How To Hold A Guitar Pick

How To Hold A Guitar Pick (like a pro)

If you’re just starting on your guitar playing path, one of the most important things to learn is how to hold the pick. Grip the pick too tight and you’ll be developing tightness in the forearm, muscle fatigue and possible RSI. Hold the pick too loose and you’ll find it flying across the room.

Fortunately learning how to hold a pick is an easy skill to master, and, just like riding a bike, once you learn how to do it correctly, you’ll never forget it. The most important thing to get right is choosing the right pick.

How To Choose The Right Pick

Picks come in various sizes and thicknesses, the sizes range from small picks with a slight pointy bit at one end, then there are the medium size picks which are slightly larger, and finally the large pick which can often be shaped like a more defined triangle. 

Picks are classified for easy choice, thin, medium and thick.  Thin tend to be too soft to strum the strings properly, medium are our preferred choice and thick are more suitable for soloists. As a beginner, we would suggest you choose a few different types of thickness and sizes, so you can get a feel of what one suits you best. Guitar picks are also available made from different materials, plastic, rubber or metal.

As you are just starting out, we would suggest choosing plastic picks of varying thicknesses to see how you get on.

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The Correct Way To Hold A Guitar Pick

We have found what we believe to be the easiest way to hold a pick, and we would like to share it with you. We’ve laid it out in simple step by step form to make it easier to comprehend.

  1. With your strumming hand, make a thumbs up sign
    make a thumbs up sign You’ll notice the fingers make a convenient platform for supporting the pick.
  2. Lay the pick on the side of the index finger
    Lay the pick on the side of the index finger Make sure that the pointed bit of the pick is sticking out slightly and try to position the pick between the middle and top joint of the index finger.
  3. Lay the thumb on top of the pick to hold it in place
    Lay the thumb on top of the pick Your hand should now have taken the form of a loose fist, with the pick poking out of the bottom of the hand, between the thumb and index finger.
  4. Apply just enough pressure to hold the pick in place
    You should be aware you’re gripping it lightly, but not actually holding on for dear life.
  5. Strum the guitar strings in an up and down motion
    How does the pick feel? It should feel secure but not ridiculously tight, and loose enough to not cause any discomfort, but not so loose it will slip from your grip.

Keep strumming the guitar to get a proper feel of it and adjust your grip accordingly. 

SEE ALSO: The Top Apps To Learn Guitar For Beginners

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If you find guitar apps helpful when learning, take a look through our list of guitar apps for 2024 that we recently reviewed and ranked.

Ways To Use The Guitar Pick

There are 3 ways to use the guitar pick while playing the guitar, and they are strumming, plucking and picking. Strumming is used as an accompaniment, by brushing all or most of the strings to create a harmonic sound.

How To Strum The Guitar Using A Pick

The secret to good strumming is a loose elbow and a loose wrist, trying to strum when your arm is tight or stiff will result in painful arms, and poor strumming action. There’s the downward strum, where you start at the top string and connect with every string down. Or the upward strum, which starts with the bottom string and connect with every string up to and including the top string.  

Strumming forms the basis of many guitar accompaniment work. Either in a song where the guitar strummer keeps the rhythm going complimenting the singer with a full, multi-string sound creating the correct timings for the song. With every directional strum signifying the beats of the bar. Or in an instrumental piece doing the same task but accompanying a solo instrument (either a lead guitar, saxophone etc).

The sound you are trying to achieve is a gentle, regular sound, that stays in the same tune as the piece of music played or sung. That involves chord changes and a regular solid strumming technique. Strumming should be practised constantly to improve your technique, speed of strumming and ability to maintain that regular beat.

How To Pluck A Single Guitar String Using A Pick

Sometimes, while playing you’ll want to emphasise one particular note. This could be as part of a simple melody or just create a one note sound. To pluck one string, place the tip of the pick on the string (just like you were strumming) then just strike that one string. As soon as you have hit that string, gently pull your arm slightly away from the strings to avoid plucking any of the others by mistake.

Plucking can accentuate a particular note, emphasising that notes dominance in the tune. It distinguishes that note from the other 5 usually created when strumming. Plucking a single string will often result in a stronger grip on the pick, you should be aware of this and adjust accordingly when you go back to strumming.

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How To Pick Guitar Strings Using A Plectrum (Pick) (Sweep Picking)

Guitar Picking

Guitar picking is similar to strumming but when strumming you are trying to blend the notes produced when brushing each string. Whereas when picking, You are trying to emphasise each note in succession. This takes a lot of practise to master and a lot of concentration whilst playing. Picking, often called sweep picking, is used to play large arpeggios smoothly. Once again sweep picking entails a slighter tighter grip on the pick and a tendency to drop the pick at least until you develop the habit of sweep picking correctly.

You will find it far easier to learn how to pick, once you get better at strumming.  Remember plucking is the first step to picking, master strumming and plucking and picking will be far easier to achieve. 

Pick Holding Technique

Sometimes the grip you have on the pick isn’t the reason things aren’t going so well. It could be the angle you present the pick to the strings. If for instance, you need to grip the pick really tightly to prevent dropping it whilst strumming it could be your angle of attack is wrong. Aim for around a 45 degree angle to just brush the strings. Going at them at an almost flat angle can cause you to hit the strings way too hard.

When plucking or sweep picking, you can alter the sound of the string, just by slightly changing the pressure you exert on the pick, the difference in pressure  can change the volume for example. A lighter grip will create a softer, quieter sound, whereas a tighter grip will sound louder and harsher.

Tips For Buying Guitar Picks

As we said earlier, guitar picks come in different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, and materials. Being new to playing guitar, you can’t possibly know which will suit you or your style best. Our advice would be to buy a large selection of various sizes, materials and thickness picks. They’re relatively inexpensive to buy, so we would suggest anywhere between 10 to 20 different types as your first selection. 

Take your time using each one, and remember how you felt, and how the guitar sounded, whilst using each different type.  Once you have made a choice, go back to the guitar shop and buy at least 10 of your favorite type. Guitar picks tend to disappear constantly and depending on the type and thickness chosen, the tips of picks can wear down quickly, especially thinner plastics.

The Thickness Of Picks

Picks are gauged by their thickness and measurements usually in millimeters (mm).Plastic picks are usually available in sizes ranging from, 0.4 mm, up to 3 mm. Try a range of sizes to see what suits you, most guitarists do better starting with a medium plastic pick somewhere between 0.60 to .080 mm.

Pick ClassificationThickness In MillimetersMostly Used For
Thin0.40 mm to 0.60 mmAcoustic strumming/treble dominated sounding
Medium0.60 mm to 0.80 mmAcoustic rhythm and strong solo work
Thick0.80 mm to 3 mmJazz musicians and heavy metal guitarists

We would suggest you buy a pick holder to keep your picks in one easy to find place. As they wear out you can throw them completely away, knowing that picks still playable are in the pick holder.

SEE ALSO: Guitar Pick vs Fingers – the pros and cons for beginners

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a correct way to hold a guitar pick?

There is a correct way to hold a guitar pick. The pick should be placed between the index finger and the thumb, with just a small tip protruding. The pick should be held by exerting the correct amount of pressure to hold it in position but not too much pressure to cause you discomfort.

Should beginners use guitar picks?

Beginners should use a pick to get them into good habits from the start. Also the left hand will have enough new sensations due to holding the strings down to create a clear sound. Without causing any unnecessary discomfort to the right hand that could have been avoided by using a pick.

 Is it OK to play guitar without a pick?

It is perfectly OK to play guitar without a pick. Many guitarists learn to play both with, and without a pick. 

Does Eric Clapton use a pick?     

Eric Clapton uses Ernie Ball heavy picks from the Eric Clapton signature picks they created for him.

Did Jimi Hendrix use a pick?

Jimi Hendrix used a Fender medium pick for most of his playing career.

 Is fingerstyle better than pick?    

It is generally easier and faster to play with a pick than playing using fingerstyle. But many guitarists prefer fingerstyle and often perfect a fingerstyle that is accurate and fast.  As with most things in life, you get out what you are prepared to put in so our advice is practise, practise, practise.

When should you throw away a guitar pick?

You should throw away a guitar pick as soon as it starts to show any signs of wearing out. Our advice is to actually throw it out, otherwise, when the one you replace it with goes missing, you will pick up the worn one again. To prevent this throw the old one in the bin as soon as you notice it has any signs of wear.

Is it bad to strum with your thumb?

There is no right and wrong way to strum, if you prefer using a pick that’s fine, if you’d sooner use your thumb, that’s also fine.

Why is it so hard to strum a guitar?

The reason it is so hard to strum a guitar is because to maintain an accurate speed and volume, you have to concentrate quite a bit, and the longer you practise the easier it will become.

What is a guitarists hand pick called?

Another name for the guitarists pick is the plectrum. And is derived from the Latin word plectrum, meaning to strike

Can I use a coin as a pick?

You can use a coin as a pick, use a small coin and remember it will be hard, and definitely affect the way you play the guitar. The guitarist from Queen, Brian May uses old sixpenny pieces as picks. Using a coin will knock the strings out of tune more regularly, and wear the strings out faster too.

Why does my strumming sound bad?

There are 3 main reasons for strumming to sound bad. The guitar could be slightly out of tune, just one string knocked a fraction out of correct tuning can make strumming sound bad. Pressing the strings down too hard when forming chords can also make strumming sound bad, as can striking the strings too hard, or at the wrong angle with the pick. 

What’s the difference between a lead guitarist and a rhythm guitarist?

Lead guitarists tend to not play chords, they play infills, arpeggios and riffs over the top of the rhythm. Rhythm guitarists use chords to keep the rhythm of the tune going. Although they both play the guitar, lead guitarists and rhythm guitarists do completely different tasks in the composition of music. It just so happens they use the same instrument.

Is rhythm guitar easier than lead?

Certainly rhythm guitar is easier to learn as a beginner, but some rhythmic sections can be quite challenging, and once you have mastered the scales etc, lead playing becomes a much easier task than it first seemed.

Can playing guitar cause elbow pain?

Playing guitar can cause elbow pain. However if you are using the correct technique, for playing, the body will adjust to the new demands and the pain will diminish.

How many hours a day should I practice guitar?

When first starting out, you should set yourself the target of no less than 15 minutes, and no more than 1 hour per day. This will give you enough time to form a regular habit, and not too much time that it feels like a chore

Do you strum all strings on power chords?

You only strum the strings you are fretting on power chords, all others should be muted.

How hard is it to learn guitar by yourself?

Learning to play the guitar yourself can be quite hard, as you have no one to correct any mistakes. However the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton had no formal guitar lessons at all. So although it can be hard it’s clearly not impossible.

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