I was 17 when I moved to Nashville. The great Hal Rugg named my blocking technique for controlling the length of notes “Pick Blocking” because I do use the picks a lot for muting. Although that name has stuck, it’s not the best description of what is actually going on. The term “pick blocking” suggests blocking solely with the picks, a better name would be “Fingertip Blocking”.
To prevent confusion and frustration, I urge players working on their blocking to stop trying to visualize ‘blocking with your picks” in order to reconcile what “Pick Blocking” implies. Pick blockers interested in accomplishing this technique need to know that it requires you to “web” the pinky and ring fingers to the middle finger at all times.
Experiment and find your own fingerings using this hand position. Everyone has different physical attributes, so there is no definite “one way” to finger a scale or phrase when using Fingertip Blocking.
UPDATE: This is my reply to a comment, it belongs here in the post, so I added it. – Paul
I would guess about a third of what I play is blocked by the actual pick itself, mostly with forward and backward roll choices. When picking descending lines moving across the ten strings I use the fronts of the “webbed” fingers (see video below) to accomplish the mute. I would guess about a third of my blocking is accomplished using those fingers.
For the ascending lines across ten strings, the backside of the thumb blocks the remaining third in the same fashion. After the thumb picks, for example, the 8th string and then my index finger picks the 6th string, the thumb moves into the position to strike the 7th string allowing me to block the 8th string using the backside of the thumb itself, not the pick. This is done before the index strikes the 6th string.
Here’s an excerpt of the “Pick Blocking” video from the Course:
Here’s a close-up of my right hand:
After much discussion and experimentation, Hal Rugg, Buddy Emmons and I agreed that Palm Blocking and Pick Blocking (Fingertip Blocking) are two separate techniques that can’t easily be blended because they require two completely different right hand positions.
Hal wanted to switch from Palm Blocking to Pick Blocking.
At first, he was adamant on trying to use my preferred fingerings and even filmed my right hand. He was frustrated by the technique until he tried what I had originally suggested: “Web the pinky and ring finger to the middle finger and find your own personal fingerings that are easiest for you to play”.
Once he found the fingerings that worked best for him, his switch flipped, and he was able to apply Fingertip Blocking throughout his playing. You can hear the results of him using his own fingerings via the masterful technique displayed on his classic album “Altered Ego“ .