So you've chosen the right guitar pick for you, and now you're trying to figure out how to hold that guitar pick properly.
It’s surprisingly easy to hold a pick the wrong way, which can lead to bad technique and playing habits.
As with certain behaviors, you may need to force yourself to do it the right way for a while before it sticks and becomes second nature.
I’ve taught enough students to know that if you aren’t mindful you can easily slip back into old habits, which is what we want to avoid.
So, here’s how to hold a guitar pick correctly.
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How To Hold Your Guitar Pick – The Basics
Once you get a hang of the basics, the rest tends to come naturally.
Firstly, we need to look at which fingers to use.
A pick should be held between your index finger and thumb.
Beginners often make the mistake of holding it with their index, middle and thumb. You wouldn’t think it, but this gives you less stability overall. I find it can make your picking kind of stiff.
You can hold the pick between your middle finger and thumb, if you so desire. It worked for Eddie Van Halen, so it could certainly work for others. But it will be awkward at first.
So, for most, holding the pick with your index finger and thumb is ideal.
Secondly, we need to look at position.
In case you hadn’t noticed, a pick can be held several ways.
You can hold it at the tip.
You can hold it at the middle.
You can hold it at the wider end.
And, of course, there are plenty of variations in between.
I would suggest holding the pick somewhat close to the tip. This should make your life a lot easier, as holding it too long allows for less control and increases your chances of dropping the pick.
Thirdly, let’s consider angle.
Your index finger should be pointed in the same direction as the tip of the pick while your thumb is parallel to your strings.
Fourthly and finally, we must look at grip. I don't have any pictures for this, because there's no way to show what I'm doing. I can only talk about how it feels.
A lot of people tend to think you must grip the pick tightly if you don’t want it slipping out of your hand.
This isn’t the case. But you also don’t want to hold it too loosely.
Still, for the most part, I find that I have a loose grip with a pick, such that I don’t feel tired holding it for longer amounts of time.
Overall, it’s a little challenging to explain. But I would suggest trying with a loose grip, just not so loose that the pick easily flies out of your fingers.
These are the basics of holding a pick, and if you get the hang of this, you should do well with just about any technique you can name.
How To Best Hold A Guitar Pick For Strumming
Strumming is one of the most basic and perhaps most important techniques to master as a guitarist.
Strumming often forms the foundation of a guitarist’s rhythmic playing. Although not all guitarists rely on strumming alone for their rhythmic riffs and chord progressions, the majority do.
One of the ways strumming varies from picking is that strumming tends to come more from your arm (the elbow down), while picking mostly comes from your wrist.
This, perhaps, is even more important than how you hold a pick when strumming.
But as far as holding a guitar pick for strumming is concerned, it doesn’t stray too far from the basics we’ve already established.
There’s only one minor difference. When strumming, I tend to hold my pick a little closer to the middle, which is also what you’re going to want to do.
Beyond that, you'll want to tilt your wrist slightly upwards when performing downstrokes, and slightly downwards when performing upstrokes.
Here's me performing a downstroke:
And, here's me performing an upstroke:
Additionally, strumming doesn't require a big arm motion unless you want to strum aggressively. Again, strum from your arm and not your wrist.
That’s about it.
It can take a while to get the hang of strumming, however, so if you’re just getting started, don’t get frustrated. Everybody must start somewhere.
And, if you find that your pick is slipping a lot, it’s okay to grip it a little more tightly.
Best Way To Hold A Pick For Speed
A lot of guitarists focus on playing faster.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best not to try to play too fast too soon. At this point, you’re still just getting used to picking, never mind picking fast.
Still, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re going for speed, and they apply just as much to basic picking as they do to speed picking.
Here’s what you need to know about developing the right techniques for holding a pick for speed:
- Refer to the basics outlined earlier. They are highly applicable here. Holding your pick close to the tip is a must.
- Avoid gripping the pick tightly. It’s easier to achieve more speed when you’re relaxed.
- Your wrist should be tilted slightly upwards when performing downstrokes and slightly downwards when performing upstrokes. Sound familiar? Only, this should be even more slight than with strumming.
- Practice alternate picking. This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with how to hold your pick (besides the tips already mentioned) but it’s key to playing faster.
- Get used to holding a thick, stiff pick. It’s easier to play faster with a pick that has little give.
- Use your wrist, not your index and thumb to achieve speed. Speed comes from the wrist.
- Pick without setting your pinky or wrist down on the guitar.
Again, I’m aware that some of this has nothing to do with holding a pick. But if you’re interested in playing fast, these are all things you should know.
Although we could go deeper into each of the points mentioned, I honestly think it’s easy to overthink and overanalyze speed picking. And, when you think about it, it’s not a mental act at all.
Picking is more muscle memory than anything. That means you must teach your muscles the right habits. Without that, this is going to prove an uphill battle.
What If You’re Having Trouble Holding Your Pick? How To Stop It From Slipping
The first thing we need to address here is that holding a pick will feel awkward at first.
Let’s not forget that – as a beginner – you’re new to guitar. You’re teaching your fingers, hands, and arms to do entirely new things they’ve basically never done before.
It's like learning to ride a bike. It feels weird when you're first getting started. But as you keep practicing, it gets easier.
I find it funny when beginners forget that fact, but I understand that it can be frustrating at times.
So, the first thing we need to do is go back to the basics. Re-read the section from earlier if you must.
I know, holding a pick with your index and thumb will feel unnatural at first. But it’s the correct way.
Next, while playing the guitar will become second nature in time, you can’t expect it to come together all at once.
Just because you’re using the right technique now doesn’t mean you won’t have to reinforce it through practice (hint: you will).
You can relax your mind later. While practicing, you need to remain mindful and present (even critical) of your technique. It’s the only way to get better.
If you keep it up, you won’t have to think about it anymore. But at first, you’ll need to keep coming back to the basics until they stick.
As with any skill in life, there are four levels to competence. They are:
- Unconscious incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know. Since you don’t know that a specific skills even exists, you can’t possibly be good at it.
- Conscious incompetence. You’re now aware that you’re no good at a specific skill. But at least you know that you suck, and from that place, it’s must easier to improve.
- Conscious competence. You’re able to perform a task well, but not without applying your mind to it. You still need to think about each step as you're doing it, but you’re becoming confident in your abilities.
- Unconscious competence. The skill you were working to master is second nature to you and you don’t even need to think about it anymore. You’ve conquered the skill and your muscle memory takes care of the rest.
Not surprisingly, it takes time to work your way up the competence ladder. Learning any instrument takes a lot of practice. So, stick with it and don’t give up.
But I Saw So And So Holding Their Pick Differently! Are You Sure You Know What You’re Talking About?
If you look around, you’ll probably discover that guitarists don’t all hold their picks the same. Even their picking technique can vary quite a bit.
Does this mean that a lot of players aren’t holding their pick correctly?
There’s a simple truth that experienced musicians know well:
First, you must know the rules. Then you can break them.
What a lot of beginner musicians try to do is skip right to breaking the rules without understanding what they are. This generally doesn’t work.
Or, at the very least, it leaves you unsure as to what you’re doing right or what you’re doing wrong. And, that might mean having to correct your technique later, which isn't a lot of fun.
You're right, however, in observing that some guitarists hold their pick differently and even have weird technique.
Many people in the guitar community have observed how weird Marty Friedman’s guitar technique is.
But Friedman is an exceptional player and he’s 56 years old besides. I don’t think he’ll ever change his style, and I don’t think anyone who’s seen what he’s capable of would tell him to.
His playing style works for him.
In much the same way, there may be a specific playing style that ends up working for you.
But first, you should focus on mastering the basics. If they absolutely don’t work for you, fine, try something else. Otherwise, dedicate some time to practicing the technique until you get the hang of it.
You're not Marty Friedman, or at the very least, you're not at that level yet. Keep practicing until you're fluent in basic guitar technique. Then you can branch out as you please.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick Properly, Final Thoughts
Holding a guitar pick isn’t complicated by any means. It will take some time to get used to it, but that’s par for the course with anything new you learn.
So, stay focused and keep practicing. You will get better in time.
And, you probably won’t have to come back to this guide again once you’ve mastered the technique. So, go over it as many times as you need while you're developing as a player.
In the meantime, have fun and best of luck!