Acoustic Treatment: Less and More


Creating and shaping atmosphere is part of what I love most about playing acoustic at church. Dynamics play a huge role in all of this, as do the underlying techniques used to create them.

Whether using our fingers, hybrid picking, or just a pick, when we play the notes of a chord one at a time, we are arpeggiating that chord. These three techniques deliver unique textures largely because of the variation in string attack. Mastering how we attack the strings is a big part of what keeps us from being swallowed by the band in the mix. This is also a brilliant way to create subtle shifts in atmosphere to better support vocalists as they lead the congregation deeper into worship.

As guitarists, we tend to practice one technique at a time, which makes sense most of the time. That said, there are times on the platform where changing dynamics is tied to our ability to smoothly toggle between multiple techniques. This installment of Acoustic Treatment is designed to help you do this in a musical way!


Seamlessly toggling between fingerpicking and using the pick can  take a bit of getting used to. As demonstrated in the companion video and Fig. 1, my preferred method for palming the pick involves holding it gently between the first and second fingers. I’ve found this to be the most effective way to toggle between fingerpicking and using the pick in real time, with the least probability of fumbling the pick.

Figure 1
Figure 2


The first staves in Fig. 3 utilize fingerpicking. I’d suggest using your thumb (denoted by a T on the chart) to pluck the Low E, A, and D strings, and your 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers on the G, B, and High E strings.

Figure 3


The second set of staves in Fig. 3 use the pick on the Low E, A, and D strings, and your 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers on the G, B, and High E strings. This sound is one of my favorites because you get lots of articulation on the bass strings, and the warmth of your fingertips on the treble strings.


In looking at Fig. 3 I’m not truly alternating pick strokes, but I’m not just using down strokes either. Years ago Joe Satriani taught me to arpeggiate triads by using two down strokes followed by an upstroke, which is how I start the picking off here. The rest is based on comfort in terms of making the part feel good to my right hand.


Each of these techniques is pretty straightforward. Toggling between palming the pick and hybrid picking in real time on the other hand takes a bit of getting used to, as does the shift in dynamics. In the video I’ll go over some tips on how to piece this together. Once you’ve got this transition under your fingertips, I’d suggest looping the first four measures two times quietly. Then without losing time, loop the second four measures a bit louder, followed by the last four measures a bit louder again. I’d suggest going back to the measures five through eight, before hitting measures one through four. The end result will be toggling between these three techniques, while incrementally building and then decreasing the dynamics. Let’s do it!


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