Using a Guitar Pick – Tips & Tricks

Published: 21st November 2011
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A guitar pick is a triangular-shaped tool that is used to strum guitar strings to make chords, or individually pluck strings to play melodies. As with any instrument, it is important to start by understanding how to use and hold the various tools. It is important to get comfortable with your instrument and consider it an extension of your body, instead of something that you are simply using. Holding a pick the right way is crucial to achieving good picking patterns from your very first lesson. Keep it up and you will be able to achieve a beautiful guitar picking sound later on, even as the difficulty of the pieces you are playing increases.
Picks come in different sizes, but they are all roughly triangular. Choosing a pick that is comfortable for you to hold is one of the most important steps in learning to play guitar.
Since picks come in roughly three different thicknesses – thin, medium and thick – it is also important to get one that is the right thickness for you. The best guitar pick for a beginner is a thin or a medium one so you can get your technique correct right from the start. This is important so you can achieve a smooth strum as opposed to a harsh-sounding one. Thick picks are used to play faster melodies that are more difficult, but you need to develop your techniques first before moving onto those.
This is an important principle to remember for any instrument – always start off with slower pieces and beginner’s equipment and then progress onto faster pieces that are harder and upgrade your equipment in the meantime.

Instructions on holding a pick
It is important to hold the pick in the correct way. Holding a pick the right way comes down to three steps:
1) Put picking hand out as if giving a thumbs up with closed palm facing towards you and the back of hand facing outwards.
2) Place pick on top of first joint of exposed index finger with front of pick facing towards you.
3) Close thumb down onto flattop of pick. Don’t holds pick too tightly; pick should wobble without falling out of grip.
When you hold a pick this way, strumming a chord sounds just right. It should not sound too “harsh” if you are not holding your pick too stiffly.

This technique frees up your lower three fingers
When you hold the pick this way, your lower three fingers are free to strum or pluck other strings individually apart from the chord you are playing. This is an important grip to master, because you will be able to use these other fingers to do some fingerpicking of the guitar strings while you strum.

Common mistakes
- Do not clench your fist. This restricts the movement of your wrist and results in using your elbow and entire upper arm to move the pick instead of just the hand by leaving the wrist free and loose. The more you use your wrist to move your hand instead of your elbow, the more precise and accurate your picking will be.
- Do not hold the pick with your fingertips. If you use your fingertips to hold the pick, you can lose control of it easily while you are strumming.
- Do not hold the pick with more than your thumb and index finger. You need your other three fingers later on for playing harmonics and tapping, so make sure you get into the habit of holding it the right way when you start out so your technique develops from the start without having to alter it later on. It’s always harder to unlearn things than learn them the right way from the start.

Advanced picking techniques and tips
- By gluing a short strip of velcro on the pick with another strip on the back of your guitar, you have a convenient place to store your pick when you are not using it. This assures you always have a pick on hand and do not have to reach into a pocket for one or lose it. You can also keep an alternate pick here just in case you drop the one you are using!
- Some advanced guitarists use alternate picking techniques. If using their lower three fingers to pluck individual notes as part of the melody, then they lightly strum by holding the pick between their thumb and index finger. But if they are playing with any intensity at all and need a lot of energy for playing quickly, and do not need to use their lower three fingers, then they line up their middle, ring and pinky finger with their index finger (in the form of a loose fist) to give extra support because the thumb may be pushing down hard while playing with intensity. It’s also possible to alternate picking techniques. BlueTattooMusic –
- Sometimes it is a good idea to have a “pivot point” to support your hand while you are playing. You can use the front of your wrist by holding it gently against the face of the guitar above the strings, or if you do not need your lower, three fingers for any plucking work then you can use them to provide a pivot point. This is a useful picking technique if you are playing power chords on the lower (top) strings. If you use the wrist-technique as a pivot-point, as you glide up the scale you can continue to use your wrist to mute the strings that you have already passed so you do not have any resonance if you don’t need it for the song you are playing. Old7StringGuy –
- For some advanced songs it pays to have a pick that is actually slightly sharp on the end. You can easily sharpen your pick by swiping it a few times across a rough carpet. Bryan Aspey –

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