Some of you might read the title of this article and think, “Surely I don’t need to read a whole page to learn how to hold a pick.”
And many of you would be right, but for others, knowing how to hold a pick properly doesn’t come naturally – especially when you’re still getting used to strumming.
See on the face of it, it looks like a basic process – grab your pick and rake it across the guitar strings.
But there’s actually more to it than that.
Below, I’ll cover everything you need to know about how to hold your guitar pick perfectly when strumming.
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1. Choose the Right Pick
Before we go over how to hold a pick, we need to know what pick to use.
How many pick options are there? A lot.
To help narrow down these options, it’s good to keep in mind the three flat-pick features that impact sound:
This isn’t a “one flat pick to rule them all” situation. You’ll have to experiment with a bunch of different picks to see which one feels best for you. And when you find something you like, stick with it.
I personally like thick picks for flatpicking and lighter picks for strumming, but at the end of the day, it’s about what’s right for you.
2. Use a Proper Grip on the Pick
Alright, you’ve got your pick and are ready to play – but hold up! We need to go over how to hold it first.
Just like you have to master the proper right-hand technique before you start jamming, you need to master the proper grip for holding a pick.
To get started, pretend you’re holding a TV remote (see the picture below for an example).
Now, take a look at your pick. The flat pick has two ends – a thicker end and a pointed end. Place the pick on your index finger with the thicker end just south of the pad of your index finger.
Make sure that the pointed end of the pick faces the neck of your guitar.
Next, take your thumb and push down on the thicker end of the pick. Hold it between your thumb and index finger. The pick’s pointed end should be perpendicular to your thumb.
3. Use the Thumb as a Toggle Switch
One of my favorite things about the acoustic guitar is that it’s just you and the guitar. There aren’t any tone or volume controls – it’s all you.
The cool thing about the flat pick is that it gives you control over tone AND volume.
Like guitar picking, there are certain things you can do to enhance your guitar strumming.
When it comes to controlling the tone, think of your thumb as a toggle switch that can affect volume and tone.
Using your proper grip on the pick, press your thumb down until it’s at about a 45-degree angle.
You can see in the picture above that I’m pressing my thumb downwards. Now, tilt your thumb up to a 45-degree angle.
See the difference?
With that movement in mind, you’re going to apply this to your strumming. When you strum downward, toggle your thumb down. When you strum up, toggle your thumb up.
Keep in mind that this isn’t an exact science! The thing I want you to focus on is angling your pick up or down depending on which direction you’re strumming. This is going to give you great control over the tone of your guitar.
4. Adjust Grip Tightness
The tightness of a pick grip influences the volume and tone produced when playing your guitar.
A loose grip allows for increased flexibility and a softer attack, but it may result in reduced control and volume.
On the other hand, a tight grip provides enhanced control and a more powerful attack, leading to increased volume, but it sacrifices some flexibility.
A moderate grip strikes a balance between these extremes, offering versatility for various playing styles.
5. Relax and Manage Your Tension Control
This tip doubles as a picking tip AND as a general guitar-playing tip.
Be mindful of how you’re playing. If you’re rigid, you’re going to make more mistakes.
So relax your thumb, wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
When you play, I want you to imagine the pick as an extension of your hand. The more relaxed you are, the smoother your playing will be.
6. Pick Positioning and Tone Control
Where you place your pick on the string matters. Remember when I mentioned tone control? This affects your tone in a major way.
You’ll get a warmer tone if you place the pick closer to the neck or over the sound hole.
Back toward the saddle? It’s going to sound sharper.
The kind of tone you want will depend on what you’re playing. If I’m playing rhythm, I prefer to play over the sound hole because I dig the warmer tone.
Wrapping Things Up
Today, we covered the basics of how to hold a guitar pick for strumming. We looked at the different kinds of picks available, and the technique required to hold a pick correctly.
And now that you know how to hold a pick for strumming, the best way to improve is by playing – as much as you can!
If you’re interested in turning your guitar playing into a life-long habit, then check out my workshop, Tony’s Acoustic Challenge. It’s designed to help you see meaningful improvement while having fun simultaneously.
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