You may have wondered how to hold a pick so you don’t seem like a beginner to somebody watching.
Truth is, holding a pick, like any other technique, is a personal thing. If you feel comfortable doing it with the way you hold it and can do it for hours without feeling discomfort in your wrist and arms, it’s probably okay!
A pick or plectrum as some like to call it- is a little piece of every guitarist‘s heart. We own so many of these, yet we always seem to lose them just when we pick up the guitar.
In this article, we take a look at the ways to hold picks, and which shapes and sizes may be the best for you.
I’m not going to talk about products here; if you’re looking for decent picks to buy, check out my list of best picks (ahh, I don’t have one written yet!).
Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Do You Need A Pick?
Before we get into what picks you need, let’s talk about why and if you need a pick.
As a beginner, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by what some guys can do with a pick.
You can play just fine without a pick but I would advise you to try both. Learning to play with both picks and fingers opens up a whole new world in your playing. It does take some practice to get used to the movements but it’s all worth it.
Using a pick helps with dynamics. When musicians talk about dynamics, they are talking about how soft or loud you are playing.
Playing with a pick can help you adjust the angles at which you hit the strings and how loud you can play. If you’re going to be strumming for hours, using a pick will also help prevent your strumming hand from hurting.
When I’m playing rock songs on an electric guitar, I find using a pick more intuitive than using my fingers. And you can get way more powerful sound with a thick pick than you can with your fingers. If you want to learn metal, you should work on your pick skills a lot.
Also, playing with a pick is necessary if you want to play like Eddie Van Halen. Pickups on an electric guitar tend to pick up stronger string vibrations more if you play with a pick.
If you want to improve your playing, you should basic techniques properly. That involves using a pick, playing with fingers, basic sweeps, tremolo, and legato. So, I strongly recommend using a guitar pick.
What Do I Mean When I Say Playing With Fingers?
When strumming acoustic guitars, I find that not using a pick helps me get a lighter sound that sounds nicer in a way. Many guitarists adopt a unique playing style that they use for an acoustic.
You have four fingers (excluding the thumb), and if you decide to play the guitar in a ‘classical’ way, what you do is- make a claw shape with your hand and place that over the strings.
I know how terrible the coordination can be at first. You’ll struggle to play even the pentatonic scales when trying for the very first time.
Guitar players think that some players are elites who are born with natural talent. Personally, I think that’s a shitty excuse. I taught myself to play classical, so I also know that it gets better with practice. These days, my fingers move effortlessly and so will yours if you keep at it!
Just show up every day and put in the work, and you’ll get better in no time.
Best Pick For Beginners
There’s so much you can do with a guitar pick when playing leads but as a beginner just starting out, playing even a simple melody can feel like the hardest thing in the world.
Somebody just starting out on a guitar will feel discouraged if they try a small pick. So, I would advise you to get used to just holding the pick with a firm grip and plucking strings while fretting a chord.
You’d pick the 2nd string and the 3rd string and 1st string and find some pattern. Practicing that to a metronome is a great idea!
Best Pick For Playing Leads (Intermediates)
If you’ve ever been to a guitar lesson at your local store, your teacher will give you a pick and tell you that using a pick to play single strings is vital for further progress. There are many techniques that depend on your proficiency in picking an individual string– like sweep picking and legato.
I play rock and blues solos often and I use a Jazz Pick. I tend to prefer small thick ones that are teardrop-shaped. These provide greater dynamic control over guitar strings which is always a good thing.
If you want to get better and develop a personal voice on the guitar, mixing up the angle of attack of a pick with guitar pedals is also a great way to discover new sounds.
Does Pick Size Matter?
Your playing should never be a compromise between control and speed and all of your strokes should be clean and precise.
For that, the amount of time you spend practicing is a huge factor. Pick size is also something that makes a lot of difference in how you sound.
Absolute beginners should worry less on pick sizes but they should try holding picks with a good grip nonetheless.
A thinner pick will feel less sturdy and while it’s great for strumming, it won’t fare well when playing metal riffs or complex melodies. I find that a lighter pick does not sound as punchy as a thicker pick.
Picks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and heavier picks are very good for lead lines while I find that thinner picks have their place in acoustic strumming. Having a heavier pick also helps with pick techniques on an electric one as it means you’ve got more control.
The Ideal Way To Hold A Pick For Beginners
I am not saying that you should hold your pick this way but I find that minimizing my arm motion and playing with my wrist allows me to have improved dynamic control.
I’ve also dropped my pick a bunch of times when playing– thanks to my sweaty hands, so these days, I stick to picks that have a solid grip.
There are many ways to hold picks but what I was taught, and has worked for me is- you put a pick between your thumb and index finger and bend your index inwards. Push the pick in so only a small part of the pointed end is outside.
You want to use a small portion of the pick and alternate your strokes with minimum wrist movement. The smaller your motions are, the faster you’re able to play.
The Practical Way To Hold A Pick
The most common way to hold a pick is by holding it between the thumb and index finger. That way, you can get some speed for tremolo picking but you risk losing the grip easily.
Some players also like holding the pick with their thumb and pinkie finger, apparently called L’il Buddha grip. I’ve tried to play this way but find it awkward.
It’s actually easier to hold a pick the wrong way than to hold it with a tight grip. So, it’s very important that you drill in good habits early on in your playing.
Alternate picking scales and arpeggios is a great exercise that not only helps you improve your dexterity but also musicality and expression if you do it mindfully.
Bluegrass players often use chicken picking, which is just using a pick in conjunction with your fingers. It may feel odd at first, but just like any technique, you’ll get better at it with time and practice.
Whichever way you choose, you should only pick with a tiny portion of your pick so you have more control. I find that this lets me play any style of music I want as well.
Using Different Picks For Different Strings
There are many types of strings, and you can be really technical about it and say something like thicker string gauges respond well to a light pick, or that using a thinner pick on it will make you lose tone. But, I think it’s not that significant for a regular guitarist.
I would, however, recommend that you don’t use a pick on nylon string guitars as using fingers offers you better control over the dynamics and form.
If you are into fingerstyle, you can look into the thumb pick and must-have guitar accessories on our site too!
Do Picking Angle And Position Affect Sound?
If you are playing metal or fast shreddy licks, you want your pick to be firmly positioned in your fingers so you have more control over your picking techniques.
You can also experiment with pick angles to see which is the most comfortable for you.
Where you pick on the guitar also seems to produce a difference. If you are picking the strings directly above the soundhole on an acoustic guitar, you get a louder sound, and if you are nearer to the bridge, you get a tinny distinct sound.
I like to play the strings a bit towards the neck but you’ll have to see for yourself what kind of sound you prefer.
Using a variety of picks is a great experience to add to your arsenal of skills in your guitar toolbox.
You can spice up familiar melodies with chicken picking and even add hip basslines. It comes in really handy when trying to master complex melodies.
I strongly recommend that you don’t stick to just using a pick and venture into some fingerstyle and chicken-picking so you have a diverse set of skills.
Regardless of how you choose to hold a pick, you should always avoid loose grips as they give you less dynamic control. Grip the pick tight, and practice economy of motion, and practice alternate picking early in your playing, and you should be improving fairly quickly in your guitar journey.
Will playing with a pick make me faster?
Yes, and no!
In my personal experience, I’ve found that my speed improves drastically when using a thicker guitar pick compared to when I’m just playing with my fingers. It’s probably because I learned to play with a pick early on, and even started my first lesson alternate picking open strings.
It all depends on what you’ve practiced and what gets engraved into your muscle memory. There are guys like Mark Knopfler who play just fine without a pick.
What pick do I use for a good rhythm tone?
I feel that using a thin pick for acoustic strumming and a thick one for playing single-note lines works best for me. You should experiment with picks till you find the one that you like.
The simple truth is after a few tries – you will find picks that you absolutely love.
How do I improve the grip on my guitar pick?
You can try wiping your hands and picking with a clean cloth before playing. You can also try sanding a portion of the plectrum so you have a rough surface for gripping.