Guitar Pick vs Fingers (what are the pros and cons for beginners)

Guitar Pick vs Fingers (what are the pros and cons for beginners)

As soon as you decided to play the guitar, you started making decisions. What type of guitar to buy, full size or smaller, steel strings or nylon, acoustic guitar or electric and so on. The next decision you need to make is whether to use a pick or finger pick.

The best way to decide is to think about your guitar heroes, how do they play the guitar? You probably only decided to pick up the guitar because of someone you like to listen to. So it makes sense to try to play like that person.

Another consideration is how comfortable you feel with the guitar. Some people just feel more comfortable playing guitar with a pick while others feel easier using their fingers. 

We would advise you to try both ways (with a pick and with your fingers) and see which feels more comfortable. Ultimately it’s your decision but below we’ve listed the pros & cons of both techniques to give you a better idea.

Playing The Guitar Using A Pick

This style of guitar playing is also known as picking (for obvious reasons) and involves holding a pick between your index finger and thumb. The strings are plucked using the pick which means you can achieve more sounds from the strings and have less chance of damaging the fingers of your picking hand.

What Are The Pros Of Using A Pick?

The benefits of using a pick include;

  • Louder sounding notes
    The pick is made from hard plastic (or metal), much harder than your fingers. This will make the notes ring out louder using a pick.
  • Consistent sounds
    When using a pick, each note will sound consistent whereas using your fingers can result in inconsistency due to the various ways your fingers can cause the strings to vibrate.
  • Rhythm guitar will sound more balanced
    Playing rhythm guitar involves playing chords to accompany the singer or soloist. This entails the chords ringing out clearly with all the notes sounding balanced. Which is easier to achieve using a pick. Trying to play rhythm using your fingers can result in emphasising some notes over others which can sound unbalanced and off key at times.
  • Easier to play fast
    Using a pick creates a faster vibration of the strings than plucking the strings with your fingers, this makes playing faster songs easier.

What Are The Cons Of Using A Pick?

The disadvantages of using a pick include;

  • Difficulty playing softly
    As you cannot feel the strings using a pick it is sometimes difficult to play the strings softly until you have practised lots. Using a pick can cause that harsh plucked sound which can be eliminated using fingers which can actually feel the strings.
  • Difficulty playing slow songs
    Due to that plucking sound that a pick makes, slow songs can sound off 
  • Difficulty changing musical styles
    If you’re required to change musical styles during a song, something which starts slow and soft and then changes to fast and loud before returning to slow and soft, it can be difficult to achieve using a pick. Your fingers learn where and how to position themselves correctly for just such an event. A pick doesn’t, it cannot because it doesn’t have muscle memory.
  • No two picks are the same
    Guitar picks are all different, not just the colours and designs, the hardness, length and thickness all vary as well. Plus there are some made from plastic, others made from nylon, celluloid, steel, etc. These all feel and sound different which has an effect on the way the strings sound when plucked using one.

Playing The Guitar Using Fingers

Playing the guitar fingerstyle involves using the thumb and fingers of your dominant hand to pluck the strings of the guitar. Your thumb and fingers pluck individual strings one at a time or at the same time.

This can be difficult to achieve at first but once you master it, any song or tune can be played using this style.

What Are The Pros Of Fingerstyle Guitar Playing?

The advantages of using fingerstyle guitar playing include;

  • Fuller sounding notes
    Plucking a string using a pick sounds just that, plucked. Using your finger allows you to create a richer, fuller tone from the same note.
  • Easier to play separate notes
    On some songs you need to pluck the 4th and 6th strings but miss the 5th string, this is easier to do using your fingers and incredibly difficult using a pick.
  • Certain musical styles sound better
    There are certain styles of music which sound better, more authentic when played fingerstyle. Styles like the blues, bluegrass, country and folk all sound better when played fingerstyle.
  • Easier to learn certain sounds
    Due to your body’s muscle memory, it can be far easier to learn which notes to strum and the power needed to make those notes sound good using fingerstyle as opposed to using a pick.

What Are The Cons Of Fingerstyle Guitar Playing?

The disadvantages of fingerstyle guitar playing include;

  • Finger calluses
    If you are a guitarist you’ll know all about the calluses that form on your fretting hand. They form to prevent too much pain in your fingertips. Fingerstyle guitar makes you prone to calluses in your other hand as well. We don’t see this as a problem, but some of you might.
  • Softer sounding notes
    The notes you play using your fingers will sound softer than those made using a pick. This can cause problems for some genres of music, specifically louder styles like punk etc.
  • Inconsistent sound
    Our fingers have different levels of strength and this can cause an inconsistency in the sound your guitar has when first starting to play using fingerstyle.
  • Difficulty playing fast songs
    If you try to play some of the really fast songs using the fingerstyle method of playing guitar, it is possible that your fingers will get caught up with each other. This will result in a noise rather than a tune.

If you find guitar apps helpful when learning, take a look through our list of guitar apps for 2023 that we recently reviewed and ranked.

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Which Style Of Playing Is Best?

After looking at the pros & cons of both styles of playing you might still be wondering which is best for you. As with most things in life, the way you feel most comfortable will play a big part in deciding which style will ultimately be best for you. Below we’ve listed a few factors that could help you to decide.

What’s Your Favourite Genre Of Music?

The type of music you prefer to listen to will probably be the type of music you want to learn how to play. This can make deciding which style of guitar playing to learn an easier decision. 

For instance fingerstyle guitar works best for blues, bluegrass, jazz, folk etc. Whereas punk, rock, metal etc will sound better using a pick.

With that said, it is possible to learn all genres using either method but it will take far longer using either style for certain types of music genre.

What Guitar Do You Play?

The type of guitar you play will make a huge difference to the way you learn to play it. For instance an acoustic guitar lends itself more towards the fingerstyle type of playing. Whereas an electric guitar with its thicker, more rigid strings will be easier on the fingers if you use a pick.

It’s not impossible to play either type of guitar using either style of playing. It’s just easier to learn fingerstyle on an acoustic and pick style on an electric guitar.

It is worth saying here that just because something feels easy doesn’t mean it’s ultimately right for you. We would suggest giving both styles a decent trial before making any decision.

Can You Use A Pick And Fingerstyle To Play The Guitar?

It is possible that once you reach a competent level of playing using one style of playing, that you then go on to learn the other style. This will take longer to master but it is well worth considering.

There are also finger picks which can be placed on your thumb and individual fingers to protect your fingers while you pick the strings in a fingerstyle. These will sound more like the strings have been plucked but can be used to great effect. They will give you the best of both worlds, allowing you the muscle memory of fingerstyle with the sound of a pick.

These finger picks are best suited to the acoustic guitar as they can get entangled with the stiffer strings on an electric guitar.

SEE ALSO: Light Vs Medium Guitar Strings (here’s how to choose)

What About Pick Or Fingerstyle For Bass Guitar? 

If you’re learning to play the bass guitar, the question whether to use a pick or not still applies. And once again it comes down to personal choice and preference. The reasons become different though, because the bass guitar is all about the sound, that should be your deciding factor.

If you want to play heavy rock or metal bass guitar then a pick is probably the way to go. If you prefer funk then using fingerstyle playing will probably be your best choice.

Fingerstyle Playing On The Bass Guitar

  • Playing the bass guitar using the fingerstyle technique will give you a beefier tone as well as more control over the tone and you’ll be able to switch between fingerstyle and slap bass techniques. 
  • There’s also the very real fact that you always have your fingers with you unlike a pick which could get lost or dropped etc.

Playing The Bass Guitar Using A Pick

  • It is possible to become a faster player using a pick in a shorter timespan than using fingerstyle will allow. However, it is possible to get just as fast using a pick, it just takes longer to get there. Where the real difference comes in is with the various tones available to the fingerstyle player.
  • It is possible that you can change the tone of the bass guitar using a different style of pick, but that will take some remembering when playing live. Whereas you always have your fingers available for use.

As with all styles of playing the guitar whether it’s a bass guitar or a six-string guitar, there is no right or wrong way. All there is, is the way you feel most comfortable, and that’s something only you can decide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to play guitar with fingers or pick?

It is neither better nor worse to play the guitar with a pick or fingers. Playing using a pick will produce a brighter, louder sound but using your fingers allows you to pluck alternate strings at the same time.

Should you strum guitar with fingers or pick?

If you strum guitar with a pick it gives a brighter, louder sound, but using your fingers gives a more rounded sound. Plus it is easier to lower the volume using your fingers as opposed to using a pick.

Did Jimi Hendrix play with a pick?

Jimi Hendrix did use a pick, he used to use a thin pick.

Does Ed Sheeran use a pick?

Ed Sheeran uses a pick on some songs but he uses fingerstyle on others.

Do any guitarists not use picks?

There are many guitarists that don’t use picks, for example Derek Trucks and Mark Knopfler never use picks.

Disclosure: We are a professional review site that receives compensation from the companies whose products we review.

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