Not every guitar or bass player in the modern world uses a pick. The greatest rock guitarist of them all, in my opinion, Jeff Beck, doesn’t. Neither does Mark Knopfler, no slouch himself. But if you are going to use one, then learning How to Hold and Use a Guitar Pick is going to be important.
They go back a long way
Since we first had stringed instruments, we have had picks for the strings of some description. Starting with feathered quills, they went through a variety of materials.
Tortoiseshell was the most popular kind of guitar pick until overharvesting caused the Hawksbill Sea Turtle to be placed on the endangered species list.
Ivory, Bone, Steel, and Wood have all been some of the most popular guitar picks at various times. Today we have arrived and settled for plastic in its various forms.
Can it make a difference?
Quite a bit, actually. Different types of guitar picks will affect the tone of the instrument. They will also affect your attack on the strings and your technique.
So you are going to the shop to get some picks. What are you going to choose? Because there will be a lot to choose from.
Choosing the Right Pick
The shape is quite important and shouldn’t be decided by what looks the nicest. The shape of the pick should allow you to play your way. If you want brighter sounds, then you should choose a slightly pointed pick. But if it is a warmer sound with less definition, then you should choose a more rounded pick.
The size of your fingers might play a part in deciding. Choosing a very small pick if you have large fingers might not be a good idea. It has to be comfortable and easy to hold.
The thickness of the pick will determine its flexibility. Thicker picks will be stiffer. There aren’t large weight changes between them, but they can make a difference. There are three major guitar pick thicknesses we can take a quick look at.
Lightweight – Beginners
- Have a tone that has a lot of treble.
- Good for strumming chords.
- Good for rhythm guitar but not so good for solos.
- Some pick noise will be audible.
Medium – Beginners to Improvers
- Versatile in terms of style of play.
- A more rounded sound.
Heavy – Improvers to Advanced
- Better for electric instruments.
- Clean and crisp sound.
- Produce more volume.
- Offer precision on the attack level on the string.
- Very little pick noise.
You can also get ‘Extra-Heavy,’ which has similar advantages to the heavy. As you might have guessed, they are just a heavier gauge.
You will find that there are some fluctuations in how heavy guitar picks are. These aren’t large weight changes, but they can make a difference. To a certain extent, this will be determined by the thickness of the pick. Thinner picks weigh less and can be easier for starters.
A Bit of Advice
When you go to the shop, pick some bright colors. Picks seem to get lost so easily. With a bright color, you have got half a chance of finding it. Also, don’t buy one or two for the same reason, unless you want to go back to the shop every week to buy some more.
So you’ve decided what you want and been to the shop and come back with a few to last at least a few weeks. Assuming the dog doesn’t eat them. Now, we can get into how to hold and use a guitar pick.
Holding the Pick
This is an important area. If you don’t get it right, it won’t do what it is supposed to do. It also must feel comfortable as you use it. If you find yourself fighting with it, then something is wrong with how you are holding it.
You need to get this right. If you hold it too tightly, it is going to affect the way the guitar sounds and your fluidity of playing. It might also start to hurt after a while. Hold it too loosely, and it is going to disappear in the air the first time you strike a chord.
Reasonably tight, but without too much pressure is best. Hold it in between thumb and forefinger and shake your wrist around. If it stays there, then it’s probably about right.
I am not going to spend time talking about obvious issues. The pointed end needs to be directed towards the strings. You need to leave enough room to allow the pick to strike the strings cleanly. About half an inch of the pick should be visible from your finger and thumb. Slightly less for playing solos.
Strumming the Guitar
This is an area we haven’t got the space to go into here. There is a range of opinions on this one. Some say it should be a wrist movement. Others wrist and elbow combined. Some say just an elbow. Although that has now become a bit “yesterday.”
The most important thing is that it feels comfortable. Playing the guitar, be it electric or acoustic, or bass, is about feeling comfortable with your instrument. If you find a way that suits you and it doesn’t give you bad technique, then that is fine.
Try it Out
You don’t need to know or be able to play a chord. Just strike all six strings in a downward motion. Then strike the same but in an upward motion. Did the pick stay in your fingers? Did it feel comfortable? You’re halfway there.
Playing up and down motions is a good way to get the feel of a guitar pick. But it is not the only way of playing. You can use the same idea with individual strings. Take the 6th string on a guitar or 4th on a bass and pluck it down. Then up, on the same string.
Repeat it several times, trying to keep the strikes evenly spaced, creating a rhythm. Try it on all the strings. Then when you are comfortable, alter the speed you do the exercise. Speed it up whilst still keeping an even strike pattern. Move up and down the strings playing each in turn.
An important thing to be aware of when you are practicing like this is known as articulation. You might be trying to relax your playing hand with the pick, but don’t overdo it. Too relaxed, and you might not be striking the note hard enough. The contact with the string should allow you to hear the note clearly.
Our selection of informative reviews should be able to help. So, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Guitar Strap Lock, the Best Humbucker Pickups, the Best Portable Guitar Amplifiers, the Best Guitar Amplifiers Under $200, the Best Finger Picks, the Best Guitar Wall Hangers, and the Best Guitar Tuners you can buy in 2021.
And don’t miss our reviews of the Best Guitar Cables, the Best Electric Guitar Case, the Best Guitar Tool Kits, the Best Guitar Humidifiers, the Best Electric Guitar Pickups, and the Best Acoustic Guitar Pickups currently on the market.
Take your time to select what picks are best for you. Personally, when I use a pick, I carry two options, a medium and a heavy. That is for the bass guitar. But I find it covers most things not only on the bass but also on guitar.
To find what is best for you, try a variety of weights and sizes. This Fender Premium Picks Sampler could be a good option. It’s a 24 pack that includes thin, medium, and heavy gauges. Another option is the Donner Celluloid Guitar Picks 16 Pack. However, the bonus is a very useful pick case to carry them around.
And for something more personal, you can create your own picks with a 6 piece Custom Guitar Picks. You can personalize them with your image or text. Try and experiment and get what is right for you now. That may change over time as your situation or ability changes. But there will always be plenty to choose from.
Until next time, let the music play.