The Picado Technique for the Flamenco Guitar

The Spanish word ‘picado,’ meaning ‘picked,’ is another special technique that gives Flamenco music its unique flavor. To play picado, the guitarist plays passages of single notes with apoyando strokes, alternating his right-hand fingers. Most commonly, guitarists alternate their strokes between their index and middle fingers. With years of practice, an experienced guitarist can use this technique to attain dazzling speed and attack while playing single-note runs. Picado is also used to play more leisurely melodic passages. In Flamenco, guitarists play single melody notes apoyando, as opposed to tirando. At times, guitarists will accompany passages of picado on the higher strings using bass notes played using the thumb tirando.

The Right-hand Position for Picado

To play picado, you will be using a variant of the ‘basic’ position that you used for tirando, with one exception. In picado, you may place your knuckles slightly more over the bass strings. This time, keep your knuckles parallel to the strings, planting the back of your hand parallel to the flat surface of the front of your guitar. Relax your wrist, allowing no movement from the joint.

Rest your thumb gently on the sixth string, stabilizing your hand while you play notes on the three highest-pitched strings. In a descending run, your thumb travels over to the golpeador on the closest side of the strings when you play notes on the fourth and lower bass strings. Return your thumb to the sixth string when an ascending run moves from the fourth to the third and higher treble strings.

Begin by playing the exercise slowly and evenly. In slow passages of picado, keep your fingers relaxed. The stroke’s power comes completely from your knuckles. Make sure that the other joints of your finger remain flexed. Alternate your movement as if you were ‘walking’ your fingers, each taking a swing of equal length, striking with identical force. Begin each stroke with each finger a tiny distance (perhaps one-half inch or less) from the string. Swing your finger in a direction across the strings and toward the soundboard (toward your chest). Hit the string with the tip of your fingernail, firmly and cleanly, following through until you bring its tip to rest against lower-pitched string next to the string that you just played. As the nail hits the string, the impact will force your tip-joint backward. When you play faster, or with greater emphasis, you will need to straighten your fingers more, making them stiffer, keeping the movement coming from your knuckle. Because your fingers become stiffer as you play faster, your tip-joint will not bend backward when it strikes the string.

Normally, your ring finger will move in concert with your middle finger (due to the peculiar anatomy of the extensor tendons in your fingers). Practice this, the most difficult of all alternations, in order to strengthen your weaker third finger: ‘m’-‘a,’ ‘m’-‘a,’ followed by ‘a’-‘m’, ‘a’-‘m.’ Make sure that your ring finger’s movement is the same as for the other fingers – from the knuckle. Your hand should be able to change patterns without moving as a unit.

Moving from the treble strings to the bass strings, or, conversely, from the bass to the treble strings, bring your whole hand across the strings in a straight line parallel to the bridge. This will maintain your hand’s and wrist’s constant posture relative to the strings. To keep the point of impact a constant distance from the bridge, bend your elbow while you move from treble to bass, and at the same time draw it outward and backward by moving your upper arm at the shoulder.

The Basic Rules of Picado

1. Always play your fingers alternately, regardless of changes in strings. Never play two consecutive notes with the same finger.
2. Move your fingers from their knuckle joints. Alternate your fingers with strength and consistency, with a swinging action, having no unnecessary movement.
3. Keep the posture of your right hand and wrist constant, relative to the string your fingers are currently playing. To maintain a consistent posture while changing from higher to lower strings (or lower to higher), move your hand in a straight line which is parallel to the bridge of your guitar.