Holding a guitar pick might be a real issue for beginner guitar players. It is not rare for a beginner player to drop guitar pick or simply hold it in a way that makes the whole learning process even harder. The electric guitar is usually played with a pick, but of course, there are players like Mark Knopfler and Jeff Beck who mostly play without it. Depending on the style of music you play, there are several techniques you can use that might solve your problem. Guitar playing is never easy, but there is no need to complicate it even further with the wrong playing.
While there isn’t a certain, 100% correct way to hold your pick, there are several things that are wrong and will not sound good. The simple answer for everything would be that there are no right or wrong ways to hold a guitar pick, but there are certainly ways to make playing easier that will allow you to progress faster.
What Is The Best Way To Hold A Guitar Pick?
One of the best ways to hold a guitar pick would be with two fingers. Using only your thumb and your index finger. While it is not wrong to use the thumb and middle finger, the first method is more common. You might even see players combining index, middle, and thumb for playing, but this one would be the rarest of the three methods.
If you haven’t even started learning, the first method would probably be the recommended one. So let’s start with the first method.
If you are right-handed, you will use your right hand for picking, and left hand for fretting. If you are left-handed, usually you would do everything reversed. Close your right hand in a fist. Don’t grip too hard. Place a guitar pick on top of your index finger, around the first joint, and put your thumb over it. Now, the pointy side of the pick should be turned towards you, or where your strings will be.
The second method would be similar, but with a less closed hand. You would still use your index and thumb, but you will hold the pick as you’d hold anything else, with your fingertips. The pointy end of the pick would still be turned toward you and you’ll use it to pluck strings.
It is important to mention that you shouldn’t grip only the edge of the pick, nor should you hold it entirely in your fingers. There should be a visible part of the pick that should be around half an inch. If you left only the tip of the plectrum available, you might hit the string with your fingers. Now, this is not something that you want to do all the time, but more on that later.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick Without It Slipping?
Now, this is something I encountered before. While playing guitar, it is not a rare situation for a pick to just slip out of the fingers and fall on the ground. If you are playing live on stage, this might be a problem because it will be nearly impossible for you to find it in time. You should always have an extra pick near you just in case you drop your pick. But whether you drop the pick or it simply slides out of the position, you’d be unable to play properly or at all.
There are several tricks you can use to prevent the guitar pick from slipping. The first one and the most obvious one would be to tighten your grip. One of the other tricks you can use is to change the pickup brand. There are brands that create pickups that aren’t smooth and have some kind of texture that will prevent the pick from slipping. The last option is one that I don’t really like, but it certainly does the job. You can always use some kind of glue. Whether you use duct tape and make your fingers sticky or use some real glue (not superglue!), you will increase the traction or friction between your fingers and the pick. This way it will be less likely that your pick will simply wander out of its place.
If you are not sure which guitar pick you should get so it won’t slip, check out my post Best Guitar Picks & How To Choose The Right Pick For You
How Hard To Hold A Guitar Pick?
Now we already said that you can increase the grip or tighten it, but how hard is too hard? While it is absurd to talk about the real units of measurement, we will mention the approximate value that would depend on the player. You should hold the guitar pick light, but not enough to drop it. And you should avoid at all costs holding it too tight. If you hold the pick too tight, it will be extremely difficult for you to play anything. You will lose a lot of dexterity and more advanced techniques will be nearly impossible.
It is worth mentioning that your right hand would be in charge of dynamics, so you’d want to be able to pluck the strings both soft and hard depending on the song you play. If you hold your pick too tight, you won’t be able to accent the notes. You should practice finding that golden middle spot where your pick is laid comfortably in your hand.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick For Strumming?
When it comes to strumming, you’d want to hold your pick a bit tighter. Your wrist must be locked and all the movement needs to come from your elbow. You will use the combination of upstrokes and downstrokes running your pick across all six strings. Of course, there are chords where you’ll use less than six strings, but the mechanic is the same. Strumming is a technique mostly associated with rhythm and you’d want it to be more accented than the rest of the song.
You will hold the pick between your two fingers like explained and hit all strings upward or downward depending on the strumming pattern you need for the song. While we talk about hard and tight movements mostly, you should steel feel relaxed while doing it. You should never feel cramped while playing the guitar. But that will come with practice.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick For Speed?
Now there are probably lots of you thinking about sweet solos and how to hold a pick while playing something that is extremely fast. The fast guitar solos, arpeggios, and licks are played on one string at a time. Sometimes, part of the solo will have several notes played at the same time, but mostly there will be one by one note played really fast. You should start practicing these through scales and holding your pick the proper way. So let’s dive into some of the picking techniques and how to hold your pick while playing them.
Picking Techniques For Speed
Alternate picking is the most common and most useful of guitar picking techniques. It is a method of alternating between upstrokes and downstrokes while playing single notes. So for example, if you are to play two notes on the high E string, you would pluck it once downward and once upward. Combining this pattern for everything is called alternate picking. Now, this is the place where we will use the “relaxed hand” part. You will need your hand not to be locked in a place to be able to perform this. It will feel more natural and easier if you use your wrist to move instead of your elbow. One of the things you should avoid doing is using your thumb and index finger for movement. This is extremely inefficient and it will only make your learning slower. So once again, all the movement comes from the wrist. If you don’t believe, you should check how fast you can move your fingers, your hand in the elbow, and then simply wave. You will notice how natural it is to rotate your wrist compared to other movements.
While holding your pick, it is important to notice where you rest your palm (or the rest of the hand). You should try not to suffocate the tone or to stop yourself from getting a clear tone while picking. If you are in doubt, you can always put your hand on the bridge of the guitar.
This is one of the interesting techniques, and while it has origin in country music, it quickly found its way in other genres as well. The point of this technique is plucking two strings at once. Now, when you have two strings that are next to each other it will not be much of a problem. But if we talk about two strings, for example, the first and fourth, there might be some problems. While playing without a plectrum, this might not be a problem at all, using the guitar pick will make it almost impossible. The technique that can be used is called chicken picking. The idea behind it is to use your other three fingers while holding a guitar pick with your thumb and index finger. For example, you would pluck the fourth string as you would normally, but you will use your middle finger to pluck the first string at the same time. Using this can be further applied to both the ring and pinky fingers. While this is not the easiest guitar picking technique, it can certainly be handy.
Advanced Guitar Picking Techniques
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper. There are certain picking techniques that will require you to either hold your pick differently, change your hand position, and even “juggle” the pick!
It is not rare for people to switch between fingerpicking and plucking strings in one song. This is achieved by “hiding” the pick and using your fingers to play a part in the song. You can do this by either holding your pick with your index finger only, leaving your thumb and rest of the fingers to do the picking. The other way would be to hold the pick with your other fingers, leaving only thumb and index for plucking strings. While this is not the most efficient technique, and it might require you to juggle with the pick, it can surely sound good and has its uses.
This is one of the most advanced picking techniques that originated in the ’80s. The whole idea of the pick slanting is to use the circular motion of the wrist instead of the simple up and down routine. While using alternate picking, we would usually pluck the string, move to the other string and pluck it in a different direction (the up and down movement). The pick would usually hit the strings at a 90-degree angle. Now the whole point of the pick slanting is to upgrade regular alternate picking techniques. You would have to lock your fingers and use your wrist to change the angle of the picking when going from one string to another. Now, this is one of the most advanced techniques originally used by Michael Angelo Batio! One of his most famous lessons is called “speed kills” where he shows mind-blowing picking speed using this very technique!
There are several types of harmonics used for playing guitar. The natural harmonic would be the easiest for playing and wouldn’t require you to change your picking style. The second type is called pinch harmonics and you would have to make certain modifications to the pick holding in order to play it. The easiest way to get the natural harmonic is to lightly press the string at the twelfth fret. Unlike regular guitar playing, you would put your finger above the metal part of the fret. You don’t want to press too much, but keep it slightly above, and simply pluck the string.
Playing pinch harmonics can be a bit difficult for beginners, but it is a rather fun thing to do. You would hold the pick tightly, so the only small part of the pick can be seen between your fingers. Unlike the regular playing, where you would have a piece of the pick, here you would leave only the smallest part “free”. The moment you hit the string, you will need to twist your wrist a bit so that the string is touched by the flesh of your finger. While this will partially mute the string, it will create a recognizable sound. This high “squeaking” sound is called pinch harmonic. You might have heard it while listening to ZZ Top. Guitarists like Billy F. Gibbons and Zack Wylde are rather fond of this technique. This technique is at its best while using lots of distortion.
The third technique is called artificial harmonics. Now, this might be a bit more advanced and is in theory similar to the first one. But instead of using the twelfth fret, you’d be able to play it anywhere. This is a technique that will seem like forcing natural harmonics on any note you’d like. You will hold your pick between your thumb and your middle finger. If you want to play, let’s say, harmonic on the third fret. Your right hand would hold the third fret, and your index finger would slightly touch the fret of the fifteenth fret (like on natural harmonics). You will use your thumb/middle fingers to pluck the string that you’re fretting with your index finger. This technique requires a lot of practice and is not something that is easily played.
Common Beginner Mistakes With A Pick
Beginner players usually struggle a lot with their picking hand. It is normal. They usually either hold the pick too tight or not enough. It is not easy to find that perfect place for the pick and it takes a lot of practice. Among the most common mistakes would certainly be not using alternate picking. Alternate picking is one of the most efficient and economical ways to play guitar. Relaxing your entire hand and your entire body while playing is something that will come with time. Beginner players usually hold everything too tight, every part of their hand is cramped and they are trying and hitting strings too hard. You should practice the dynamics of guitar picking and using accented notes and playing with volume with your guitar pick. Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits once said that the plectrum is the world’s smallest amplifier. You can do so much with it and all you need to do is to practice.
We already mentioned lots of common mistakes and if you go through the steps and techniques, with enough practice all those mistakes will be behind you. The most important tip for holding a guitar pick is practicing. Everything else will come naturally.
For more information about common beginner’s mistakes, check out my post 27 Common Mistakes Guitar Players Make And How To Avoid Them
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