What is chicken pickin'? Add complex rhythms to guitar playing (2023)

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Ever heard a country guitar player and wondered how they were making those chicken clucking sounds?

Well, that’s called chicken pickin’, and it’s a style of guitar playing that uses complex rhythms to create a unique sound. This is done by plectrum (or pick) picking the strings in a fast and intricate pattern.

Chicken picking can be used for both lead and rhythm guitar playing and is a staple of country music.

But it’s not limited to just one genre – you can hear chicken pickin’ in bluegrass and some rock and jazz songs too.

What is chicken pickin'? Add complex rhythms to guitar playing (1)

If you’re interested in learning how to chicken pick, then read on for some tips and find out about methods to use this technique when playing guitar.

What is chicken pickin’?

Chicken pickin’ is a hybrid picking technique employed in rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, and bluegrass flatpicking styles.

The sound name chicken pickin refers to the staccato, percussive sound the right-hand makes while picking the strings. The fingerpicked notes sound like the clucking sound of a chicken.

Each string pluck makes a special sound like rapid chicken clucks.

The term is also used to refer to the style of guitar playing associated with the sound.

This style is generally characterized by intricate lead work combined with rhythmic strumming.

This style of picking allows for quick and nimble passages that would otherwise be difficult to play with traditional fingerstyle techniques.

To perform this hybrid picking technique, the player must snap strings against the frets and fretboard while plucking strings.

It can be done with the index finger, ring finger, and pick. The middle finger generally fretting the lower notes while the ring finger plucks the higher strings.

But to learn to pick, there are a few basics to know.

Essentially, when you pick, you replace the upstrokes with the chicken pickin middle finger pluck or using a pick to downstroke.

Accents, articulation, and note length is what define chicken pickin licks from others!

The juxtaposition of the plucked and picked notes is what makes the big difference. The plucked notes sound something like a chicken or hen cluck!

Basically, it’s a sound you make with your hands and fingers as you play.

The interesting sound that this technique creates is beloved by many guitarists especially those who play country, bluegrass and rockabilly genres.

There are plenty of chicken pickin licks that can be learned and added to your guitar arsenal.

If you’re looking to add some complex rhythms to your guitar playing, this style is definitely for you!

Chicken pickin’ can be played on any type of guitar but is most commonly associated with electric guitars.

There are many famous known for chicken pickin techniques, such as Clarence White, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and Albert Lee.

(Video) Learn chicken picking country guitar lesson Telecaster players techniques with pentatonic scales

What are the different techniques in chicken pickin?

The music style of chicken pickin uses a lot of different techniques.

Chord changes

This is the most basic method and consists in simply changing chords while keeping a constant rhythm with the right hand.

This is a great way to start learning chicken pickin’, as it will help you get used to the movement of the right hand.

Snapping strings

The first and most important technique in chicken pickin is snapping the strings. This is done by quickly moving the pick or middle finger back and forth across the strings.

Best strings for electric guitar

Best strings for electric guitar

The snap creates a percussive sound that is essential to the chicken pickin’ style.

Palm muting

Palm muting is often used in chicken pickin’ to create a percussive sound. This is done by resting the side of your palm lightly on the strings near the bridge while you pick.

Double stops

Double stops are also commonly used in this style of guitar playing. This is when you play two notes at the same time.

This can be done by fretting two strings with different fingers and picking both of them at the same time with your fretting hand.

Or, you can use a slide to play two notes at once. This is done by placing the slide on the fretboard and picking the two strings that you want to sound.

Unfretting of a note

Unfretting is when you release the pressure of your finger on the fretboard while the string is still vibrating very rapidly. This creates a percussive, staccato sound.

To do this, you can lightly place your finger on the string and quickly lift it off while the string is still vibrating. This can be done with any finger.

Hammer ons and pull-offs

Hammer ons and pull offs are also often used in chicken pickin’. This is when you use your fretting hand to “hammer” on a note or “pull off” a note without picking the string.

For example, if you were playing a chicken pickin’ lick in the key of A, you might fret the 5th fret on the low E string with your pinky finger and then use your ring finger to “hammer on” the 7th fret. This would create a sound of an A chord.

Chicken pickin is a style of playing, but there are different things you can do when picking to create different sounds.

You can pick with all downstrokes, all upstrokes, or a mixture of both. You can also use different picking techniques such as legato, staccato, or tremolo picking.

Experiment with different techniques and see what sounds you like.

If you want the classic country guitarchickenn pickin’ sound, then you’ll want to use all downstrokes.

(Video) Chicken Pickin’ Exercise/Lesson

But if you want a more modern sound, then try using a mixture of downstrokes and upstrokes.

You can also add in other techniques such as vibrato, slides, or bends to create even more interesting sounds.

Flat pick vs picking fingers

You can use either a flat pick or your picking fingers to play chicken pickin.

Some guitarists prefer to use a flat pick because it gives them more control over the strings. They can also play faster with a flat pick.

Picking fingers gives you a warmer sound because you’re using your fingers instead of a pick. This method is also great for playing lead guitar.

You can use any combination of picking fingers that you want. Some guitarists use their index finger and middle finger combination, while others use their index finger and ring finger.

It’s really up to you and what’s comfortable for you.

Another factor to consider is that you should wear plastic nails on your fingers if you want to be able to pluck the string properly.

Plucking and pulling without nails will damage your fingers while practicing hybrid picking.

Your picking hand should be in a relaxed position when you’re playing.

The angle of your hand is also important. Your hand should be at about a 45-degree angle to the guitar neck.

This will give you the best control over the strings.

If your hand is too close to the strings, you won’t have as much control. If it’s too far away, you won’t be able to pluck the strings correctly.

Now that you know the basics of chicken pickin, it’s time to learn some licks!

History of chicken pickin’

The term “chicken pickin’” is thought to have originated in the early 1900s, when guitar players would imitate the sound of a chicken clucking by rapidly picking the strings with their thumb and index finger.

However, the overall consensus is that chicken pickin was popularized by James Burton.

The 1957 song “Susie Q” by Dale Hawkins was one of the first radio songs to use chicken picking with James Burton on guitar.

When listening, you hear that distinctive snap and cluck in the initial riff, albeit briefly.

Even though the riff was straightforward, it caught many people’s attention in 1957 and sent a number of players chasing after this brand-new sound.

This onomatopoeia (chicken pickin) was first used in print by Music journalist Whitburn in his Top Country Singles 1944-1988.

During the 50s and 60s, blues and country guitar players went crazy with chicken pickin techniques.

Guitarists like Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, and Roy Clark were experimenting with the style and pushing the boundaries.

At the same time, Englishmen Albert Lee and Ray Flacke played honky-tonk and country.

Their picking hand and speedy fingers techniques and use of hybrid picking amazed audiences and influenced other guitar players.

(Video) Lesson 1: Chicken Pickin' technique explained

In the 1970s, country-rock band The Eagles used chicken pickin’ in some of their songs, which made the technique more popular.

The most notable use of chicken pickin’ in The Eagles repertoire is in the song “Heartache Tonight”.

Guitarist Don Felder employs chicken pickin’ extensively throughout the song, and the result is a catchy, percussive guitar riff that helps to drive the song forward.

Over time, this imitative technique developed into a more refined style of picking that could be used to play complex melodies and rhythms.

Today, chicken pickin’ is still a popular style of playing, and many guitarists use it to add a bit of flair to their music.

More recently, guitarists like Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, and Keith Urban have been using chicken pickin’ techniques in their songs.

Brent Mason is currently one of the most notable chicken pickin guitar players. He has worked with some of country music’s biggest names, such as Alan Jackson.

Licks to practice

When you play chicken pickin style, you can use a flat pick or a flat pick and metal finger pick combo. Alternatively, you can even use a thumb pick to pull the strings.

This playing style entails using a string a little more forcefully than usual.

What you have to do is place your finger under the string and then pull away from the fingerboard.

The goal is to pull out, not up or away – this is the secret to the chicken clucking snap sound.

Think of it as an aggressive pop! You use a finger and pick to pinch and pop your string.

For an extremely rich, percussive tonal effect, players frequently snap two and occasionally even three strings at once.

It takes a lot of practice to use this multi-string attack, and it can feel a bit aggressive at first as you practice.

Here’s an example of a player practicing Brad Paisley licks:

To learn proper chicken pickin, you need to practice and perfect your playing skills.

Some licks are super fast, while others are a bit more relaxed. It’s all about mixing things up to keep your playing interesting.

Remember to start slow and increase the speed as you get comfortable with the lick. It’s important to practice each lick until you can play it cleanly.

You can learn some chicken pickin licks/intervals over at Twang 101.

Or, if you want to try some classic country licks, check out Greg Koch’s tutorial.

Here’s a demonstrative country chicken pickin tutorial in which the guitarist shows you the chords to play.

Favorite songs with the chicken pickin’ style

There are many examples of chicken pickin songs.

(Video) Andy Wood guitar series The Woodshed ep 5. Chicken Pickin fundamentals and Brent Mason Tele Basics

For example, Dale Hawkins’s 1957 “Susie Q.” The song features James Burton on guitar, who is one of the most well-known chicken pickin’ guitarists.

Another famous hit is Merle Haggard’s “Workin’ Man Blues.” His technique and style influenced many chicken pickin’ guitarists.

Lonnie Mack – Chicken Pickin’ is considered by many as one of the first chicken pickin’ songs.

This is a fun song that uses chicken pickin’ techniques throughout the whole song.

Brent Hinds is a master guitar player, and his short, but sweet chicken pickin technique is a must-see:

If you’re looking for a modern example of this music style, you can check out country guitar player Brad Paisley:

Just watch how fast his fingers move in this duet with Tommy Emmanuel.

Final thoughts

Chicken pickin is a style of playing that could be used to play complex melodies and rhythms on the guitar.

This playing style entails using a string a little more forcefully than usual and is popular among country music guitarists.

Using your fingers or a pick, you can pluck the strings in different orders to create different sounds.

With enough practice, you can master this style of hybrid picking. Just check out videos of your favorite guitarists to get some inspiration and learn this technique.

Next, check out

What is chicken pickin'? Add complex rhythms to guitar playing (2)

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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(Video) Sound Advice: Laura Cox - Chicken Pickin' Guitar Lesson


What is chicken pickin'? Add complex rhythms to guitar playing? ›

Chicken pickin is a guitar technique that involves using a pick to rapidly pluck the strings in a rhythmic pattern. This technique is often used in country and bluegrass music, and can add a lot of energy and drive to a song.

Why is it called chicken pickin? ›

When one fingerpicks, the finger comes up from underneath the string in order to attack it, so, in this way, the fingerpick serves as an upstroke. The upstroke is executed in an aggressive manner, snapping the string against the fretboard, which creates a “cluck” type sound, thus the name chicken pickin'.

What is the difference between chicken picking and hybrid picking? ›

Chicken picking is using your fingers and pick just like what chicken would do. Hybrid picking can include any kind of picking, fingers, nails, legs, whatever you can think of.

Who invented chicken pickin? ›

A self-taught teenage revelation, James Burton invented the chicken pickin' style. The style of his own invention became a trademark of the country sound and shaped rock guitar. He has backed everyone Jerry Lee Lewis to Elvis Costello.

What strings does James Burton use? ›

When James started out, he replaced his strings with banjo strings because they didn't make the strings he wanted for guitar players. He was the first to do so. Until this day, James uses these unusual gauges: . 009, .

Who is the guitarist who uses hybrid picking? ›

Gustavo Assis-Brasil (born 1973) is a jazz guitarist and author of four instructional books on hybrid picking. James Burton (born 1939) is probably the most-recorded hybrid picking guitarist, appearing on more than 360 albums with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, and many others.

What is hybrid guitar picking? ›

Hybrid picking is the technique of using the pick and fingers of your picking hand together. The advantage of hybrid picking is that it is far easier to move between strings, especially when crossing multiple strings. You can also cut down the number of pick strokes needed, ultimately leading to a fluid sound.

How do you stop chicken picking? ›

Free-feed chickens instead of timed feedings. Being allowed to pick up small amounts of feed often throughout the day eliminates competition for feed and provides an activity with a purpose.

Why are hybrid chickens good? ›

Hybrid chickens have been bred for their hardiness, high egg production, disease resistance and temperament. The Hybrids from Charlottes Chickens come fully vaccinated before they get to us (16 weeks). Most are friendly docile birds best suited to back garden living and make excellent low-maintenance pets.

Is hybrid picking faster? ›

Hybrid Picking is very economical, because it saves you energy and increases efficiency. A great benefit of this is it makes playing faster, fluid, and more tonally consistent. Technique wise, it allows you to alternate strings quickly, and play notes on non- adjacent strings.

Who invented picking guitar? ›

The modern guitar pick traces its roots to the D'Andrea company, which introduced picks made from celluloid—an early thermoplastic—in early 1922. At the time, the guitar was not yet the musical and cultural icon we know today—both banjo and mandolin were more popular.

Who was the first person to create chicken? ›

Genomic studies estimate that the chicken was domesticated 8,000 years ago in Southeast Asia and spread to China and India 2,000 to 3,000 years later. Archaeological evidence supports domestic chickens in Southeast Asia well before 6000 BC, China by 6000 BC and India by 2000 BC.

Who was the first man to fry chicken? ›

Scottish immigrants are sometimes credited with creating the recipe. Many, however, believe it was brought from Africa. We will unlikely ever know who invented the first American fried chicken. However, there's no doubt that those from West Africa are responsible for its popularity in the United States.

What does chicken play mean? ›

to play dangerous games in order to discover who is the bravest. Taking risks. adventurer.

What is the secret to playing guitar? ›

Consistent practice and repetition of different notes and chords can help you develop your ear, learning to correctly identify notes and patterns in your playing. Learning to play guitar becomes much easier when you are able to pick out which notes are in a song, what key that song is in, and what chords are involved.

Is chicken fried hard to play on guitar? ›

There's something about chicken fried guitar chords that just make you feel good. They're simple, yet complex; they're easy to play, yet sound great; they're perfect for any occasion.

What string did the Beatles use? ›

Generally, they used heavy-gauge sets with . 012 or . 011 high E strings, although they may have used lighter gauges starting in 1968 or '69. For more on the Fab Four's guitar gear, check out our guide to how the Beatles crafted the guitar and bass tones that forever changed the sound of rock music.

What kind of strings does Eric Clapton play? ›

“Guitar Strings: What Kind Does Eric Use? For his electric guitars, Eric uses Ernie Ball . 10 to . 46 gauge strings.

What strings did Kurt Cobain play? ›

Kurt was known to use Dean Markley strings, gauge . 10-. 52. He used Dunlop Tortex Standard picks, orange color.

Who is the most technically skilled guitarist ever? ›

Alan Holdsworth

Perhaps the most technically proficient guitar player ever. Alan Holdsworth had an advanced understanding of music, theory, chords, and scales.

Who was the best guitar picker ever? ›

The best guitarists in history:
  • Jimi Hendrix.
  • Eric Clapton.
  • Jeff Beck.
  • Chuck Berry.
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan.
  • Joe Satriani.
  • Steve Vai.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen.

What guitarist didn't use a pick? ›

Mark Knopfler

Dire Straits' main man is one of the most famous finger players out there. His touch is unparalleled, and his tasteful, melodic playing suits the more refined, nuanced sounds achieved by going sans pick.

What is the hardest guitar picking technique? ›

Sweep picking

Sweeping is probably the most intimidating guitar technique, virtually a byword for shred. There are two misconceptions there. First, it was invented by jazz guitarists and has more applications than playing reams of arpeggios at lightning speed.

What is the best pick for hybrid picking? ›

There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” pick for hybrid picking. You can use the pick you think fits the best for the song you are playing. Because this technique is widely used by rhythm guitarists, there is a consensus that picks around 1 mm will perform well.

Is hybrid picking better than fingerpicking? ›

For arpeggiating—playing the notes of a chord one at a time—hybrid picking can often produce smoother or more desirable results than straight fingerpicking or flatpicking and enable you to give the bass notes a crisp, flatpicked articulation while achieving a softer, fingerpicked sound on the higher strings.

When should you pull chicken? ›

As we mentioned above, chicken must be thoroughly cooked to be safe to eat. Given the fact that time and temperature will affect the safety of the chicken, we recommend pulling the meat at 155°F (68°C) and then tenting it with foil to maintain temperature for a few minutes.

What causes chicken scratch? ›

Back in the days before chickens had feed pellets and balanced nutrition, the farmers' wife may have thrown the excess or older seeds from a harvest and small kitchen scraps out to the chickens as a supplement to their meager diet – this was the likely origin of 'scratch.

How do you fix woody chicken? ›

Consider trying to tenderize them by using a marinade or brine with yogurt or buttermilk — which has enzymes that make the meat less tough. "My favorite method for fixing woody chicken breast is to marinate it in a yogurt-based sauce," Jessica Randhawa, head chef and recipe creator at The Forked Spoon, told TODAY.

What are the disadvantages of hybrid chickens? ›

Hybrid chicken breeds were the answer. They had higher egg production and faster growth, on less feed. The downside of this form of poultry production is a lack of vigor, weather tolerance and lower ability or instinct to forage for food.

How much is a hybrid chicken? ›

The cost of different age chickens
Hybrids and common breedsHeritage and rare breeds
Pullets 12-16 weeks old.$9-30 per bird$10-40 per bird
Point-of-lay Price varies widely depending on vaccination status and source.$30-85 per hen$40-100 per hen
4 more rows
Apr 22, 2022

What are the common hybrid chickens? ›

6 Best Hybrid Chicken Breeds
  1. Cornish Cross (Cornish x Rock)
  2. Golden Comet (Several Variations)
  3. Black Star (Barred Rock x Rhode Island Red)
  4. Pearl Star Leghorn (Partridge Rocks x Sussex)
  5. Dominant Copper (French Copper Maran x Rhode Island Red)
  6. Blue Plymouth Rock (Barred Plymouth Rock Rooster x Andalusian Hen)
Nov 23, 2022

How do you learn hybrid picking? ›

In order to execute hybrid picking technique, your thumb, and index finger hold the pick the same way they usually do to pick the lower strings of the guitar, while your middle and ring fingers pluck the higher strings.

Did Eddie Van Halen use a guitar pick? ›

The graphic artwork on these picks is sourced from arguably the most widely recognized guitar in the world, Eddie Van Halen's "Frankenstein." This is the exact pick that Eddie used, a Dunlop Max-Grip . 60mm gauge pick.

Did Jimi Hendrix play guitar with a pick? ›

Yes, Jimi Hendrix did use a pick, although he was also known for using his fingers. Hendrix was a versatile guitarist who experimented with various techniques. His use of the pick depended on the specific sound he was trying to achieve.

What guitar technique did Eddie Van Halen invent? ›

Eddie Van Halen did not invent the technique of two-handed tapping on the guitar, but with "Eruption" he perfected it, and the sound of those flowing legato notes would be the defining mark of his playing.

Who eats the most chicken in the world? ›

The country that consumes the greatest amount of chicken is the United States. Every year, the United States consumes approximately 15,000 metric tons of chicken, placing it significantly in front of the second-place region.

What did a chicken evolve from? ›

Most scientists agree that the Southeast Asian Red Junglefowl (gallus gallus) is the primary wild ancestor of chickens.

What country started eating chicken? ›

The modern chicken is a descendant of red junglefowl hybrids along with the grey junglefowl first raised thousands of years ago in the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent. Chicken as a meat has been depicted in Babylonian carvings from around 600 BC.

Why did slaves eat fried chicken? ›

Schmidt said chickens had long been a part of Southern diets, but they had particular utility for slaves. They were cheap, easy to feed and a good source of meat.

Did slaves eat fried chicken? ›

Historically, chickens held special importance for enslaved black Americans, being the only livestock they were allowed to keep. Black domestic workers would cook fried chicken for their masters and, later, their employers.

Did slaves fry chicken? ›

The almost half a million west Africans enslaved in North America brought a knack for frying and braising chicken from their own cuisines. It was these African-Americans, many of whom were forced to work in the kitchens of slave plantations, who perfected the art of frying chicken.

What is bottleneck guitar playing? ›

slide guitar, also called bottleneck guitar, a technique and style of guitar playing, whereby a hard object, typically a steel tube, a steel bar, or a glass bottleneck, is pressed across multiple strings and slid along the fingerboard to produce a smooth, whining sound that is in some ways evocative of the human voice.

What is the difference between fingerstyle and plectrum? ›

As you might have already noticed, the main difference between flatpicking and fingerstyle lies in the technique. Flatpicking requires you to use your fingers to hold a pick, while fingerstyle requires the use of your fingers as individual picks.

What does Chuk mean in guitar? ›

“Chucking” is a common technique with acoustic guitar, where open strums and dead note “chucks” are alternated to create a rhythmic pattern, and it is a primary technique used for playing chords and single notes in creating funk guitar rhythm parts.

Why do guitarists make faces when playing guitar? ›

Guitar players make funny faces when performing live because they are fully focused and committed to the sounds they are producing. This level of concentration can cause the face muscles to tighten or conform because of our human instinctual reflex to express how we feel through our facial expressions.

What is a stiff guitar pick? ›

Guitar picks affect tone by changing the way the string vibrates. A stiff and thick pick has a strong attack on the string, which produces more bass and midrange in tone. A thin and flexible pick produces more high end and less bass. The pick material also changes the tone in subtle ways.

What makes a guitar neck fast? ›

What Does a Fast Neck Mean? A fast neck is a guitar that has been set up to make it easier to play fast parts. The neck tends to have a thin and flat shape to improve fret access. Low action height and larger frets can also help a guitar neck feel fast.

Is it better to strum with your fingers or pick? ›

Strumming with your thumb gives you a rounder sound, and strumming with a pick gives you a brighter sound. Things to keep in mind when learning how to strum the guitar with your thumb: With the down strums, use the fleshier part of your thumb. On the up strums, your nail may catch the string.

Is it better to play guitar with pick or no pick? ›

It is absolutely acceptable to do both. In fact, the most versatile musicians often do. Keep an open mind and try both. You will never know which feels better if you don't try it both ways.

Which guitar pick is better? ›

Generally the thickness of guitar picks varies between thin (or light) 0.4mm picks and thick 1.5mm picks. If you prefer strumming and playing rhythm, go with a thinner guitar pick. A thicker pick on the other hand works well when you require more control. Consider also the thickness of your strings.

What is guitar slapping? ›

Slapping and popping are ways to produce percussive sounds on a stringed instrument. It is primarily used on the double bass or bass guitar. Slapping on bass guitar involves using the edge of one's knuckle, where it is particularly bony, to quickly strike the string against the fretboard.

What do guitarist call their guitars? ›

The Axe – or Ax, depending on whom you ask – is possibly the most common slang word for a guitar. Surprisingly, the term dates back to the mid-'50s when jazz musicians used it as a slang word for saxophone. Over time, it became a go-to term for the electric guitar.

What does noodle mean in guitar? ›

In short, noodling on guitar is freestyle, in the moment playing - where you explore seemingly random notes and rely more on trial and error and intuition than rigid musical systems and rules.

Should beginners use guitar picks? ›

Beginning players should use a pick if they're playing an instrument with steel strings. They should also use a pick when they're playing melodies or as lead guitar and when they're playing a rhythmic chord progression. Another good time to use a pick is when they're improvising.

Why use a thumb pick for guitar? ›

The thumb pick easily allows you play chords (clawhammer style), which will provide you with a clean, controlled sound that is especially clear on octaves. You can use your fingers to pick difficult strings while you're playing a solo, instead of having to learn a unique picking technique.

What are the different types of picks for guitar? ›

There are three main different types of guitar picks:
  • Flat Picks – The most common type of picks. ...
  • Thumb Picks – A type of guitar pick worn on the thumb. ...
  • Finger Picks – Finger picks are more often than not paired with a thumb pick and used to pluck or strum the bottom strings of the guitar.
Aug 31, 2022


1. Country Guitar Lessons - 4 Hybrid Picking Essential Patterns
(Matheus Canteri)
2. Johnny Hiland Guitar Lesson - #3 Chicken Pickin' - Ten Gallon Guitar
3. Chicken Picking (Easy Exercise)
(Acoustic Life)
4. Chicken Pickin' 101 — Double Stops
5. Chickin' Pickin' Guitar with Johnny Hiland
(Guitar Gathering)
6. Try Chicken Pickin on Acoustic Guitar [2 EASY Exercises]
(Acoustic Life)


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