One of the things that most beginner guitar players struggle with is learning how to hold a guitar pick. This is essential when learning guitar. Whether you want to play lead guitar or strum a few chords, learning how to hold a guitar pick will give you the musical skills that you need to play the instrument with fluency and accuracy.
Most beginners will often use their thumb to play single notes or strum chords, however, this can be problematic for two reasons:
- Using your thumb limits your speed.
- Strumming with your thumb can make your instrument sound dull and lifeless.
One of the best ways to overcome these hurdles is to learn how to hold a guitar pick. It’s a great tool that will help you with lots of guitar techniques, including; alternate picking, sweep picking, and hybrid picking.
In this article, you will learn:
- How to hold a guitar pick in 3 quick & easy steps.
- 10 epic exercises that will turbo-charge your picking skills.
- What the main differences are between pick materials & pick shapes.
- Our top 5 guitar picks for beginners, rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and much more.
There are many different ways to hold a guitar pick, however, we’re going to show you the proper way to hold a guitar pick.
Step 1 – How To Hold A Guitar Pick – Do A Thumbs Up Sign
Whether you play right-handed or left-handed guitar, simply clench your fist and point your thumb up towards the air with the hand that you use for picking.
Step 2 – How To Hold A Guitar Pick – Place The Pick On Top Of Your Index Finger
If you play a right-handed guitar, pick up the guitar with your left hand and place it on the top of your index finger on your right hand.
If you’re left-handed, pick up the guitar pick with your right hand and place the pick on top of the index finger on your left hand.
The pointy side of the pick should be facing towards you.
Step 3 – How To Hold A Guitar Pick – Grip The Pick Between Your 1st Finger & Thumb
The final step is pretty simple, once your pick is on top of your index finger. Place your thumb on top of your hand to grip it in place. It should sit between the fingertips of your thumb and your first finger.
When you do this, the tip of the pick should be clear to see. Ideally, you should be able to see between 5mm and 20mm of the guitar pick. When you first start, aim to have around 10mm of the pick tip showing, this will allow you to hit the strings clearly and will help your pick technique.
We recommend holding the pick as much as possible when you first start playing guitar. You don’t even need an instrument to do this, you could do this on your morning commute to work, whilst you watch TV or, even when you get a spare 5 minutes during your working day.
Now you know how to hold the pick, let’s look at 10 mini-lessons that will help you get used to using the pick.
#1 – Pick The High E String With A Down Stroke.
When you first study how to hold a guitar pick, it’s important to just on just one string. In this mini-lesson, we’re going to focus on picking the high E string.
- Hold the pick in between the tip of your 1st finger and the tip of your thumb.
- Bend your wrist slightly so it has a 45-degree angle adjacent to the string.
- Move your wrist in a downwards motion to pick the note.
When you do this, the notes should ring out clearly. This is a great beginner technique, after trying this a few times, you’ll be picking in no time!
#2 – Pick The High E With Upstroke
In this next mini-lesson, we’re going to focus on picking with an upstroke.
- Firstly, place your pick in front of the string.
- Move your wrist back so you hit the string with an upstroke.
- Use the edge of the guitar pick; your hand should be moving back towards you.
#3 – Pick The High E With Down Strokes And Upstrokes
One of the most common picking techniques is to pick with a down and upstroke. This is known as alternate picking. For this mini-lesson, do the following:
- On the high E string, pick downwards.
- Follow this with an upstroke.
This picking technique is used by almost every single guitarist and is essential to know when learning guitar.
#4 – Pick Multiple Open Strings With Down Strokes
For our next mini-lesson, we’re going to focus on using a downstroke on multiple strings. To do this, simply play each string with a downstroke in this order:
- Low E. (6th).
- A. (5th).
- D. (4th).
- G. (3rd).
- B. (2nd).
- High E. (1st).
Doing it this way will allow you to get used to picking across each string.
#5 – Pick Multiple Open Strings With An Upstroke
Another way to practice your picking is to play multiple strings with an upstroke. Here, we’re going to do the same thing that we did with exercise 4 but with upstrokes.
#6 – Pick Multiple Open Strings With Down and Upstrokes.
Now, we’re going to use alternate picking to play each open string. Here’s how this will work:
- Low E – Down.
- A – Up.
- D – Down.
- G – Up.
- B – Down.
- E – Up.
This is a great exercise that will improve your technique. If you fancy a bit of a challenge, you can go back up the strings in reverse, this will really help your picking.
#7 – Play An Epic Riff With Your Pick
When you play this riff, make sure that you use the tips of your fingers to fret the notes and apply enough pressure to allow them to ring out clearly.
Go slow at first and then build speed once you feel comfortable. The more you do this, the easier it will get. Playing this riff is guaranteed to give you loads of positive comments from all your friends and family.
#8 – Play A Scale With Your Pick
One of the best ways to practice using a pick is to practice scales. Scales are one of the main things you must know as a guitar player, this topic will help finger dexterity and your pick technique. Here’s a tab of an open E minor pentatonic scale.
You can pick this in 3 different ways:
- Down and Upstrokes. (Alternate picking).
The best way to do this is with alternate picking, but there’s no reason you can’t experiment with all three methods.
#9 – Strum All Your Strings With A Pick
Another common way of using a pick is for strumming. To get started, do the following:
- Hold your pick above the 6th string. (Low E string).
- Lock your arm and keep your arm and wrist straight.
- Push your arm down towards the floor, strumming all of the strings.
- Strum the strings four times.
As well as this, make sure that your posture is correct. Sit on a decent chair with your legs at a 90-degree angle and make sure that your back is straight.
When doing this, it is SO important that you keep your wrist straight (NOT bent!), strum from your elbow and keep your strumming arm straight.
Once you can do this with the open strings, you can use a chord that you’re comfortable with. This will help your fingers, strumming technique, and posture.
#10 – Strum A Chord Progression
Our favourite way to use a pick is to strum chords. For this final exercise, let’s strum a basic chord progression. We’re going to use these chords:
Here are those chords:
For each chord, make sure you fret each note with the tips of your fingers and that all notes are ringing out clearly; then strum each chord four times.
Want to see a pick master? You must check out Paul Gilbert, with over 6 million views on YouTube, his performance of his song ‘Technical Difficulties’ is a pure masterclass.
What About Pick Sizes, Shapes, and Materials?
Picks often come in many different sizes, let’s take a look at a few.
- A light/thin size pick ranges between 0.40mm and 0.60mm. This pick gives a soft, clear, shimmery tone and is great for strumming, but not so good for lead guitar. One thing to bear in mind is that thinner picks can easily slip out of your fingers and be more flimsy.
- A medium pick is great for players who like to play a mix of rhythm and lead in their playing style. They range between 0.60mm and 0.80mm, are great for beginners, and have a rich mid-range with a smooth top-end.
- A heavy pick ranges between 0.80mm and 1.2mm. These picks are used by guitarists of an advanced level. One of the comments about these picks is that they are great for lead guitar and can also provide way more attack for rhythm guitar.
In addition to this, picks also come in different shapes, here are the main shapes:
- Standard Pick – These are the most common guitar picks and for good reason too. They’re not too big or small and fit nicely in your fingers. If you’re not sure what pick to use, choose this one.
- Teardrop Pick – These picks are a lot thinner, these are great for guitar players with small hands.
- Triangle Pick – These are the widest picks of all, great for strummers.
- Shark Pick – These picks have a slightly unusual shape but are great for both rhythm and lead guitar. Use the jagged side for a hard sound and the rounder side for a smoother sound.
One of the cheapest ways to experiment with your tone is to try different pick materials. Here are the main materials used.
- Plastic is the most common material used for picks. Some of the plastics used include nylon or celluloid. These picks have a well-balanced tone, sound great for all styles of music, and come in a wide range of sizes suitable for all players.
- Metal is also used to make guitar picks. Metals used include stainless steel, nickel, silver, and aluminum. This style of pick doesn’t have as much flexibility as plastic and has a sound that is much brighter.
- Woods such as Ebony and Bubinga are used for making wooden picks. These provide a warmer and darker tone and are great for genres such as jazz and blues.
Now we’ve talked about how to hold a guitar pick, how to use it, and the shapes and materials, let’s take a look at the most popular picks available on the market today.
Best Pick For Beginners
Jim Dunlop Tortex Pick
Jim Dunlop is known for creating a variety of pick shapes, a standard pick, thumb pick, you name it, they’ve done it.
One of their most popular models is the ‘Jim Dunlop Tortex pick’. They’re available in more thicknesses that you can shake a stick at and are great for beginner guitarists as they sit well in your fingers, sound great, and most importantly are inexpensive.
Best Pick For Strumming
Jim Dunlop Nylon Standard Pick
The Jim Dunlop nylon pick is one of our favourites. The nylon material provides a tone that is more delicate than the tortex version. As well as this, the thinner size allows the pick to glide along the strings with ease, making it perfect for guitarists who love to play rhythm guitar.
Best Pick For Lead Guitar
Planet Waves Duragrip
One issue that guitarists have with guitar picks is that they can struggle to grip it. This makes learning how to hold a guitar pick difficult as it can often slip out of your fingers. One way to get around this is to pick a guitar pick that has a ‘grip’ section on the pick.
One of our favourites is the Planet Waves Duragrip, this pick has a textured section that your thumb grips onto. This stops the guitar pick from slipping out of your hand and is great for lead guitarists who love to play fast single notes and strong rhythms.
Best All-Round Pick
If you’re looking for a guitar pick that will suit a variety of genres, the Sharkfin guitar pick is a great choice. The tips of the pick are both curved and rugged, this allows the user to have an aggressive sound by using the jagged side, or a smoother sound by using the curved side.
Best Budget Pick
Out of all the guitar picks on the market, Donner makes the most affordable plectrums. They offer a set of 45 picks for under $10, meaning you’ll never be out of picks. This is great for the guitarist who is prone to losing plectrums. With this pick set, you get a variety of different thicknesses, from light to heavy, allowing you to choose the right pick for you.