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How to hold the pick

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In this course we will learn how to hold the pick. Indeed, playing with a pick can be very difficult for a beginner, that’s why learning how to hold it is a good basis.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

Welcome to this guitar lesson in which we will focus on the pick for beginners. We will talk about the basics to play with a pick, starting with defining what kind of pick to use. Then we will see in the second part how to hold the pick, and we will finish with a final section where we discuss the problems we can face to scrape the strings with a pick.

How to use a pick?

Before discussing the type of pick to use and how to hold it, it is important to ask whether or not you should use a pick.

Should I use a pick?

Well, the answer will be vague: it depends. Indeed, there is no obligation to use or not use a pick, it all comes down ultimately to a question of taste. Playing with a pick will sound different than playing with fingers. There’s no better or worse, it’s just different.

Note that the two ways are complementary: what one can do, the other can not necessarily do, and vice versa. An accomplished guitarist should be able to use both techniques depending on case and according to his desires. So nothing prevents you from playing with fingers or playing with a pick, it is advisable to be able to play both, for more flexibility in the future. But beware, the pick is not very easy to use when you start on the guitar, so don’t trust your first impressions about whether or not you enjoy the game with a pick! Allow yourself some time to feel comfortable with it before deciding whether to use a pick or not.

Start with a pick

Nevertheless, and despite what I just said on the matter of taste, I highly recommend to all beginners to start with a pick (except for classical and flamenco). Why? Just because switching from a pick to fingers is not very difficult, and you can always start in six months or a year. But switching from your fingers to a pick is much more difficult, and many of the beginners who start with fingers do not have the courage to start working with the pick later. And this is normal: when you have been playing the guitar for a year, and you get to play songs you like with your fingers, you do not want to end up again as a beginner and not knowing how to play properly when you have a pick in your hand !

So my personal advice is: start with the pick, at least you will have learnt the basics, and if you need it later it will leave you less to work on!

And in pratice ?

However, it's all theory. In practice, the choice of playing with a pick will depend very much on the style of music played. In general, the more we need a precise and strong attack, the more we will need a pick. So for all that is rock, funk, metal, a pick is essential. For everything else (or so) we will have the option to play with a pick or not. For classical and flamenco, the pick should be avoided. So obviously it is still possible to play metal with fingers, or flamenco with a pick, but it will require so much work for one poor result than it is just not worth it.

Now that this issue is resolved, we must now mention the type of pick to use.

Tthe important factor in choosing a pick

To choose a pick, the important criterion is its flexibility. The size of the pick is not very important, and will depend on your body, take one which you are comfortable with. The material with which the pick is made is not very important neither, even if it has an influence on the sound, when you start it's not your concern. The element to really look at when choosing a pick, is its flexibility. It will obviously be directly related to the thickness, but we will not talk about numbers here because it makes no sense, a choice of pick must be personal, not depending on a figure.

To determine if you have a soft pick, or not, or half, simply try to bend it. You will see that some will fold like a sheet of paper, others will not move, and others will bend just a little bit. This is the best way to define the flexibility of a pick.

What flexibility to choose ?

The issue is delicate. There are big differences between using a soft or a hard pick, both have advantages, both have drawbacks. I personally advise to choose a rigid pick to start, but don’t foolishly listen to what I say. Instead, I will detail the differences between soft and hard picks, and it will be up to you to choose, based on your personal feeling.

How will we use the pick ?

To choose a correct pick, think of what we’re going to do with it. The answer seems obvious: we'll strum. Yes, but the point to remember is that we will sometimes scratch the strings gently, and sometimes we'll strum hard. Here we have the main drawback of the flexible pick: we can scratch as strong as we can with it, it will bend on the strings and the sound will always be low. Using a too soft pick is to be avoided. However, we will not jump directly on a hard pick.

The wrist movement

Indeed, this variation of strong and weak attacks must be done with a flick of the wrist. We re-detail it in the third part, but it is essential to understand that it’s the wrist that is used when you scrape your string, and on the flexibility of the wrist depends the strength of the attack. But when you are a beginner, this movement is not natural at all. And if you scratch with a bad movement and a hard pick, it will sound horrible. Therefore this is the main drawback of the hard pick: if you do not control the movement of the wrist, the sound is ugly. While a flexible pick compensates the lack of flexibility of the wrist and will sound good in all cases.

Final selection

Now that we know all that, we can choose:

  • A rigid pick sounds bad if you do not scratch properly. It will force you to work the movement of your wrist, which is a very good thing. But beware, it can be frustrating and discouraging to spend several days / weeks not being able to play properly!
  • A flexible pick catches up your movement mistakes and sounds good in all cases. It will be very pleasant at first, but it might not make your right hand work properly and you’ll end up trapped with a bad move that that you will not be able to overcome.

It's up to you to make your choice, according to your ability to work, the time you have etc. ... Keep in mind that you always must work the movement of the wrist, without that you will not improve.

How to hold the pick

Preambule

How you hold your pick may well be important, but it is not the decisive factor that will give you a good sound or not. The most important is to make a good move, we will address this good move rapidly in the third party and we will detail it in other courses too. A good position will save you some mistakes.

Do not forget we all have a different morphology, picks of different sizes and more or less large guitars. The position that we consider today is not to be copied exactly, but to be adapted to your body. Keep the same basis, but try to find your position in which you will be comfortable. And finally, remember that I will use words to describe a position, which is not necessarily very practical. I encourage you to watch the video instead, where you can actually see what I'll describe here.
 

HOLDING THE PICK

The first element for a good grip of the pick is to keep it just between the thumb and index: the other fingers do not touch the pick. For this, we will fold the index, put the pick on the index at the last joint, and tighten the thumb. The tip of the pick should come out of the side of the thumb, not out of the end of the thumb. Feel free to bend more or less the index to be comfortable and adjust to your pick

The index

Please note that your index should not be too near to the tip of the pick, you do not necessarily see it as it is located under the pick, so be careful on this.

Let the pick exceed the thumb

We must not hold the pick too close to the tip (otherwise there’s no more room left to strum), nor too far from it (otherwise the pick is not held firmly enough). So find the right balance, which will again depend on your pick.

What about the hand ?

You can either keep the hand closed, or keep the hand open, it's a matter of taste. Just be careful not to over-tense your hand, if you decide to fold your fingers, do not tighten too much. And to end this part, do not forget to hold the pick relatively strongly. If too much, your whole hand is tense and if not enough, it will not remain in your fingers and it will slip constantly, and you may lose it. Again, find the right balance in order to be comfortable.

We will now move to the third part to talk a little bit of movement.

How to strum ?

This third part will be very brief for the simple reason that according to the style of music you play, the movement will be very different (see video at 0:30 for examples). So there will be other courses that will further explore these different tracks in more detail, let's see here just the basics which are common to all these techniques.

Flexibility of the wrist

The key point to understand how to strum correctly, regardless of the technique, is that the movement must come from the wrist and should be flexible. The forearm will not move (or so), the wrist will do the movement. The flexibility of the wrist will also allow us to develop all possible dynamic game between very soft and hard play, without having to change the pick.

The difficulty

The other main point, which is common to all the possible ways to strum, is the difficulty. The movement to execute is a movement which is not natural at all. And to learn a new movement, we must practice a lot. It's like learning to ride a bike: as long as you do not sit on a bike and it does not start rolling, you cannot do it, despite all the explanations of the world. Therefore, practice, fail, persevere, and gradually you will learn the correct movement. It is really essential to understand that you will have to practice over and over again, until the movement becomes natural.


It's all about the movement we’ll see in more details in other courses how to work it all.

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A painter paints pictures on canvas. Musicians paint their pictures on silence.
(Leopold Stokowski)