FLATPICKING GUITAR with Scott Nygaard

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About This Course

Learn the essential techniques of bluegrass flatpicking guitar through classic and lesser-known songs and tunes, from bluegrass blues to old-time fiddle tunes to country swing sounds.

SCOTT NYGAARD

Grammy-winning guitarist Scott Nygaard is one of the most inventive and original flatpicking guitarists in the bluegrass/acoustic music scene.

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His solos, a seamless amalgam of bluegrass, folk, and jazz influences, shift easily from breathtaking virtuosity to soulful melodic musings and his accompaniment is always intriguing, supportive, and propulsive. 

Downbeat magazine called Scott “a phenomenally talented stylist.” He has performed and/or recorded with Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, Chris Thile, Darol Anger, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis,  Anonymous 4, and many others, and has released two solo albums, No Hurry and Dreamer’s Waltz, on Rounder Records as well as self-produced albums with his band Crow Molly, Roger Tallroth and Scott Nygaard, and the Websters and Scott Nygaard. Scott was the guitarist on three recordings that have proven to be extremely influential on the contemporary acoustic music scene: Chris Thile’s Leading Off, Tim O’Brien’s Red on Blonde, and Jerry Douglas’s Slide Rule. He recently released a recording with John Reischman and Sharon Gilchrist, The Harmonic Tone Revealers.

Formerly the editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, Scott has written hundreds of articles on music, musicians, guitars, and guitarists for Acoustic Guitar, Strings, Play Guitar!, and Guitar World Acoustic; authored two instruction books, Bluegrass Guitar Essentials and Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs for Beginning Guitar; produced an instructional video, Bluegrass Lead Guitar for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, and taught at most of the United States’ best-known bluegrass and/or guitar workshops. Scott is co-founder and editor of Peghead Nation.

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Watch the video above to get a taste of what you’ll learn in Scott Nygaard’s Flatpicking Guitar course.

Sample Flatpicking Guitar Lesson

Crosspicking

Crosspicking is an essential part of a bluegrass guitarist's technique for playing song melodies. Learn the first part of Scott's arrangement of “Home Sweet Home” in this sample lesson. With Notation/Tab

Flatpicking Guitar Lessons

 A Flatpicking Guitar subscription includes:

  • More than 45 in-depth flatpicking guitar video lessons
  • Detailed tab/notation for all lessons
  • In-depth lessons on the styles of flatpicking masters Clarence White, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, and more with accurate solo transcriptions
  • More than 32 complete tunes and/or solos
  • Lessons on learning the fingerboard geared toward bluegrass and roots musicians
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
  • New lessons added every month
  • Play-along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned

Get started now! Use promo code ScottLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Flatpicking Guitar course today for access to all of these guitar lessons and new material every month!  

FLATPICKING BASICS In these introductory lessons you’ll learn the basics of good flatpicking technique, including how to hold the pick, alternating picking, bluegrass rhythm guitar basics, the rest stroke, and the importance of upstrokes.

  • Holding the Flatpick While there are many ways to hold the flatpick, it’s important that your hand and arm should be comfortable with as little tension as possible. 
  • Pick Technique Alternating picking is the basis of good flatpicking technique. Learn strict alternating picking and look at some ways to deal with string crossings. You’ll also learn some simple pick exercises that can help you deal with some of the trickier aspects of alternating picking.
  • Bluegrass Rhythm Basics Learn the basics of bluegrass and old-time country rhythm guitar playing: the boom-chuck pattern, along with some variations and the classic bluegrass G-run.Then you’ll put them all together to play rhythm to the Monroe Brothers’ classic “Long Journey Home.” 
  • Pick Technique: Bass Notes and Upstrokes A more in-depth look at pick technique, starting with the downstroke and the different ways you can play the bass note of a boom-chuck strum. You’ll learn about the importance of the rest stroke in bluegrass guitar technique. Upstrokes are important not only for flatpickers playing fiddle tunes and bluegrass solos, but for rhythm guitarists trying to lock in with the rhythmic feel of the people they’re playing with as well as for communicating how much “swing” a song has. 

FIDDLE TUNE STANDARDS Fiddle tunes are the raw material of flatpicking. Learn some classic fiddle tunes all flatpickers play, along with variations and ideas on creating your own arrangements.

  • Temperance Reel “Temperance Reel” is an old Irish tune that has become a favorite of bluegrass guitarists. When learning fiddle tunes, it’s a good idea to consult the original version. You’ll learn the original melody to “Temperance Reel,” which contains a few phrases not often heard in bluegrass versions. You’ll also learn to create variations by narrowing your sights and taking it a measure or two at a time.
  • Soldier’s Joy Learn four ways to play the classic “Soldier’s Joy,” a simple old-time fiddle version, a version from some old fiddle tune books, bluegrass fiddler Richard Greene’s version (recorded with Bill Monroe), and Clarence White’s classic guitar version. Scott also talks about learning to recognize and think about a fiddle tune by its overall shape and distinctive melodic motifs rather than a specific series of notes.
  • Gold Rush When playing fiddle tunes on the guitar, it’s important to think not only about the notes you play but how you play them. You can pick each note or use slurs (slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs), and in many cases you can choose to play a note as an open string or by fretting it in a different position. The choices you make affect your tone, the rhythm of the melodic line, and the relative ease of playing the notes. In this lesson, Scott demonstrates different ways of articulating fiddle tune melodies, using Tony Rice’s version of the bluegrass standard “Gold Rush.” You’ll also learn some variations that Scott plays on “Gold Rush” and learn about Tony Rice’s distinctive picking style.
  • Fisher’s Hornpipe Many bluegrass guitarists tend to favor G and C positions, using the capo to play in other keys like A, D, E, etc. But open D position works well for lots of things, including fiddle tunes like “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” To get a lot of practice in open D, you’ll learn “Fisher’s Hornpipe” in two octaves as well as a harmony to the melody.
  • Black Mountain Rag Doc Watson’s 1963 recording of “Black Mountain Rag” arguably created the style of flatpicking you hear today. The clarity, fluidity, and speed of his playing had not been heard before, and soon hundreds/thousands of guitarists were trying to “play like Doc.” Learn Scott’s version of Doc’s arrangement of “Black Mountain Rag” in this lesson. 

BLUEGRASS SONGS Bluegrass is primarily a vocal music. As the guitarist in a bluegrass band, you’ll spend most of your time playing rhythm, and when you do play a solo, it’ll usually be to a song. So you need to learn the essential techniques of playing guitar solos to bluegrass songs as pioneered by the bluegrass guitar greats, as well as how to construct your own solos based on the melody of the song.

  • Home Sweet Home “Crosspicking” is defined as using a flatpick to play arpeggiated chords across the guitar strings, much like a fingerpicker would. In bluegrass, the term refers to arpeggiated patterns that imitate a bluegrass banjo player’s rolls. In the 1950s Stanley Brothers guitarists George Shuffler and Bill Napier used syncopated 3-3-2 rolls to fill out song melodies, and Clarence White, Doc Watson, and other flatpickers soon followed suit. Learn the basic crosspicking rolls and use them to play the old-time song “Home Sweet Home,” which Earl Scruggs also played as a bluegrass banjo instrumental.
  • Pretty Polly The blues is an essential part of bluegrass, but the scale used in bluegrass blues, unlike the minor pentatonic blues scale favored by blues guitarists, uses both the flatted third and major third, as well as the flatted seventh. Learn some bluegrass blues sounds using the old-time murder ballad “Pretty Polly.” You’ll learn a basic version of the melody of “Pretty Polly” as well as some some variations on the melody that keep its basic shape. 
  • Nine Pound Hammer Most of the great bluegrass guitarists use the song’s melody as a basis for their solos. Scott uses the bluegrass standard “Nine Pound Hammer” to show you how to create a melody-based solo to a song, as well as how to create multiple variations to each melodic fragment so that you can vary your solo and eventually start improvising in a melodic way. You’ll start by learning a break to “Nine Pound Hammer” similar to one Clarence White played on the Kentucky Colonels’ recording Appalachian Swing.
  • Shady Grove Learn about different minor scales, and how to know which one to play when improvising or creating a solo for a song in a minor key. You’ll learn a melody-based solo to “Shady Grove,” something like Doc Watson would play, sticking to the notes of the melody, which make up a D sus pentatonic scale, slightly different than the D minor pentatonic scale. You’ll also learn the D natural minor scale and the D Dorian scale, two other options for playing in D minor, and another melody-based solo to “Shady Grove,” this time with notes from the D Dorian mode as well as a bluesy lick with a flatted fifth. 
  • Bluegrass Licks in G Using the melody as a basis for improvising or composing solos is a great approach, but it’s also important to have a bunch of bluegrass guitar licks at your disposal. Learning some standard licks will also help you immerse yourself in the bluegrass blues language. In this lesson, Scott shows you 18 licks, borrowed from great guitarists like Tony Rice, Clarence White, David Grier, Kenny Smith and others, that you can use over a G chord when you are playing any bluesy bluegrass song.
  • Worried Man Blues Scott has a three-step method for creating bluegrass solos to songs, which you’ll learn in this lesson, using Ralph Stanley’s version of the folk classic “Worried Man Blues.” Step One is to learn the melody, so you’ll learn the basic melody and some easy ways to embellish and articulate the melody on the guitar. Step Two is adding short three-beat runs or intro licks to the melody notes. The idea is to always be thinking about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Step Three is what you do once you’ve gotten to where you’re going, which involves using cross-picking, strums, and place-holder licks to fill out the held melody notes.
  • Wildwood Flower The instrumental breaks played by guitarist Maybelle Carter during the Carter Family’s recording of the song “Wildwood Flower” created what is likely the first recorded country guitar instrumental, a must-know for all flatpicking guitarists. It’s also a good song to illustrate how to modify standard crosspicking patterns to create your own arrangement of a song melody. Scott shows you how Maybelle Carter played “Wildwood Flower” and how to flesh it out by using a standard 3–3–2 crosspicking pattern to play the first line of the melody. Then he shows you how he gradually modifies the pattern and creates variations on that pattern (and others) depending on how he wants to phrase the melody.

LEARNING THE FINGERBOARD There’s lots of music to be played below the fifth fret, but most guitarists soon want to find their way up the fingerboard. You’ll learn some handy positions and how to move between them.

  • Moving Up the Neck: Key of G Work on some up-the-neck scale positions in the key of G, including a common position at the seventh fret and an intermediary position at the fifth fret. You’ll also learn how to move between positions using open strings and slides and get some exercises to practice moving between the fifth-fret and seventh-fret positions. You’ll finish by learning a version of the fiddle tune “Blackberry Blossom” that moves between the seventh-fret and fifth-fret positions.
  • Moving Up the Neck: Keys of C and D Learn scale positions in the keys of C and D, and how to move from position to position using open strings and slides. You’ll start with a position in C at the third fret, with some ideas about how to move there from open position, and then how to move to positions at the fifth and tenth frets. You’ll also learn up-the-neck positions for the key of D, which are only two frets higher than the C positions, and an arrangement of the fiddle tune “Forked Deer” in the key of D using multiple positions.
  • Diatonic Triad Shapes Learning triad shapes on the top three strings in three different positions will help you connect scale patterns on the entire fingerboard. In this lesson, you’ll learn the major and minor triad shapes, root position, first inversion, and second inversion, on the top three strings. Scott shows you that, for each of the major inversions used as a I chord, you can find shapes for the IV chord just above it and shapes for the V chord just below it. You’ll not only learn these shapes moving up the fingerboard, but how to connect them with scales and use them to move from one position to the next. You’ll also learn how to change the major triad shapes into minor triads by raising the fifth of the chord up to a sixth, creating the relative minor of that chord.

FLATPICKING GUITAR CLASSICS Learn some great tunes and how they were played by flatpicking icons.

  • Big Sciota The old-time fiddle tune “Big Sciota” has been a bluegrass jam favorite ever since guitarist Russ Barenberg recorded it with Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer on Skip, Hop, and Wobble in 1993. Scott also recorded it on his 1990 album No Hurry. There are some similarities between the versions and a few differences, so you’ll learn both versions. 
  • Coming Down from Rising Fawn Norman Blake is one of the pioneers of flatpicking, with a guitar style influenced by old-time music and mandolin playing, but with his own unique sound. He also writes great tunes that combine old-time fiddle melodies with contemporary ideas. In his three-part guitar tune “Coming Down from Rising Fawn,” the A part has a simple song-like melody that showcases Norman’s “almost crosspicking” style of melody and rhythm playing, while the B part is more like a fiddle tune. The C part begins with Norman strumming an unusual G–F–A–D chord progression and then moves into another characteristic Blake single-string lick where he bounces off the open first string while playing fretted notes up the neck. 
  • Huckleberry HornpipeThe great Texas bluegrass fiddler Byron Berline’s tune “Huckleberry Hornpipe” has become a flatpicker’s favorite, in part because of Clarence White’s classic solo on the original recordingYou’ll learn both the fiddle melody and Clarence’s solo, which is a great example of how to create a guitar-friendly version of a fiddle tune that might be tricky to duplicate exactly on guitar. 
  • Beaumont Rag In the 1960s Doc Watson transformed the Texas fiddle rag “Beaumont Rag” into a flatpicking and bluegrass jam essential. If you’re a flatpicker, you have to play “Beaumont Rag,” and Doc’s recordings of it are definitive. You’ll learn Doc’s version in this lesson, including the way he played the second part, which may surprise you. Because the structure of “Beaumont Rag” is so repetitive, it’s a great tune to work on melodic improvising, so Scott gives you a few variations that you can alternate with Doc’s melody.
  • I Am a Pilgrim The gospel favorite “I Am a Pilgrim” was a signature instrumental for Clarence White. Scott gets you started on a basic version of the melody and adds a couple chordal fill licks, so you get a good sense of the vocal phrasing of the melody and how it relates to the chords. Then, since Clarence never played “I Am a Pilgrim” the same way twice, you’ll learn a “compilation” solo for “I Am a Pilgrim,” with many of the things Clarence played and explanations of his timing and how his variations relate to the basic melody. 
  • John Hardy The traditional song “John Hardy” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite, and guitar legend Tony Rice has recorded it a couple times. You’ll learn how he played it on his debut album Guitar. This solo showcases both his melodic playing, which includes a lot of syncopated and crosspicked phrases, as well as his more improvisatory style, with blues runs and licks that can be played over different chords.
  • Alabama Jubilee “Alabama Jubilee” is an old popular song from the turn of the 20th century that was a showpiece for Clarence White and has become a popular instrumental at jam sessions. It has a ragtime-era chord progression and a simple melody and is usually played at a fast tempo. Clarence used syncopated crosspicking to play the open four bars, which is difficult to duplicate, but includes one simple pattern that is easier to play at a fast tempo. In this lesson, Scott shows you Clarence’s first chorus from the Living in the Past recording and then shows you the simple 2–3 crosspicking pattern and how to use it to modify Clarence’s version into something a little more manageable.

SWING AND IMPROVISING Swing guitarists like Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, and others have influenced many flatpickers and the way they improvise on the guitar.

  • Panhandle Rag The Western swing instrumental “Panhandle Rag” has become popular with bluegrassers, but it also makes a good vehicle for demonstrating swing-style phrasing, which is quite different than bluegrass or fiddle tune phrasing. You’ll learn a basic arrangement of “Panhandle Rag,” with advice on how to give the lines a swing feel and provide some variation in the phrasing. Scott also shows you a few ways to take each melodic fragment and syncopate it or elaborate on it so that you’re coming up with variations or improvising based on the melody rather than just playing licks based on the underlying chord.
  • Minor Swing  Django Reinhardt’s tune “Minor Swing” has become a popular jam favorite among Gypsy jazz musicians as well as bluegrass and string band players of various instruments. In this lesson, you’ll learn the melody and chords from Django’s recordings as well as a solo from his classic 1937 that illustrates many aspects of his approach to improvising.
  • Improvising In this three-part lesson, Scott talks about improvising, starting with general concepts like practicing improvising just like you would practice anything else, getting comfortable making mistakes, and internalizing the form and rhythm of the music you’re playing. Then he moves to some general exercises and things to work on to improve your improvising, like learning simple melodies on the guitar, thinking of a tonality as a group of notes, not a specific sequence, and composing your own solos to tunes you play. He finishes by giving you specific things to work on: learning the building blocks (scales, arpeggios, chords) of each tune you’re going to improvise on, finding the melodic signposts of a tune, and practicing one-measure, two-measure, and four-measure phrases that lead into the sign posts.
  • Charlie Christian–Style Swing Lines Charlie Christian is known as the first electric guitar star and a pioneer of electric jazz guitar, but the blues-based lead lines he played with Benny Goodman and others in the late 1930s and early 1940s have influenced rockabilly, blues, and country guitarists. The tonality of a lot of Charlie’s lines are similar to that of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass blues sound, with flatted sevenths and minor third/major third motifs, making them useful for bluegrass guitarists as well as jazz and rockabilly players. In this lesson you’ll learn some typical lines played by Charlie on major chords out of an F shape and dominant seventh chords using a familiar minor chord shape. Some of the lines are long eighth-note based lines, while others feature some of Charlie’s favorite syncopations. 

  • Benny’s Bugle Learn a swing blues tune from Benny Goodman, along with a Charlie Christian solo from the original Benny Goodman Sextet recording. “Benny’s Bugle” is a fairly straightforward uptempo blues riff tune in Bb. The first melody outlines basic Bb, Eb, and F chords (the I, IV, and V) in Bb, and the band plays a couple of other cool riffs later in the tune. Charlie Christian takes the first solo on the recording of “Benny’s Bugle” and it’s a classic, one of those solos learned by most jazz and swing guitarists.

MORE FLATPICKING TUNES

  • Crazy Creek The fiddle tune “Crazy Creek” comes from Nashville fiddler Tommy Jackson, whose 1950s records featured some great players like Jethro Burns on mandolin and some great tunes, like this one. “Crazy Creek” is in the key of A, but has some long sections in C that include F chords. It can be played without a capo, but it also works well with a capo on the second fret played out of G position. This means that the C and F chords translate to Bb and Eb with the capo on. Scott shows you how the Bb and Eb scales can be played quite easily in first position, using the open G, D, and even A strings for part of the scales.
  • Angeline the Baker Learn a version of the standard fiddle tune “Angeline the Baker” that illustrates the way Scott varies fiddle tunes in an actual performance. While he primarily sticks to the melody as he hears it, he plays subtle variations each time through each part. Scott’s arrangement owes as much to fiddlers as to guitar players. The A part melody is similar to the way fiddler Stuart Duncan plays it while the B part has more guitaristic hammer-ons, slides, and bits of cross-picking. You’ll also learn a version of “Angeline the Baker” in the lower octave, played in dropped-D tuning, so you can add some low D bass notes to fill out the sound.
  • Bill Cheatham The fiddle tune standard “Bill Cheatham” is played in the key of A by fiddle players and mandolin players, and most guitarists play it in the key of G, capoed at the second fret. In this lesson you’ll learn to play “Bill Cheatham” in A but without a capo. This is not only a good exercise for learning to play in the key of A without a capo but for learning a movable scale position that spans three frets on the top three strings (with your first finger playing the root of the scale on the third string).
  • Little Rock Getaway A ragtime-sounding tune written by swing era pianist Joe Sullivan, “Little Rock Getaway” was later adapted to the guitar by Chet Atkins and Les Paul. It’s a fun tune with an interesting chord progression, and it makes for a good technical workout for both hands. The first four bars feature cascading arpeggios through a series of chords, and in addition to tricky crosspicking, it requires accurate and efficient use of your fretting hand, so Scott gives you advice on keeping your fingers in a single position to play all the arpeggios, and how to “plant” your fingers so that you keep a finger down as you play the next note in the arpeggio.
  • Wheel Hoss Bill Monroe’s fiddle tune “Wheel Hoss” has a unique chord progression and phrasing. A favorite of mandolin and fiddle players, it’s usually played at a fast tempo and the first part can be tricky on the guitar at high speeds, so it’s important to come up with a version you can play fast. In this lesson, you’ll learn a simplified version of the A part you can play when the tempo gets high as well as the note-for-note fiddle version of the melody. The B part of “Wheel Hoss” is not as complex, but when you’re coming up with a way to play it on the guitar, you’ll need to remember to just use phrases you can play at a fast tempo.
  • Bonus Tab: “Red Apple Rag” Here is Scott's version of “Red Apple Rag,” which he recorded on his Rounder album No Hurry.
  • Rhythmic Variations and “Arkansas Traveler” “Arkansas Traveler” is a must-know tune for flatpickers and all roots music musicians. In this lesson, you’ll learn a basic guitar arrangement of it and then Scott uses it to show you some different rhythmic variations, including rhythmic displacement and three against four phrasing. 

MORE BLUEGRASS SONG SOLOS

  • Rocky Road Blues Learn a couple different ways to play the blues on bluegrass and simple swing tunes, using Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues.” Both solos use a blues scale that includes both the minor and major thirds and the flatted seventh. Scott starts by teaching you a bluegrass-style solo based on the melody of “Rocky Road Blues.” You’ll also learn a 12-bar swing blues solo that incorporates the bluegrass blues tonality in closed-positions around the third to seventh frets.
  • Colleen Malone The great contemporary bluegrass song “Colleen Malone” was popularized by Hot Rize and won the IBMA award for Bluegrass Song of the Year in 1991. In this lesson you’ll learn a solo inspired by Hot Rize mandolinist Tim O’Brien’s crosspicking and guitarist Charles Sawtelle’s bluesy Clarence White-inspired playing. The ending line to “Colleen Malone” is a good place to play some variations, so you’ll learn three variations on the ending line that illustrate how Scott moves up and down the neck through three-note F and G shapes. 
  • Blue Railroad Train The Delmore Brothers song “Blue Railroad Train” has been recorded by numerous people, but for guitar players Doc Watson’s and Tony Rice’s versions have become classics. In this lesson, you’ll learn the basic form of the song, with some variations, as well as the Delmore Brothers guitar line and Tony Rice’s solo from his album Manzanita.
  • Rose of Old Kentucky In another lesson on creating solos to bluegrass songs, Scott looks at Bill Monroe’s recording of “Rose of Old Kentucky.” You’ll learn the sung melody and Monroe’s mandolin solo and look at how the two compare. You’ll also learn how Scott used Bill Monroe’s mandolin solo on “Rose of Old Kentucky” to create a guitar solo that combines guitaristic versions of Monroe’s melodic lead-in lines with crosspicking, fills, and placeholder licks in place of the tremolo that Monroe played on long melody notes.
  • Footprints in the Snow Bill Monroe’s song “Footprints in the Snow” was a favorite of Clarence White’s: you can hear early recordings of him playing it on 33 Acoustic Guitar Instrumentals and he played a couple of classic melody-based solos on the 1973 Muleskinner recording. In this lesson, you’ll learn those 1973 solos and look at how Clarence based his solos on the melody of the song, using variations on some of his favorite licks. 
  • My Little Georgia Rose Vassar Clements’ fiddle solo on Bill Monroe’s classic song “My Little Georgia Rose” is one of the most distinctive parts of Monroe’s original 1950 recording and most bluegrass fiddlers use it as a model for their solos on the song. Scott does the same when he plays it on the guitar, and in this lesson he shows you how he used the fiddle solo to construct a guitar solo, filling it out with crosspicking and some more guitaristic licks. 


Flatpicking Source Material

Check out these flatpicking classics from Doc Watson, Clarence White, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, David Grier, Russ Barenberg, and Dan Crary.


See Other Peghead Nation Courses

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