Holding a guitar pick or plectrum isn't really something most of us see as a skill to really learn. Just grab it between your fingers and strum the guitar, right?
Well, while holding a guitar pick is the first step to learning to play the guitar, if you start out holding it wrong, it can create a range of issues down the road and end up limiting your playing style.
Here are a few ways to change things up when it comes to your pick and how you use it --- you may just find a new favorite!
What Is a Guitar Pick, Really?
In the most basic form, a guitar pick is really anything you use to play the strings on a guitar.
A "regular" guitar pick is usually triangular, giving you a larger base to hold onto while picking with one of the tips.
Other styles of guitar picks include:
Thumb picks: Thumb picks attach to your thumb, allowing you to strum chords while leaving your other four fingers open for fingerpicking. These are common with blues players. Some styles have a built-in pick, while others allow you to clip your own pick in place so you can adjust the distance from your finger to the pick.
Fingerpicks: Fingerpicks attach to your thumb and fingers, allowing you to strum with the thumb and amplify the sound when fingerpicked. These are common with banjos and are also used with bluegrass guitars.
While these picking styles aren't for everyone, they can really open up your options for different playing styles.
How Can You Choose the Right Guitar Pick?
Every guitar pick is just a little different. As a guitar player, you should buy a range of picks, giving each a try and finding what you really like.
With most guitar picks being just 50 cents to a dollar, it's normal to notice you've built quite the collection over time!
If you bought a brand new guitar or a beginner's guitar kit, it likely came with a thick, basic pick. These picks are usually medium (M) to heavy (H) in thickness, and are plain, stamped plastic.
That said, there's more out there when it comes to picks.
The first change you may want to try has to do with thickness, with guitar picks being measured in millimeters:
- Less than 0.44 mm: Extra light
- 0.45 - 0.69 mm: Light
- 0.70 - 0.84 mm: Medium
- 0.85 - 1.49 mm: Heavy
Changes in guitar pick thickness can change the feel of your playing, and how smooth or stiff your playing will sound.
The next major change between guitar picks is the grip, or where you hold the pick. For a basic guitar pick, there is often no change from the playing edge to the holding surface.
Other grip texture options on the market include:
Indented: An indent on the grip end of the guitar pick allows your finger to form to the pick.
Rubber gripped: The rear of the guitar pick is made of non-slip rubber, with the tip of the pick remaining standard plastic.
Bubble gripped: Small ridges or raises in the plastic of the pick give you something to grip onto to avoid slipping.
Grip hole: A hole in the guitar pick allows you to pinch your fingers together through the center of the pick.
Another option is to buy stick-on grips, allowing you to use your favorite pick with added traction. These come in options such as rubberized, textured, or cork.
Have you ever wondered what a guitar would sound like if played with a wood pick? Or even metal? One option with guitar picks is changing the pick material.
These material changes will change the sound of your guitar, with popular materials including:
- Plastic, which is the most common default material
- Animal bone and horn
- Casein, a refined extract from milk
This doesn't even consider custom guitar picks made by craftsmen and artisans alike, with materials like computer motherboards and resin designs coming into play.
Size and Shape
While most guitar picks have a standard size, you may prefer a different size or shape.
"Jazz picks" are known for being much smaller, with the idea that less surface area between the pick and the strings will allow you to make quick transitions and maintain more control through tight solos.
Triangle picks are usually larger in size and allow you to play with any of the three tips around the guitar pick. Players that use these picks generally prefer them for how easy it is to use thanks to that larger shape.
Teardrop or round picks became a favorite for bluegrass flat pickers, letting them transition direction and strings more quickly.
Other differences you may find in guitar picks include the shape of the point and the overall shape of the pick in general, with a range of oblong shapes often shaped to match the artwork on the pick.
How To Hold a Guitar Pick
Before learning to hold a guitar pick, know that each musician will find a method they prefer over time. This means you might alter, change, adjust, and explore different picks and grips until you find what feels naturally comfortable for you.
That said, certain pick-holding methods are generally better for certain styles of music. As a guitar player, it's always good to try different styles of music, with new techniques and styles allowing you to grow overall as a musician.
Start with your picking hand in a shape similar to a handshake, with your thumb facing up and your other four fingers together.
Grab the tip of the pick with your fretting hand, and lay the base on top of your index finger on your picking hand, on top of the knuckle closest to your fingertip. Pinch your thumb down.
Strap on your guitar.
You can rotate the pick to best aim toward the guitar strings and place it deeper or shallower in your grip. Try strumming your guitar, making sure your fingers aren't hitting the strings.
This is a great entry-level grip for playing chords, basic runs, and strumming around the campfire.
Similar to the basic grip, you will hold the guitar pick between your pointer finger and thumb for the pinch grip.
Open your lower three fingers (pinky, ring, and middle finger) and slide the guitar pick more toward the tip of your index finger.
This style allows you to strum chords while leaving your fingers more available for fingerpicking style playing. The style became popular in blues and bluegrass playing, where the pick could be used to play the rhythm while the fingers could focus on stylized accompaniments.
Some players also find pinching the pick between their thumb and middle fingers simply to be more comfortable.
- While holding a guitar pick is relatively basic, slight changes in your picking style can result in big differences in your playing style and overall sound.
- It's important that you hold the pick firmly, but not too tight. Your grip should let the pick flex as it's designed to, but not slip out of your hands. This flex can be controlled by slight changes to where and how your thumb is pressing down.
- Strumming is done with the wrist and elbow, not with your fingers. This may take some practice.
Practice and Try New Things
Now that you understand guitar picks and the basics for holding one, take the time to try something new, adjusting to what feels comfortable and what works for your playing style.
As a musician, it's important to continue trying new things, including new songs, styles, and tools. Rocksmith+ remains the most interactive learning software for guitarists and bassists alike, so what are you waiting for? Whether you're a beginner or a pro, grab your pick, and strum along to one of 6,000 tunes to keep your music learning journey going and going.