Guitarists often tend to put a lot of emphasis on the fretting hand, with the picking hand rarely getting much attention. As is the case with any musical instrument, to play it right and play it well, it needs to be an extension of your body. From that point of view, the picking hand is just as important.
The guitar pick might seem like a humble part of the equation, but it is the interface that connects the guitarist to the guitar. As such, holding the guitar pick properly is really important. Here is everything you need to know about holding a guitar pick correctly.
Why You Need To Hold The Guitar Pick Correctly
Are you experiencing any one of the following?
- Not being able to play as quickly as you want
- Not being able to play the guitar accurately
- Consistently keep dropping the pick in the middle of playing
- feeling a general discomfort in the picking hand when playing the guitar for any reasonable length of time
- Feeling disconnected from the guitar
- Not getting the best sound out of the guitar
If yes, then there is a good chance that you are not holding the guitar pick using the proper technique. By learning how to hold a guitar pick the right way, you will be able to make great progress and become an overall better guitarist.
The dream for any guitarist is to be able to play without having to think just like you don’t have to think before breathing. Hold a guitar pick correctly, and you will get a step closer to achieving that.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick Properly?
This might sound counter-intuitive, but the first thing you need to know is that the guitar pick must be held in such a way that you do not feel like you are holding anything. It should feel natural. As alluded to earlier, the pick should feel like a natural extension of your bare fingers. Here are the steps to get there:
- Clean your palm, fingers, and the pick. Moist or oily hands will make the pick slippery
- Hold the pick between the thumb and index finger in such a way that half of the pick is covered
- The thumb and index finger should cross each other
- Apply just enough pressure to have a firm grip on the pick but in such a way that it doesn’t feel tiring. Don’t pinch the pick but hold it as gently as you can without dropping it when you pick the strings
- Experiment with the position of the pick and the exact amount of force till you find something that feels natural and produces the right tone
- Know that you will have to find different sweet spots for different genres and pick thickness and material
To put it simply, there is not a single correct way to hold a guitar pick properly. A lot depends on things like your natural strength, the length and thickness of your fingers, and the style of music you are playing. The key is to find something that feels natural and almost effortless.
Having said that, there are definitely some improper techniques when it comes to holding a guitar pick, such as
- Gripping the pick too tightly
- Stabbing at the strings instead of gliding over it
- Being too focused on the pick instead of the music you are playing
- Trying to get there in a hurry. It will take some time. Have patience and focus on getting the technique right, and you will get there eventually
Ask any renowned guitarist out there, and they will tell you that it is all about making small incremental gains instead of making one huge step each day.
The Different Ways To Hold A Pick
It should be very clear that there is no one correct way to hold a guitar pick. Each guitarist will eventually find something that works the best for them, and everyone’s exact technique varies ever so slightly. However, all the different techniques or methods employed by successful guitarists can be divided into the following three broad categories.
The Pinch Method
This might seem like the most natural method to hold the pick. The pick is held between the tip of the thumb and the index finger in a way as if you are pinching the pick. This method works just fine for strumming but isn’t accurate enough for any other type of guitar playing.
The ‘X’ Method
This is where the thumb and the index finger cross over each other and form an X. The pick is held in between. This offers you the most power and precision, but the tone can be a bit on the harsher side. Ideal for playing leads and using thicker picks.
The ‘O’ Method
This is the method of holding the pick in such a way that the thumb and the index finger form a big O. The pick is held between the point where the thumb and the index finger meet. This is the method that tends to offer the best compromise between the other two methods. It gives you just the right amount of precision and tone.
Check out a video guide to understand the ‘O’ method more clearly:
One thing common among all these techniques is that the pick should come out of the side of the thumb instead of the tip of it. This allows the pick to continue the motion of the wrist naturally and makes you feel more connected with the guitar.
Every seasoned guitarist uses a combination of all three techniques depending on the type of music they are playing. Try experimenting with all three, and you will eventually figure out when and where to use each technique.
Finally, just remember that music is all about expressing yourself creatively, and you might find that none of these methods to hold a guitar pick may work for you.
What these techniques give you is a starting point to get to where you need to be to become the guitarist you have always dreamed of becoming.
The Proper Way To Attack The Strings With A Pick
You might be holding the guitar pick correctly, but you might still not get the results in terms of accuracy, longevity, and tone. This is usually down to the way the pick makes contact with the string.
The angle of attack is very important. Instead of holding the pick perpendicularly to the strings, it needs to be at an angle both vertically and horizontally.
Additionally, instead of trying to hit all the strings, glide over them. The goal is to cause the strings to vibrate with minimum resistance on the pick. This will also reduce the unwanted slapping sound that is created when the pick meets the strings.
Another very common mistake that beginner guitarists make is by producing all the force needed with their fingers. The entire picking motion should actually come from the wrists. This does not mean that your fingers should be stiff. They should be flexible, but the power behind the picking motion should come from the wrists.
The Best Guitar Pick For You
Does the guitar pick you use matter? It does but not to the extent many would suggest. Still, it is worth knowing the best way to hold a pick based on the pick itself. Guitar picks can be analyzed based on their thickness and the material it is made from. Let us start with the thickness.
These are picks that are under 0.70 mm. These are great for strumming and light picking. Any one of the three techniques mentioned above will work here. Thinner picks offer the most feedback, but they can feel a bit uncomfortable to play with for a long time. They also tend to be the least durable.
Picks That Are Of Medium Thickness
This is the pick that is between 0.70 mm and 0.84 mm thick. This is usually the most common type of pick most guitarists will end up using. It provides the perfect middle ground between power and precision. It works well for both strumming and picking. It also provides a more natural grip. Both the ‘X’ style and the ‘O’ style work well.
These are picks that are greater than 0.85 mm in thickness. These are primarily only used for picking. They offer a more comfortable and sturdier grip and are great for shredding and other techniques where fast picking is required. The ‘X’ method of holding the pick works best with these picks.
Really Thick Picks
These are the more exotic type of heavier picks that can be more than 1.20 mm thick, even 10 mm or thicker. These are more experimental in nature and is generally only recommended for seasoned guitarists who want to try something different.
Now let us look at guitar picks based on material:
Plastic: This is the most common material used to make guitar picks. The ones that come with a groove or some form of texture offer better grip. These do wear down rather quickly, especially when playing guitar quickly, but they are relatively inexpensive. As for the way to hold them, it really depends on the thickness. Just make sure to keep your fingers dry, as these picks can become quite slippery.
Wood: This is a much less common material used to make picks. They are great for guitarists who sweat a lot, as they can absorb a lot of moisture. They also produce a softer tone. The ‘X’ style works best to hold such picks.
Metal And Other Exotic Materials: Stainless steel, brass, bronze, copper, aluminum, titanium, etc. are well-known metals that are used in making picks. Also, some of the rarest materials such as exotic stones, glass, shells, and horns are used to produce picks. They can produce some interesting tones, but it can be difficult to get a good grip.
Different Picking Techniques
The proper way to hold a guitar pick also depends slightly on the picking technique used. Here are some of the most popular picking techniques and the recommended way to hold the guitar pick.
|Picking Technique||Brief Description||Suitable Way To Hold The Pick|
|Down picking||Involves contact only on downward strokes||Any method works|
|Alternate picking||Contact is made with both the upstroke and the downstroke||The ‘X’ or the ‘O’|
|Sweep picking||Multiple strings and notes are played in a single sweeping motion||‘X’|
|Economy picking||A combination of alternate picking and sweep picking||‘X’|
|Hybrid picking||A combination of any one of the above techniques and fingerpicking||Whatever you are most comfortable with|
There are other less common picking techniques as well, but these usually tend to be a slight variation of one of the above or a combination of more than one of these methods.
If you are someone starting out, then alternate picking should be a method you should try to learn actively. It acts as the perfect gateway to other more advanced picking techniques. Alternate picking also allows learning to hold the pick properly while offering great speed, accuracy, and tone.
Not every guitarist is created equally, and the process of becoming a better guitarist is a never-ending journey where you keep discovering little things to get better at your craft. Finding the best way to hold a guitar pick is an important part of that journey.
However, it doesn’t mean that you must be consumed by it. Use all the tips and advice here more as a guideline and less as a rule. The last thing you need as a musician is to box yourself. Hopefully, everything mentioned here so far will help you get there as quickly and as easily as possible.
About the Author
Gustavo is a music teacher and classical guitar player from Brazil, currently residing in Dublin, Ireland. He holds a graduate degree in Classical Guitar Performance from the Federal University of Pelotas. In 2020, Gustavo successfully completed a Master's degree in Sound Engineering from the Academy of Sound in Ireland.