Have you ever wondered how to hold a guitar pick? If you’re like most beginners, you may just be realizing that you aren’t sure if you know the correct way to hold a guitar pick. Don’t worry; every guitarist has been in your shoes at some point. And once you can confidently hold a guitar pick, you’ll open up a whole new world of music.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick
Your guitar pick might seem like a small piece of gear. But the pick (and what you do with it) is one of the most important things when it comes to learning guitar.
Pick Your Guitar Pick
First, make sure you select the right guitar pick for you. The size and shape of the pick you need depend on your genre and playing technique.
Most guitar teachers and experienced players recommend that beginners start out with a medium guitar pick. Thin picks will often produce a “flappy” sound that can add an interesting element to your strumming, but not all players like it. Bluegrass players often prefer a thicker guitar pick because it delivers a clearer, more powerful low end.
But how do you tell the width of a guitar pick? Thinner picks are about 0.4-0.6 mm thick, while medium picks are between 0.6 and 0.8 mm. Thicker picks (usually called “heavy” picks) are between 0.8-1.2 mm. They offer reduced pick noise and are ideal for playing lead guitar.
The grip on the guitar pick is also worth considering. If you get sweaty fingers when you play, you’ll find that it’s awfully hard to hold a guitar pick in place. Some guitar picks have an indented or textured grip to help solve the issue.
The life of a guitar pick can vary, but thin ones tend to wear out faster. If you aren’t quite sure which guitar pick is right for you, a pick sampler pack of the thin, medium and thick guitar picks is often the best way to figure out which type you prefer. If you’d like some more guidance on choosing the right guitar pick for you, check out this helpful video on which type may be best for your playing.
Playing Guitar Correctly
Learning how to hold a guitar pick is important, but first, make sure that you’re in a position that feels comfortable. Many guitarists prefer to play sitting down, but you can play standing with a shoulder strap if you prefer. Regardless of how you play, make sure that your non-dominant hand is only used for fretting; it should not need to support the neck at all.
If you’re sitting down, be sure to keep your legs at a 90-degree angle. This will help keep your back and neck relatively straight. Hunching over can cause injuries, so make sure you don’t do that! Check out this video (below left) on how to hold a guitar and check your form before you start!
Even if you prefer playing sitting down, it’s a good idea to use a strap if possible, especially if you’re a new player. A strap will help hold your guitar in place, and it’s easier to focus on your picking and strumming technique when you don’t have to worry about your guitar slipping off your lap.
This video (above right) talks you through how to adjust your strap to ensure it will help you hold your guitar the right way.
Index Finger Position
Now that you’re comfortable with how to hold a guitar, let’s move on to the real focus of this article: holding a guitar pick.
The guitar pick is essentially pinched between your index finger and thumb. But getting the exact right position can be tricky. To make sure the pick is in the right place, curl the fingers of your picking hand (your dominant hand) into a fist.
Rest the guitar pick on your curled index finger, making sure the point is facing away from your palm. As this helpful video shows, ensure that your pick rests on the side of your index finger and not on the pad. Many new players try to pinch the pick between the pad of the index finger and the pad of the thumb, but this can both get in the way of your accuracy and cause a good bit of hand fatigue.
Make sure you take your time when it comes to learning to hold the pick. If you don’t learn to hold the pick correctly the first time around, the habit of picking incorrectly can become a very difficult one to break!
When you’re learning how to hold a guitar pick properly, your thumb placement is one of the most important things.
With the guitar pick still resting on your index finger, bend your thumb downward so the pick is pinched between them. Make sure you have a decent grip but don’t squeeze so hard that your whole hand feels overly tense. Getting the exact right grip may take a little time. Essentially, you should make sure that you’re gripping the pick just firmly enough to stop it from slipping.
In fact, clenching the pick too tightly will even increase pick noise. With a looser grip, your fingers absorb some of the energy of the pick hitting the strings and help reduce the click-like sound of pick noise. If you aren’t quite sure how to get the right grip, check out this helpful video on how to hold the pick without letting it slip.
There should be some of the pointy ends of the pick exposed. But how much exactly? If you’re primarily going to strum, err on the side of having a little more pick exposed. But if you want to play the lead, be sure you have a little less pick showing. Playing this way gives you a clean sound and makes it a lot easier to pick individual notes. It also makes speed picking a lot easier.
Middle Finger Position
Your middle finger doesn’t come into contact with the guitar pick. But its placement is important, too. If the middle or ring fingers of your dominant hand extend a little too far from your palm, they’ll just act like extra guitar picks you don’t need.
Generally speaking, you want to have some separation between your index finger and your middle finger. Some instructors suggest going for the approximate spacing you need when holding a pencil.
The exact placement of your middle finger, ring finger, and pinky depends on what you’re comfortable with and what makes playing easier for you. That said, many strummers tend to keep these fingers more curled toward the palm. That will help avoid the possibility of your fingers (and especially your fingernails) hitting the strings and causing extra noise.
You often see lead guitarists extending their middle, ring, and pinky fingers further outward and downward to make it easier to pick individual notes. Check out this helpful video if you want extra guidance on holding and using the pick. It shows you some useful tips for developing great picking techniques from the beginning.
Strumming The Right Way
Now that you know how to hold a guitar pick, you’re ready to start playing. Your first time strumming might feel awkward, but soon enough, it will just be muscle memory. Just make sure to focus as you learn.
One of the most important points of the strumming technique is that the motion comes from your elbow, not your wrist. Holding your elbow too stiffly won’t just have a negative impact on your sound — it also may cause painful elbow injuries.
Often, new guitarists try to hold their wrists at an angle. Don’t do this! Getting injured as a guitarist might sound unlikely, That said, take care to not hold your wrist stiffly. Make sure that your wrist is relaxed, and you’ll be more likely to achieve a smooth strum.
Make sure that your strumming hand is letting the pick hit all the strings. While strumming, you should hear a full sound without buzzing. To start, pick an easy-open chord (like a C major) and practice quarter-note down strums. Focus on hitting all strings equally. In some songs, it can be a deliberate stylistic choice to hit the low E string harder or the high E string.
But as you first learn, hitting the strings equally will help you develop better control of the pick. Again, make sure you aren’t gripping the pick too tightly. A little give will make your playing sound smoother. This useful video offers some tips and a demonstration on how to strum smoothly while using a pick.
Picking The Right Way
When playing single notes, it’s easy to fall into the habit of picking using only down strokes. However, especially if you want to be a lead guitarist (or even if you just want to play riffs well), make sure you start learning alternate picking. This isn’t the only way to pick, but it’s an integral part of being a versatile guitarist.
Chances are good that most of the riffs in your favorite songs were played with alternate picking. This pick technique is more common among electric guitar players, but it’s still useful to practice on acoustic guitar.
To practice alternate picking, you alternate hitting the string with a guitar pick with down strokes and up strokes. Basically, each down stroke is followed by an upstroke. This technique takes some focus to get right, but it’s well worth it. Be sure that you are playing accurately before you try to play faster.
Depending on the type of sound you like, you may find that you prefer what is called a legato technique. With this technique, you use your fretting hand for hammer-ons and pull-offs. This technique is also a great way to build up strength in your fretting hand.
Especially if you’ve just learned how to hold a guitar pick, make sure you continue to hold the pick the right way as you practice alternate picking.
You’ll need to hold the pick tightly enough that it doesn’t slip, but not so tightly that it causes extra tension. And as we mentioned earlier, It can help to choke up a bit on the pick so there’s less of the pointy end exposed. Check out this helpful video tutorial to get more comfortable with holding and using your pick to play individual notes.
Learning how to hold a guitar pick might seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference when it comes to how your riffs. And it’s one of the first steps to becoming a great guitarist!
Of course, part of the fun of playing music is letting your style and technique evolve. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different guitar picks. When you try out different shapes, materials, and thicknesses, you’ll be amazed at how different the exact same piece of music can sound.
And of course, even the simple combination of the strings you choose and the picks you play with can radically change how your playing sounds. Once you’re comfortable holding the pick, trying out new strumming techniques and picking techniques can be a lot of fun. Be sure to look out for pitfalls — this video shows you some common picking mistakes.
Want to Learn More?
Though teaching yourself how to play guitar is possible, having some level of professional guidance can help you make sure that you learn key concepts the right way the first time. And thanks to the vast number of good online guitar courses, that professional guidance is more affordable and accessible than ever. Regardless of your level of experience or the genre you want to learn, there’s an online guitar course for you!
We hope that now that you know how to hold a guitar pick, you can continue your guitar-playing journey with confidence. But what do you think? Do you have a helpful tip to add? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found our list useful!