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Thread: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

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    Troy Shellhamer 9lbShellhamer's Avatar
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    Default What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Music is art, and nothing is black or white. It's hard to classify exactly what a genre or style is. Sure, you know bluegrass when you see it, and you know rock when you see it, but often there are grey areas in which classification becomes more opaque. Hence the multitude of people claiming, "That ain't bluegrass.", or "Yeah, any modern country pop song with a banjo is bluegrass right?"

    This morning I was enjoying a crosspicking version of the standard, Turkey in the Straw.

    It got me thinking, What is Crosspicking?

    Delving deeper than the standard, "Crosspicking technique can be used to mimic a banjo roll." and "Bluegrass mandolin is often used to chop a strong rhythm while providing occasional fill-licks".

    What is Crosspicking, and further more, what are modern examples of crosspicking influenece that may not "seem" like crosspicking at first but is actually heavily influenced by McReynolds and others?
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by 9lbShellhamer View Post
    It got me thinking, What is Crosspicking?

    Delving deeper than the standard, "Crosspicking technique can be used to mimic a banjo roll." and "Bluegrass mandolin is often used to chop a strong rhythm while providing occasional fill-licks".

    What is Crosspicking, and further more, what are modern examples of crosspicking influenece that may not "seem" like crosspicking at first but is actually heavily influenced by McReynolds and others?
    Alright, now here's something I really like to argue about.

    The term "crosspicking" was first used to describe the techniques used by Jesse McReynolds and George Shuffler. Although their picking patterns were completely different from each other, Jesse's D U U and George's D D U patterns created syncopation. Syncopation is: "a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat". These guys were playing a down stroke on the "and of 2" (weak beat), and because of that syncopation across open ringing strings, they had a very unique sound.

    The following generations started taking the concept and applying an alternating pick direction to the rolls, and this is where the definition starts getting muddy. Alternating pick direction with a three note pattern does not yield the same articulation or syncopation as a double up or double down pattern. The problem is that, although the techniques are completely different, the average listener or beginner player hears it as the same thing because of the harp-like effect. At this point, so many people use the term crosspicking to label anytime two or more strings are ringing at once, that the word has become too broad to truly define the techniques for which it was created.

    As far as modern influence, yeah, tons of people "crosspick", but I would estimate that there are many more "alternating pick direction" crosspickers out there than those who stick to the patterns created by McReynolds and Shuffler (at least in the guitar world). Most people live in an alternating pick direction world (I do when I'm not crosspicking), so it's easy to see how folks would adopt a right hand approach to these patterns that fits in a comfort zone. Ultimately, though, it creates a different sound and needs a different definition (IMO). I know the mandolin world a lot better that the guitar world, here are some folks that have been influenced by Jesse (and actually use his pattern): Dawg, Statman, Herschel Sizemore, and David Peters (and others, these are the bigger names). Unfortunately, most modern young players right now have no interest in this style (same could be said for Monroe-style). In the guitar world, the modern torch bearer of Shuffler-style that I know of is James Allen Shelton.

    Anyway, that's my take on it. YMMV.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Knew J.R. would jump into the fray here, like ringin' the dinner bell. And I'll add J.T. (Jack Tottle) for mandolin and Clarence White and Jr. Blankenship as guitar men authenticators of the style.

    Someone once described crosspicking as a state of mind. I like that.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanN View Post
    ......Someone once described crosspicking as a state of mind. I like that.
    Agreed!! I do better when I get my brain out of the way.
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    Troy Shellhamer 9lbShellhamer's Avatar
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jordan Ramsey View Post
    Alright, now here's something I really like to argue about.

    The term "crosspicking" was first used to describe the techniques used by Jesse McReynolds and George Shuffler. Although their picking patterns were completely different from each other, Jesse's D U U and George's D D U patterns created syncopation. Syncopation is: "a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat". These guys were playing a down stroke on the "and of 2" (weak beat), and because of that syncopation across open ringing strings, they had a very unique sound.
    ....

    Very insightful. So in your opinion, its only Crosspicking if it uses DUU or DDU. Kind of like a jig's pick direction being DUD DUD...I can't imagine a jig being DU DU DU. It does affect the sound.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    I would suggest that the 'defining" characteristic of cross-picking is its 3/3/2 syncopation of the notes in an 8-note bar (think "In the Mood"). Pick direction is of course useful to get that feel, but I sometimes "crosspick" 3/3/2 syncopated patterns with alternating-direction picking.
    EdSherry

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Here is the first paragraph of the Wikipedia definition:

    "Crosspicking is a technique for playing the mandolin or guitar using a plectrum or flatpick in a rolling, syncopated style across three strings. This style is probably best known as one element of the flatpicking style in bluegrass music, and it closely resembles a banjo roll, the main difference being that the banjo roll is fingerpicked rather than flatpicked."

    Not suggesting that this is the final answer; just one source's def'n. More at the link below. bb

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crosspicking

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    For me it is using the left hand to pick the right nostril and the right hand to pick the left nostril. Seems to work for me.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by 9lbShellhamer View Post
    ....

    Very insightful. So in your opinion, its only Crosspicking if it uses DUU or DDU. Kind of like a jig's pick direction being DUD DUD...I can't imagine a jig being DU DU DU. It does affect the sound.
    Pretty much, although a lot of more famous people than I use the term crosspicking to describe what I would call cross string picking, or alternate picking across strings. Reality is, anyone can call whatever they do whatever they want. For me, the bottom line is that there's a big difference in the articulations between crosspicking and cross string picking (just like there's a big difference in the articulations between DUD DUD and DUD UDU in jigs), and there should be a distinction in the definition. I developed this stance after reading the website and posts on here from the late John McGann. He strongly believed in distinguishing the difference and did not like the fact that people were using the term crosspicking as a catch-all phrase. His definition made sense to me and I've stuck with it. As always, YMMV.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    "Crosspicking" is picking across three strings in a DDU or DUU pattern. Both Shuffler and Jesse will deviate from that basic pattern as needed, but they stick to that as the basic pattern.

    Definitions are useful tools, but if misapplied they become useless. Look at the term "Travis picking", which once meant a specific way of fingerpicking a guitar and now is applied to pretty much any way of playing a guitar with yr fingers (heck, wouldn't be surprised if there's a book out there called "Travis Style Flatpicking").

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    It's often instructive to search the forums for threads related to a topic of interest. Of course, you may be phrasing your question differently than previous posters, but you may find the answer to your question, and plenty of related information, contained therein.

    What comes to my mind is a thread from a couple years back, in which the subject got discussed pretty thoroughly. The McReynolds pattern came up repeatedly, held to be the standard. My position is that there are many different patterns available to someone using the technique of picking strings alternately - as I define "crosspicking" - and to say that incorporating the 3-3-2 rhythm into the definition is too limiting. My post #39 sets out my premise in more detail. Essentially, I consider crosspicking to be the mandolin equivalent of arpeggiating a chord - that is, notes being played go up and down in pitch while the chording hand maintains its position. The 3-3-2 rhythm is just one pattern using this technique. My preferred pattern is a straight 4-4 breakup of an 8 1/8 note bar, the strings being played in a 4-2-3-1 order. I'm not sure how I tumbled onto this pattern, but I like how it gets things rolling by establishing the low note first and then mixing up the notes, ending with the highest one. And it can still sound like a banjo roll, even without the syncopation of the Habańero beat.

    Also in that thread was some discussion concerning that what I was describing might more properly be called "alternate string picking" or "alternate picking." I prefer calling it "crosspicking," and the McReynolds pattern a variant of it. I consider this akin to back-formation, and prefer leaving a definition clear, but also broad enough to include variations. This is similar to the example provided by jesserules - "fingerpicking" is the general term, and "Travis picking" is a specific variant, however popular.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    I call what journeybear describes 'rolls' and you can get some great effects with them, forward rolls, alternate rolls, reverse rolls.
    On top of those rolls you can then experiment with different patterns. For me crosspicking is just another roll in a specific pattern DDUDDUDU in a 4/4 tune.
    Eoin



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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    [QUOTE=Jordan Ramsey;1292200]Alright, now here's something I really like to argue about.

    The term "crosspicking" was first used to describe the techniques used by Jesse McReynolds and George Shuffler. Although their picking patterns were completely different from each other, Jesse's D U U and George's D D U patterns created syncopation. Syncopation is: "a temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent in music caused typically by stressing the weak beat". These guys were playing a down stroke on the "and of 2" (weak beat), and because of that syncopation across open ringing strings, they had a very unique sound.

    I see this is a really old post, but I dredged it up again when I started a more current thread after seeing Tristan Scroggins interview and his talk about "Scroggs" picking. I got a very scholarly (as always) response from Bob Margo. I'm a scholar of a different sort, but in fact my dissertation was on musical categories and definitions, so glad to see your "arguments." My recent post, beside Tristan Scroggins, was about how a bluegrass guy saw me playing the Bach prelude in G on my mandocello (1911 Gibson K4) and said "that's crosspicking!" I understood (and Bob assured me) not really; it was just going across strings in a regular patter, and not at all syncopated DUU as in your definition.
    But it got me thinking about how linear most BG mandolin playing is: tune, scale runs, straight up and down the string(s)--and some chord chops. I respect traditions and purists ("THAT'S not Bluegrass!!!"), but they got to realize music never stands still.
    Love the videos you have out on this, gives me stuff to work on when I'm not doing the classical on my MC.
    When you coming to Oregon again? Brian moved back to Michigan (I think you're playing with him there?) but we still got a lot going on at the OMO! Come on out and show us some serious cross picking!

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    I KNEW it was just a matter of time when that interview with Tristan came out that this would rear its head. Surprised it didn't happen right in the comments on the article. Only question now is how big an argument will eventually ensue and what lines will get drawn in the sand.



    "What is bluegrass?"

    Carry on.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    I KNEW it was just a matter of time when that interview with Tristan came out that this would rear its head. Surprised it didn't happen right in the comments on the article. Only question now is how big an argument will eventually ensue and what lines will get drawn in the sand.



    "What is bluegrass?"

    Carry on.
    Bear with me, I will get around to cross-picking...
    The people who draw lines in the sand are entitled to their opinions and are probably not interested in mine, or anyone else's. That is their problem, and why they do not understand music and meaning in the grand universal sense. Definitions and categories can be defined by words in a dictionary or wiki post--that's called lexical meaning. If you want to say "that's what it means to me," fine. If you want to say "That is WHAT IT MEANS!" you need to do some study of linguistics and cognitive science. We have studied the ways people form ideas, concepts and categories, and it has been shown with great consistency that what we think are rigid lines between categories, defined by a list of required features, are actually quite fuzzy in real life, with different levels depending on expertise in the field and the context in which you are working. Wittgenstein called it "Family Resemblance:" not all cousins have the exact same nose, or eyes, or hair... but they probably share one or more of certain features with different relations. Not all birds fly, not all cars have cylinder engines, not all trees have leaves. Every broad category has exceptions that are less typical (prototypical in linguistic terms) but still fit... sort of.
    If you ask musicologists to name a "Classical" composer they might say Mozart, Haydn, early Beethoven. They will NOT say Bach, Rachmaninov, or Palestrina. Everyday most common labels are called Basic Level, the one most people go to most often. A shark is a fish, a Porsche is a sports car... except a shark is a notochord, and fish have backbones; and Porsche makes SUV's. So where do we draw the line--with the everyday language (Tchaikovsky is classical?) or with the expert's sharply edged definition?

    So.... CROSSPICKING... Fine with me if you want to draw a line in the sand and defend it, but hey--YOU'RE NO FUN! The thing I love about the Cafe (among many other things) is the open Forum concept, with input from top level experts and purists as well as beginners and students. I am not qualified to offer a definition of cross-picking, but I would agree that the Bach Prelude in G is probably not a good example, that cross-picking is more than just playing across different strings. I think the emphasis on banjo-style syncopation is an important feature. But beyond that, to insist that a complete set of specific features is required would be a misunderstanding of language and music. Jordan Ramsey includes DUU and DDU for example, and people compare that with jig picking. There are certainly differences, and many things are clearly NOT cross picking. But that does not mean there is a final untimate absolute must-have feature that defines cross-picking.
    That's my opinion and I'm an expert with 4 university degrees including a doctorate in music, so you can't disagree. (<--That's a joke!!)
    I hope somebody reads this. (Seriously).

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Practically the first thing I learned was to practice up and down alternate picking until the strokes were sonically indistinguishable.

    Then I get to crosspicking where the books essentially say, "ha ha we were just kidding."The basis of crosspicking is that the down stroke is always louder than the upstrokes. I haven't yet come across (in an admittedly short time) an instruction to accent the down stroke which implies that they all assume I never learned the earlier technique.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Funny thing, Doc: When I read your comment about Bach and crosspicking I was reminded of the 123 123 12 Scruggsian banjo rhythm scattered throughout "Song of Japanese Autumn". That's a far cry from bluegrass, but it still made me smile when I first heard it at rehearsal.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg P. Stone View Post
    Practically the first thing I learned was to practice up and down alternate picking until the strokes were sonically indistinguishable.

    Then I get to crosspicking where the books essentially say, "ha ha we were just kidding."The basis of crosspicking is that the down stroke is always louder than the upstrokes. I haven't yet come across (in an admittedly short time) an instruction to accent the down stroke which implies that they all assume I never learned the earlier technique.
    Haha, yes. I have really struggled to get the cross-picking sound on the guitar because I spent so much time evening out my up-and-down strokes when I was playing jazz.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by HonketyHank View Post
    Funny thing, Doc: When I read your comment about Bach and crosspicking I was reminded of the 123 123 12 Scruggsian banjo rhythm scattered throughout "Song of Japanese Autumn". That's a far cry from bluegrass, but it still made me smile when I first heard it at rehearsal.
    Yeah, Hank; that pattern comes up in many places other than crosspicking. Some people relate it to West African rhythms, including Bo Diddley (Bum,Bum, bum, ba-dum dum). Not really the same thing but gets the syncopation out of grouping 3's and 2's. There's also hemiola, where (one example) a 6/8 gets grouped in 2's and 3's. ("I like to be in America" from WEST SIDE STORY.) Studying all kinds of music from all kinds of cultures gives you a different, broader perspective. Most people think "their own" music has special qualities that nobody else has. There are definitely differences, and not too many true "universals," but all in all... It's MUSIC!

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    I think that something is missing in this discussion about crosspicking.

    Crosspicking is not just a right hand technique, it's a combination of right hand picking pattern with a special way to play the notes.

    The typical sound of the crosspicking as Jesse McReynolds plays it is that often higher notes are played on the lower strings and open strings sounding are used to create a ringing sound.

    Playing only the DUU DUU DU or DUU DUU DU UDU UDU will not make it sound like typical crosspicking.

    I have just - by accident - picked up my Jesse McReynolds book and started playing the Dill Pickle Rag.

    Another element are some special figures that Jesse McReynolds called "chromatic style run" which in fact is playing a kind of scale ore melody with rolls on several strings. This leads also to a bright, ringing sound as every note can sound longer than in a normally played scale.

    Jethro Burns did also use something he called "cross string picking" which he used in his piece Cross County in his book Jethro Burns Mandolin Player as well as in some other pieces. That's a similar thing as the "chromatic style run" as Jess McReynolds plays it.

    There are some other players using this technique to produce a ringing sound.

    I am not a banjo player, but I think that there is also a special style of chromatic / melodic banjo playing as Bill Keith used to play it.

    Description in Jesse McReynolds book by Andy Statman

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    Examples from Jethro book:

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Quote Originally Posted by mandoisland View Post


    The typical sound of the crosspicking as Jesse McReynolds plays it is that often higher notes are played on the lower strings and open strings sounding are used to create a ringing sound.


    I have just - by accident - picked up my Jesse McReynolds book and started playing the Dill Pickle Rag.

    Another element are some special figures that Jesse McReynolds called "chromatic style run" which in fact is playing a kind of scale ore melody with rolls on several strings. This leads also to a bright, ringing sound as every note can sound longer than in a normally played scale.
    We now live in the modern world where references can be checked and also compared to a much larger world of music. (Good point Doc).

    I like an Audio example now and then. Here's one source of Dill Pickle Rag at 2:39

    Last edited by DougC; Mar-23-2019 at 8:05pm.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Crosspicking is a "banjo roll" adapted to a flat pick. OK whose banjo roll? The main thing is it must roll, that is a constant timing between all notes. Everyone has heard a banjo player play 123. 123. 123, instead of 123123123123. That is what my dad called a gallop. Now if you are mimicking a good bluegrass banjo player you will use many "rolls" to make the timing work out and not become a gallop. McRenolds acomplished this with DUU and his own type of roll which I have been told seems to pair two measures. Shuffler varies his roll more to fit one measure more like a typical banjo player. In talking to Shuffler once at a festival he made the statement that DUU wouldn't work on guitar. I respectively disagreed because I use it both on guitar and mandolin, I cannot get DDU to remain a roll, everyone is different. I cross pick more like Shuffler but with DUU. My point is, yes you can syncopate the roll but in my definition what makes it cross picking is the timing or spacing of each note, it must roll not gallop.

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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Glad I put the coffee on before I started looking at this one!!
    Nice example on “Mandolin Workshop” I love that album.
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    Default Re: What is "Crosspicking"? Fun with definitions...

    Here are three quotes out of this discussion that pretty much sum up my doctoral dissertation; I guess it was a couple hundred pages too long. Thanks, people!

    9poundShellhammer:
    Music is art, and nothing is black or white. It's hard to classify exactly what a genre or style is. Sure, you know bluegrass when you see it, and you know rock when you see it, but often there are grey areas in which classification becomes more opaque. Hence the multitude of people claiming, "That ain't bluegrass.", or "Yeah, any modern country pop song with a banjo is bluegrass right?"

    Jesserules:
    Definitions are useful tools, but if misapplied they become useless.

    Mandoisland:
    Crosspicking is not just a right hand technique, it's a combination of right hand picking pattern with a special way to play the notes.

    Think of all these as contributing to the meaning of crosspicking (rather than any one definition).
    The fact is, philosophers, linguistics experts, and cognitive scientists have studied this “categories” thing. The philosophers rarely agree on anything, but they offer some interesting ways to look at life. Plato argued there was an ideal quality such as “cat-ness;” Aristotle said no, there are only “cats.” The linguistics people found patterns in the words people use to categorize things and discovered that rigid, feature-based definitions might be the way we think we think. In fact categories overlap and have central or prototypical examples, but also fringe cases that almost seem to be “not.” Is a robin a bird? Yes. Is an emu a bird? Uh… yes. (response times are a factor). Cog sci people studied how information coming in—musical or verbal—is interfered with by information already stored. This results in the “That’s not bluegrass!” response: “It doesn’t fit MY definition.” It is also why somebody who doesn’t have much experience will say "Yeah, any modern country pop song with a banjo is bluegrass right?"
    I can play Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev and some people will say “All that classical stuff sounds the same.”

    What strikes me as funny is why some people must insist on a rigid category, sharply defined by a list of specific features. If it doesn’t have this, this, and THIS, it’s not bluegrass… or classical... or jazz. It’s like they think Palestrina sat down and said “I’m going to write some Renaissance polyphony today.” And Mozart said “I think I’ll write a in a classical sonata-allegro form.” They didn’t—they experimented with and adapted existing musical styles of the time and innovated from that. In 1610 Monteverdi wrote pieces in stylo antico and stylo moderno (I don’t think I need to translate) that sounded very different from one another. So what do we call his music? Late Renaissance? Early baroque?
    All these mandolin players tried slightly different approaches and got slightly different effects. There are distinctions: just going across strings is not cross-picking, there is a syncopated rhythmic element to it; that’s why the Bach prelude is not really cross-picking. And the D and U patterns seem to be important, whether packed into one measure or extended over two.
    My advice, along with American Pragmatist Philosopher William James, is to think of meaning rather than definition. And all these posts in Mandolin Café contribute to that meaning without locking down a rigid definition.
    That’s why I love the Mandolin Café!

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