Flat Pickin’ Floating Exercise – Part I

 Flat Pickin’ Floating Exercise – Part I – Key of C

Hello fellow guitarists! Here is a flat picked floating exercise in the key of C to help you get around efficiently up and down the fret board.

The term “floating” is often used by flat pickers. Floating is simply a technique of using open strings to move between positions on the fret board without losing the continuity of musical thought.  Floating is not unique only to Bluegrass flat pickers but is used to great effect by finger style players as well as classical players. In fact, I was just reading through a Fernando Sor exercise in B minor which used an open B string to move from the open position to the six position on the fret board. In addition, the great finger style jazz guitarist, Lenny Breau often used floating in his improvisations to great effect!

Since open string notes are necessary, C major and sharp keys work best .  However, as long as open strings can be utilized, floating will work in flat keys as well. Using the open strings in conjunction with fretted notes played in rapid succession produces a cascading chiming effect which is very pleasing to the ear. Since floating is used extensively by flat pickers, this exercise will be centered around Bluegrass flat picking style. The music notation and tab is included in the links below on PDF files.

Exercises A.1. & A.2.


Exercise A.1. is a one octave C major scale utilizing the open D, G, B and E strings. It will move you from the open position to the fifth position on the fret board.  When you first try this,  using the open strings will feel counter intuitive to the normal fretted scale positions,  so practice it very slowly using a metronome until it begins to feel more natural. Listen to the chiming effects produced as you increase the tempo.

Exercise A.2. is the C major scale covering two octaves. Be careful of your fingering and use alternate up and down picking. Once again, make sure to practice this exercise very slowly and correctly and then increase the tempo gradually. It will take some work but you will get it!

Exercises A.3. & A.4.

Exercise A.3. Introduces the C minor pentatonic scale.  Since there are three flats, the only open string we can utilize is the G but this allows us to move effectively  from the third position to fifth position and higher. The C minor pentatonic scale will be utilized over a C major chord in produce a bluesy sound which is very common in Bluegrass soloing. The Eb provides a minor 3rd  against the major chord creating a crying sound. Try mixing this scale with the C major scale.

Exercise A.4. Adds the flat fifth (Gb) to the C minor pentatonic producing the C Blues scale. The flat fifth is another common sound in Bluegrass, Blues and Jazz soloing.

Exercise A.5.

Here are four licks utilizing floating to create lines using both the Major and Blues scale in C. Notice how we can move up and down the fret board. Practice these and then create your own licks!

Fiddle Tune – Wagoner


Here is a version of the traditional fiddle tune “Wagoner” in the Key of C using the floating concept with the E, B, G and D open strings. Work on this tune to help build your coordination with the fretted and open strings as well as moving up and down the fret board.


I hope you have enjoyed these exercises. Look for more floating exercise in the Keys of G, D, A & E in the coming months!

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