Hybrid Blues Licks - Not For The Faint Of Heart

Weekly Newsletter #52

August 4, 2022

There are nearly infinite ways to play the blues, but one of my personal favorites is using hybrid picking. 

The advantages of hybrid picking are too numerous too count, but ultimately this technique allows you to play very quickly across multiple strings and also to skip strings easily. 

These two concepts, when used together, can create exciting new melodic ideas that can catapult your blues playing into a new dimension. 

When I first learned how to apply hybrid picking to blues licks using string skipping, it was a total game changer, and I’m sure it will be for you too. 

These five licks each focus on different elements and different applications of hybrid picking, but all are designed to be played over dominant 7 chords (the most common blues chord). 

All you have to do is learn the technique and the lick and then move it to any key and voila! You have an awesome new set of blues licks that probably don’t sound like anything you regularly play. 

Check out the VIDEO and TAB as a reference so that you can follow along… 

Lick 1 

This lick over a D7 chord really focuses on the middle finger of your picking hand. Many hybrid licks, including later ones we’ll discuss, combine middle and ring fingers into the hybrid technique, but for this one all you need to worry about is downpicking and using your middle finger to pluck strings. 

The first two notes create a huge jump from a high A to a G (a 9th interval). This leap is done from the 1st string to the 3rd by using your middle finger to start and preparing your pick ahead of time to play the 3rd string so that it can be done quickly. 

Two notes later, there is a cool blues technique of playing a fretted note and then bending up to that note from a half-step below. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck use this idea all the time. 

That’s followed by a descending lick using the b5-4-b3, which is then repeated almost immediately. 

The awesome part about this is that the same sequence of notes are separated by a high D and are placed in the same part of the beat creating a repeated pattern that’s easy to play. 

So far, all the notes on the 1st string have been plucked with the middle finger and the notes on the 2nd & 3rd strings have been downpicked. 

At the end of beat three, that same b5-4-b3 idea appears again, reinforcing the blues vibe of the lick. 

The lick ends with a b3-3 slide on the 4th string followed by a hybrid pluck D on the 2nd string, once again creating a standard blues sound. 

Lick 2 

This E7 lick is a very country-blues sounding idea based on a repeating descending pattern. 

In your right hand the pattern is basically ring-middle-pick. This reverse banjo roll idea is a great tool for your hybrid picking arsenal. It allows you to cascade down strings extremely quickly. 

The lick begins with a small pickup measure; middle finger plays the 1st string and the pick plays the 2nd string. The 5-b7-b3-3 of the scale basically outlines the E7 chord. 

From there the hybrid pattern begins. In a series of three notes the right hand plays ring-middle-pick three times in a row. 

The first time ring and middle play adjacent strings (1st & 2nd) followed by a string skip to the 4th string with the pick. 

Then the pick stays on the 4th string while the two hybrid fingers move down one string each. 

Now that the hybrid fingers and pick are all on sequential strings, the pattern moves down again to the 3rd, 4th & 5th string. 

To finish the lick the ring finger moves down again, but instead of going straight to the middle finger the lick string skips down to the 6th string and then the middle finger plays the 4th string. This is interesting because you can either repeat the ring finger on the 4th or use the middle finger, as I did. 

Personally I prefer the middle finger because it allows me to play faster since I can change fingers more rapidly than repeating the same finger twice in a row. But you be the judge of how you’d like to play this ending. 

Lick 3 

This G7 lick has all the best parts (in my mind) right at the beginning. 

There is a string skipping idea ascending across all six strings. 

The right hand plays pick-middle-pick-middle-pick before continuing on. 

Each time the middle finger is played you skip up a string. The first jump is from the 6th string to the 4th and then next time the middle finger is played you skip up to the 2nd string. 

This next note employs another hybrid technique that’s very valuable. The middle finger plays the B on the 12th fret 2nd string and is followed by a downpick on the 1st string. 

This seems counter intuitive at first because your middle finger (which sits lower naturally than the pick) is playing the 2nd string and then the pick plays the 1st. Shouldn’t this be reversed? 

No. The reason is that when you play the 2nd string with your middle finger, you actually use it to pull your hand downward like a slingshot, which sends your pick flying into the 1st string. It’s a very effective tool for cross string movement from a finger to the pick. 

Lick 4 

Once again we have an awesome string skipping idea, similar to the last lick. 

In this A7 idea we are employing the same picking pattern as the last lick but this time when we skip a string we actually go back and start the pattern on the string we skipped. 

The similar part is the lower string is downpicked while the higher string is plucked with the middle finger. 

Playing this pattern results in moving across the strings in this manner: 5th-3rd, 4th-2nd, 3rd-1st. 

This pattern, in combination with slides that change direction, creates a dizzying effect that outlines the A7 chord. 

The upward slides (on the lower, downpicked strings) begin on a chord tone, while the downward slides (on the higher middle finger-plucked strings) end on a chord tone. 

From there the lick goes into a standard blues idea, once again using the b5-4-b3. However, at the end is a great blues bending concept. 

The B on the 2nd string is bent up a whole step to the 3rd of the A7 chord (C#). While that note is held, you must use your middle finger to pluck the 1st string F# and E. Follow this up by releasing the bend and ending on the root note, and you have one super sweet blues lick! 

Lick 5 

The beginning of this B7 lick is a great example of how to cross strings extremely quickly, creating an arpeggio as you ascend. 

Using that idea of slingshotting the pick toward the higher string by pulling on it with your middle finger (while plucking) is what creates the speed in the ascending portion of this lick. 

Starting on the 5th string B with your pick you then pluck the middle finger on the 3rd string and do a pulloff from A to F#. During that pulloff you must move the pick to the 4th string to begin the slingshot idea. 

From the 4th string you downpick and then skip up to the 2nd sting with the middle finger, which pulls on that string, launching the pick past the finger toward the 1st string. 

Practicing this cross-string slingshot will help you play extremely fast and cleanly and is much more efficient than trying to alternate pick this same idea. 

From there the lick descends a B minor pentatonic scale and finishes up with a dorian idea in which the middle finger plucks the 2nd string followed by a downpick on the 3rd, and string skip with the middle up to the 1st string. 

All in all, these are fairly complex licks that require a decent grasp on hybrid picking. However, they are sure to satisfy the itch many players have when they start to stagnate. 

By learning these ideas you are opening yourself up to a whole new way of playing. 

The blues don’t have to get repetitive and you can always push the boundaries of what you are capable of playing. This is a great way to do just that! 

-Max Rich

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