Mike Moxcey ©2005

Plucking Approaches

There are many different ways get noises out of a stringed instrument. This section covers several of them. Some of them require certain plucking utensils and some of them are performed not with the plucking hand but with the fretting hand. Not all of these approaches work on all instruments, but you can try to get different sounds and see what you end up with.

Strumming Styles

The basic strum can either go Up or Down. The instrument sounds different when strumming up strumming down so play around with the sounds you like. Besides the basic patterns of
D(own)    U(p)    D(own)    U(p)       or        U(p)    D(own)    U(p)    D(own)

you can get fancy and do
D    U    U        or       U    D    D.

As you get into songs, you may find it best to leave holes in the strum pattern:
D    –    D    U    D    –    D    U

This is a basic strum pattern heard on guitars almost everywhere. Another variation is to not do a full strum on the initial beat of the pattern, the bolded Down strum in this example, but to just strum across a couple or even just one string (which turns this into a pick-strum pattern).
D    –    D    U    D    –    D    U


Vamping can be done either strumming or picking. What you do is strum or pick the strings and then lift your fretting (left) hand off the fingerboard BUT NOT OFF THE STRINGS. Thus the string is no longer fretted but it doesn’t ring clearly either. This damping effect immediately after a full sound is used extensively in bluegrass and rock and roll. Another way to damp strings is to drop your picking (right) hand across the strings.


This is done almost exclusively on guitar, mandolin, and tenor banjo, but you can flatpick anything with strings. Flatpicking is done with a flat pick plucking the melody notes. To get fancier, musicians will put in filler notes of the chord or scale.
Cross-picking is a variety of flatpicking where you flatpick a pattern of strings to emulate a banjo roll. Doc Watson is a good one to listen to for this style of guitar playing. Jesse McReynolds does it on mandolin and many folks consider him the inventor or pioneer of this method.
Techniques Index