As a beginner guitarist, it’s often easy to overlook the importance of holding the pick correctly. However, having a proper plectrum grip is a crucial foundation for developing good technique, and neglecting it can quickly impede your progress and hold you back. Whether you just want to strum a few chords like Neil Young or shred like Yngwie Malmsteen, the pick, its design, and the materials used to make it could be one of the keys to unlocking your playing potential.
In this article, I will show you the best way to hold a guitar pick, 2 wrong methods, and give you some tips on
Is there a correct way to hold a pick?
There isn’t a law that states you have to hold your pick a certain way, but there are definitely good ways and bad ways to hold one. Too loose, and it will fly out of your hand; grip it too tight, and you start to get cramps. It’s common to have a bad technique and not know for years until someone points it out. Here are some of the most common “bad ways” people hold a guitar pick and my preferred gripping method.
How to hold a guitar pick the right way
My preferred method is to sandwich the pick between the first joint on your index finger and the soft pad of your thumb.
Your index finger should face toward the tip of the pick, and your thumb should be perpendicular to your index finger, covering the width of the pick.
Some people close the rest of their fingers under the palm, you might find it gets a bit cramped, but the key is to relax. This should allow you to keep a solid grip on the guitar pick without having to hold on too tight. Keep your hand and wrist slightly relaxed to make picking and strumming the strings easier.
Bad way to hold a guitar pick #1: 2 fingers + thumb
A common bad pick gripping for beginner guitarists is to hold the pick with your 2 fingers and a thumb. You’ll use up more energy using two fingers, and your arm and wrist will tire out very quickly. This grip is also not as stable as my preferred method, so the pick may still fly out of your hand from time to time.
Bad way to hold a guitar pick #2: death grip
Even if you are holding the pick the right way, if you grip it too tight, you’ll be lucky to get to the end of the song before the arm cramp starts.
How tight to hold a guitar pick (to prevent it from slipping)
As I mentioned earlier, if you hold the pick too loose, you’ll drop it, and if you are playing an acoustic guitar, it may fall into the dreaded soundhole. You want to grip the pick tight enough so that you have control over it and it isn’t flopping around between your fingers as you pick. However, you don’t want to grip it so tight that you engage your forearm muscles. Doing so will only give you an arm cramp and take away from your playing experience.
There are plenty of picks that are designed with special grips, so if you are having trouble holding onto your pick, look for one with a textured design.
How to choose the best guitar pick
There are many different guitar pick varieties out there, from ultra-thick heavy metal picks to super thin and wide triangular guitar picks. It will take time to find the right one for your playing style, so you’ll need to experiment and know what to look for. Here are some things to look for when choosing guitar picks.
Good strumming picks are usually on the light side, while lead guitarists prefer a heavier pick. And if you’re a bass player, you’ll be best off looking at a heavy or an extra-heavy pick. These are the most common thicknesses you’re likely to come across:
- Thin (also known as “light”) guitar picks are between 0.45 mm and 0.70 mm.
- Medium picks can vary somewhere between 0.60 and 0.80 mm in thickness.
- Heavy guitar picks are usually between 0.80 and 1.2 mm in thickness.
Some picks even come in ultra-heavy thicknesses of up to 2mm.
Plectrums (tools used to pick any stringed instrument) have been around for centuries. The original picks were made of various shells or even feather quills. Until the 1920s, tortoise shell picks were the most popular option, but luckily, these are no longer legal so our friendly shelled creatures are safe!
These days, you’ll find most guitar picks are made of nylon, wood, or even metal. They all have a different feel and sound. The harder the material of the pick, the brighter and “clickier” the sound is, so most guitarists prefer using at least a mildly flexible material. This is not always the case, though.
For example, Brian May of Queen famously only uses a sixpence piece with a very light gauge of string, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top uses a Mexican peso.
I prefer nylon picks as they have a softer effect on your stings than metal or wood, but the choice is really up to you!
Guitar picking Techniques
There are a few different picking techniques that may slightly affect how you hold your guitar pick.
Strumming is when you play multiple strings once, usually when playing a chord. My guitar teacher always told me, “Strumming is in the wrist, not the arm.” When strumming a guitar, you should switch your wrist up and down slowly instead of moving your entire forearm. You’ll never be able to strum chords fast if you move your whole arm.
It takes good timing and hand-eye coordination to strum effectively. There are also more advanced strumming techniques like palm muting and complex rhythmic patterns.
Down picking is the easiest picking method, and likely the first one most beginners learn. You simply pluck each note by picking on the downstroke with your pick. This is an easy method, but it is challenging to play faster as you have to move your wrist back up to the starting position before each stroke.
Learning alternate picking is one of the first steps to becoming a solid intermediate guitarist. The concept here is that instead of moving your wrist back up to the starting position like you would in down picking, you play on the upstroke as well. So now, instead of picking only on the downstroke, you pick on each stroke. This allows you to play much faster.
Alternate picking takes time and dedication to learn, but once you master it, you will be a much better guitar player. A good, comfortable pick-holding technique pays off here. The key is to start slowly and get each note right before moving on. Use a metronome, and most importantly, be patient!
Lev’s picks: best guitar picks
Here are a few of my favorite guitar picks on the market.
Gator Grip by Jim Dunlop
I always have a variety of Gator Grip Picks in my gig bag. These picks don’t have a grip tread surface, but they have a matte finish that makes them easier to hold than traditional shiny finishes. Gator Grips feel great in your hand and come in up to 2mm of thickness, making them great for lead guitarists, bass players, and heavy metal guitarists.
Max Grip Jazz III by Jim Dunlop
Max Grip Jazz III picks might be the most popular guitar picks out there and for a good reason. These picks are super comfortable and easy to grip and come in a unique shape that really smooths out your playing experience. The tip of the pick is sharper and pointier than other guitar picks, which makes it perfect for precise lead guitar playing.
Picks will always play an important role in the life of a guitarist, and you can never have too many. I always make a habit of buying a pack whenever I’m in a music store. At the end of the day, you can get away with using any pick, but every guitarist has their preference on feel, thickness, and material that matches their playing style.