We must face it: If there were one voice more likely to claim superiority in this debate, it would be the folks from the old-time community. This is justifiable to the extent that old-time should be performed, untampered, for eternity. As anyone sensitive to traditional music can attest, each region that the music is played in accounts for differences and quirks, and represent a vast diversity within a seemingly narrow field. More importantly, however, these differences suffice as a light which breaks the notion that tradition is stagnant.
The difficulty is providing context for guitar players. I am 100% positive that old-timers would be open to flat pickers, if they came to the table with an admittance of their wrongdoings and a foot in the right direction. This, simply, isn't the case, because there is not an easily-accessible portal into this specialized music. I can hear the screams already: "Why, on earth, should there be an 'easily-accessible' portal into old-time music? Are you crazy?" No matter how you spin the coin, there are acoustic guitar players who are going to play fiddle tunes on their instruments. Furthermore, this population of musicians is so small, comparatively, that the old-time tradition is not faced with any real threats. Of these guitar players, many come from non-bluegrass roots. For these individuals, discovering the practice of flat picking was a saving grace. Just imagine what joys would be felt if they discovered that the source of these tunes is as natural as a flowing spring; as expansive as the plains. They have made it so close. Why should they be denied access?
This only takes into account basic goodheartedness. One must also consider the fact that Neanderthals were considered non-human, bruits until just very recently. Now referred to as Homo Neanderthalensis, anthropologists are at a place in time where their technology and biases allow them recognize the invalidity in this (consider how the population felt with Darwin asserted that we all descended from African ancestors). Now we accept that the Neanderthals, more similar than different from us, were highly cognizant beings; apart of us.
Extending this to our dilemma, we may find that flat picking's lineage is not as clear cut as we may expect. In bluegrass banjo playing, we can trace its origins with very little research. In fact, old-time three-finger style banjo playing is a studied discipline. It took a mind like Earl Scruggs' to carryout a psychological breakthrough as large as his. In this way, his place in history is rather fortuitous. The guitar, omnipresent like a piano, has characteristics that are more passive than the banjo, making it less easy to talk about.
It also requires a piece of material to create a substantial amount of sound through a guitar, unlike a banjo which can be struck with a finger nail and contribute. The use of a plectrum, in old time, tends to be a dark subject, unless its means is to weave rhythmic fabrics. This is understandable: The flat pick carries an all-knowingness in its inherent specificity. And to remain immovably democratic with a medium that can, most naturally, carry a melody in a highly literal manner is a responsibility unbeknownst to most anybody, let alone guitar players. This is where I address old-time musicians most directly: I assume the responsibility of presenting this to flat pickers. You have only to remain as open minded in this area as you have in others.
Before making a proposition nearly as preposterous to some as Darwin's was to 19th-Century America, it is important to assign a perspective to my claim. I wish to appeal to rhetorical means, not evolutionary ones, for I believe that is the cardinal folly which led to the current political state of the guitar. What is flat picking? At this point, we've made it clear that the flat picker by the roadside has not very much to do with it. To establish a rhetorical framework, it is not enough to assert something's skeletal likeness to some other thing, though it is a start. Perhaps my claim will suffice as the first of many discoveries in this field of research.
Flat picking is a technique carried out on the guitar. It is used most ostensibly in a genre of music called bluegrass. Its presence is not encouraged in the world of traditional American music, whose repertoire is appropriated (varying by degree) when flat picking is carried out in a purely instrumental way. Until this point, both are considered forms of folk music to the untrained ear. To the trained ear, one is more traditional than the other. In other words, bluegrass owes its heritage to old-time. It is most popularly accepted that the late 1940s marks the point in which these two lines split. This point in history was a number of years in the making as string band music continued along a track of popularization during the 1920s and '30s.
What if it were asserted that this idiomatic approach to the guitar existed before bluegrass music made the radio waves? How hard would that be to fathom? And, if not hard to fathom, how significant would this piece of information hold? If a source indicated that a melodic approach to the guitar could be achieved, while still holding true to the stylistic demands of old-time music, could it be believed?
Whether or not a source of this unlikeliness exists, it does not matter. The will to flat pick a fiddle melody is present, this much is known.
I believe the last half-century has improperly canonized a practice whose original intentions were more innocent than they are made out to be. I also believe that the means necessary to make this reflection are almost too rigorous to justify the existence of the practice itself. For this reason, I believe we should start anew.
Perhaps the most logical conclusion one comes to when forsaking their origins, in a strange land, is to change their name. Hopefully we are all at a point when we can easily realize that this in vain, if we expect salvation to make itself known in a different environment. The pesky laws of existence are always right around the bend, aren't they? Grandmother becomes a wolf around some; the wolf may become the grandmother around others. For this reason, we must not expect anything by freshly generated nomenclature. What we may expect from it, however, is a point of reference that is shared among us; we may regard the thing, while looking simultaneously looking past it.
This area of study is certainly interdisciplinary, and can only exist in the shadow space between two otherwise disparate practices. Let this acceptance be known, even though it has been chosen to label the discussion something entirely different; to reflect an assemblage of thoughts pertaining to a subject matter that seeks to blossom, with seriousness, in an environment currently serving other demands.