mm thick. Sometimes thicker or thinner depending on the given song, but I only ever worry about that if I'm recording. FWIW, most people use a slightly thinner pick than me. 1.2mm is common.

I usually use a Blue Chip Pick. They're very expensive, but if you're someone who never loses his/her pick, they're great. They have a way of not being slippery in your hand. The sound they create is pleasantly dark. They also are very durable! I've been using the same one for over a year. It's worn, but still working just fine.

If you were looking for something less pricy I'd check out Wegens. They're usually great, although from time to time their quality control slips (bevels occasionally have been unusable). They have a soft, plasticy (but in a good way, IMO) tone to them. I like them.

Finally, the best inexpensive pick that I know of is a Dunlop Primetone. They sound and feel pretty good and they're certainly the best value.

JD Krooks Crouhy
JD Krooks Crouhy Sep 24, 2015

Hello Chris, could you please give me the blue chips model that you used ? Because there's too many choice...

And wich primetone do you use the 2mm ? Thanks for your help and really nice lesson !! Bye


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 25, 2015

Hi JD,

For the BlueChip I usually use either a TAD 55 or 60. I don't actually use a primetone, but if I did I would use something around the same thickness as the others: 1.4mm-ish.


Chris Eldridge
Chris Eldridge Sep 20, 2015

Bruce and Mike,

Glad you got something out of this lesson! I think it's really worth understanding the mechanism of how sound is produced on an acoustic guitar. It's not something that people think about very much, but it's so important because it has major implications for how you will touch the guitar and play.

With anything like this, it's a slow steady process of change - it doesn't happen overnight. Sometimes it takes a couple of years before something new really feels settled, but that's ok. You can't force these kinds of changes. Just being mindful of where you are and where you want to go is the name of the game.

Mike Caren
Mike Caren Sep 20, 2015

Hi Chris --- I second Bruce's comment --- great lesson.  

For me, rotating the pick around the long axis and picking a bit into the guitar (so the string vibrates in and out) was key for me to get rest strokes to work --- and a lighter touch on my brushes.  I was having trouble getting the right sound and flow for the basic bluegrass rhythm until this lesson --- and now things are coming together.

That said --- it is taking time because I have to change how I pick (and build the muscle memory) --- but I now feel I'm on the right road which is VERY cool.  Thank you!

Bruce Dumes
Bruce Dumes Sep 19, 2015

Wow, Chris, that's an amazing lesson. I had never considered how much something like the angle of the pick would affect tone and also the physical way one would phrase differently because of it. But you're right, I can hear and feel the difference immediately, and I can hear how you could really utilize this to give your tone a lot more color. However, I suspect learning to attain that level of control is easier said than done. ;-)  I love the examples, and the way you wove the discussion of picking technique into picking on White Dove. Thanks so much for this really valuable lesson! Regards, Bruce

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