Holding the Pick

This describes different techniques of holding the pick.

Ultimate Guitar
As simple as this sounds, the way the pick is held may have some repercussions on the speed and accuracy of string engagement. I have been experimenting with three techniques: 1. The pick is held between the thumb and the left side of the pointing finger of the right hand. 2. The pick is held between the thumb and the pointing finger. 3. The pick is held between the thumb on one side and the pointing and the middle finger on the second. The first technique is used most often. The problem with this technique is the right hand either has to be twisted a lot or the elbow of the right hand has to be positioned to the middle or the lower of the guitar body in case the player desires to put the pick in parallel to the strings. Obviously, in case the player prefers to put the pick to an angle to the string, then there is no problem. The second technique is also used a lot and eliminates the problem previously described as well as allows for any angle of the pick towards the string as well as being in parallel. I love the third technique a lot. The third technique is basically the same a the second except the third technique provides a better mechanical stability. Also, because of the mechanics of the fingers of the hand, the third technique psychologically inclines the player to position the pick in parallel. Obviously, the third technique does not preclude the player from positioning the pick at any angle towards the string in the 3D space. Another slight advantage of the third technique is a stronger grip when large, triangular picks are used as well as a standard pick is used to play not with the sharper, playing edge but with one of the more rounded, non playing edges. For more on picks and techniques, refer to other articles I have written on the subject.

40 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This article tops your last one which stated that all acoustics sound the same no matter what their build is; nothing nearly as offensively WRONG. I'm glad you stuck with a simple topic.
    Steven Bayes
    I have completed the other article long ago. There is nothing to say more. Everything was said very clearly : SOUND CANNOT BE AFFECTED BY THE QUALITY OF THE MATERIAL SIGNIFICANTLY. The only exception may be an electrical guitar played unplugged. This situation is unusual and does not have any application other than practicing without an amplifier around, not being allowed to make noise and not having headphones, testing guitars in the shop if the testing amplifiers have been occupied... WHATEVER ONE DOES, ONE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO MAKE A SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE IN SOUND BY CHOOSING DIFFERENT MATERIALS. This is simple physics. On the other hand, I have always been agreeing : there is an INSIGNIFICANT difference with different materials. Instead of barking, do this : go to a guitar shop and play an expensive and an inexpensive guitar the same way and record the playing the same way. IF THERE IS >=20% DIFFERENCE, I'D AGREE WITH YOU. Otherwise, you can keep barking under the freedom of speech act. As far as the pick is concerned, your response may have been provoked by thinking the pick holding is related to sound. This is not what this article is. The article addresses the improvement of playing, mainly speed of playing, by choosing an appropriate technique or a combination thereof or changing the techniques on the fly. True is the pick position affects the sound quality tremendously.
    Actually i have done your little experiment and you sound like an ass right now because different density woods reverberate and absorb sound differently. If you take a soft wood like basswood it is going to absorb more of the guitars sound and that will effect the tone. Ebony provides a sharper tone because it is harder and doesn't absorb as much. Just because the change in tone isn't a 1000% different doesn't mean it's not different you are minimizing an art by saying that "Physics (and your logic from a physics basis is wrong too) says that wood can't change sound." I had two guitars made with different woods but with the same pick ups in them. They were nice seymour duncan pickups. I can tell you the difference i nsound was HUGE. In the bridge i had a seymour duncan jb of some sort and on the one it had a nice twangy higher gain sound then on the other it was muddy. My point is that it does very much effect the sound of a guitar. Perhaps you need to play more guitars.
    Yeah. I've been through this with him. He's just going to respond with 6-10 paragraphs of anecdotal evidence on why a $40 Epiphone sounds the same as a $3000 Martin; or "Insignificant." He might even bless you with the presence of the "Guitar Monopoly" topic and state the complete obvious. All the while, telling you the things YOU assume about guitars and the market. Don't bother, man. I'm only stating what IS going to be had of this topic. It's a stalemate.
    Battery Chicken
    If you honestly can't hear much of a difference between a $40 composite wood Epiphone and $3000 solid wood Martin then I would honestly question your opinion on anything guitar related.
    @Battery Chicken: I would too. In fact, I basically question this whole article, because I do #1 and NEVER have any issues. (And I play a fair amount of complex Thrash, so.../shrug ) In fact, if you're playing fast passages or riffs where short picking techniques are used, #1 is preferred.
    Steven Bayes
    Your point : THE TINIER THE PICK MOVES THE FASTER AND THE BETTER THE CONTROL is true and very good. I forgot to mention this specifically or I may have, I forgot. Thus the tinier the amplitude of the pick movements, the faster and the easier to pick the right string and the more stable the holding of the pick. SOME PEOPLE PREFER LARGE MOVEMENTS AND LARGE AMPLITUDES THOUGH AND THEY SAY THIS IS FASTER AND I AGREE TOO, BECAUSE THEY USE THE INERTIA OF THE MOVING PICK VERY WELL AND PERFORM SUPERB SPEEDS. May be more difficult or more unreliable may be less difficult and more reliable.
    Steven Bayes
    Instead of questioning the opinion, I would suggest you question the hearing because I cannot musically hear well, I. e. I do not have a good musical hearing nor good hearing at all as I have said in recent comments. Hence, I was looking for someone with equipment and guitars to do measurements but no one wants to do so or no one has access to all of these.
    Steven Bayes
    I have apologized to you too in some of the comments posted here. However, although I agree you would find clear difference, just try Epiphone DR 100 or AR 100 on one side and Martin HD 28 on the other. Martin has a better frequency response. I agree. However, I wouldn't say I couldn't hear the Epiphones at all. To smoothen you up a bit more, I would say again. I agree with you. The better the wood the better the sound.
    Steven Bayes
    I have apologized to you too in these comments. Also, I have never been looking for 1000%. I have stated clearly, I have been looking for 20% improvement but I am not much too sure whether I have said so in this web site. Anyway, you made a clear point you have achieved a huge performance increase with the same shape and pickups and different material, so I trust you, I take your point and, in case I ever have money, I would purchase an expensive guitar. I am not fighting I am just also saying I was impressed by three expensive guitars : an Acoustics Composite guitar, an Ovation guitar and a Dobro. They are not made fully out of wood but are very good. Martin HD28 is made out of wood and is also very impressive. I dream of full Ebony guitar although I am a great fan of full Mahogany guitars which are available at other than custom made prices. Ebony is harder and louder. Mahogany has a great sound spectrum.
    Hollow, wood instruments are hugely affected by the wood, it's amazing how much the wood matters with them. I'v played a 50 beginer violin, and I'v played a strandavarius worth many thousands, the differance is phenomenal. The same can be said for guitars, the difference is certainly lesser with electric guitars but definately apparant. The evidence you have provided to the contrary of this has all been rubish and very un-scientific.
    Steven Bayes
    I have already apologized . I am not fighting and I fully agree with your point on violins. The material makes a significant difference with violins. However, violins are much tinier than guitars and have a different resonator, apertures and structure.
    Could you please explain how to hold the pick of destiny?
    My Last Words
    45 degree angle Jazz III's is where it's at my son.
    Steven Bayes
    Yes. This is a very smart combination of the two techniques which I have forgotten to mention. Thanks for the good comment.
    Steven Bayes, you need to go play many more guitars over several more years before you start trying to give people advice. Your pick tech advice is incomplete in several ways and your idea that materials don't affect acoustic guitar tone is just plain ignorant. Your idea of "simple physics" is way too simple and has nothing to do with physics. The very idea that sound waves and the vibration of strings is not affected by the nature and the quality of the materials they come in contact with shows a lack of experience with guitars and with sound wave physics. Sorry for the negative comment, but no matter how forceful your opinion is it's still wrong.
    Steven Bayes
    Most people think like you. This is OK. I expected even stronger reaction. Please, note, this article is for pick holding. However, I would try to respond and try to apologise and smoothen the situation up. Of course, the main principle of acoustics is sound reflection, sound penetration and sound absorption. Of course, the materials are important. I fully agree with you. I am sorry in case the point sounded as a Windows 7 Forceful Shutdown. I would try to rephrase : When sound qualities of two acoustic environments with exactly the same structure are compared, the differences in the sound output are due to the different acoustic qualities of the materials. The differences may be significant or not so significant. I SHOULD NOT TALK AND SHOULD NOT HAVE TALKED ON THE DIFFERENCES IN SOUND QUALITY OF EXPENSIVE AND INEXPENSIVE GUITARS BECAUSE I DO NOT HAVE MUSICAL HEARING AND NOT GOOD HEARING AT ALL. I HAVE NOT PERFORMED TESTS WITH EQUIPMENT NOR IN LOW NOISE ENVIRONMENT. This may have lead to a great misleading and misunderstanding. To support your idea, I have been pleasantly impressed by the sound of a Takamine 12 string, converted to 6, very old and most likely made out of full wood and not ply wood. However, instead of talking and relying on our hearing, perhaps, a good idea would be, for some one who can get hold of a few guitars of most sorts with a similar structure, and who has some kind of equipment such as an oscilloscope, a frequency analyzer or may use the PC and a microphone in case the fan is not very noisy and away, and try to measure the response of some of the popular guitars. Also, an attachable hum bucker may be used for less noise. I think, the consumer should know the quality of sound of each guitar when brand new the same way one looks at the 20Hz to 20KHz linear response when one gets an audio equipment. Most say the quality of wood changes dramatically with aging. True but in a general case this change is predictable. A bit difficult with different selection of portions of a given kind of wood, etcetera. At least to know the parameters of a given guitar when new then one can think of improvements with aging. Of course, in some cases, mainly when exotic wood is used, the expectations of future changes may be a bit more difficult. For example, Taylor uses Koa which is a tree available only in Hawaii from which the Hawaiians have been making musical instruments for millennia. Still possible to make a new instrument the same as old just to measure the sound differences between new and old and derive some general equations for aging change predictions yet rather difficult. However, in most types of popular wood, this comparison may not be so difficult and may as well be known. For the exotic Koa, Taylor claims the wood to have a huge changes with aging which drastically changes the sound to much better when a certain age is reached for the wood to, as Taylor says, "open up". I have tried to smoothen the conversation, I am not sure whether I have succeeded. To improve the circumstances more : Those of you all who have money, get expensive guitars. Most likely the engineering part would be made better and the expensive wood would definitely NOT give worse sound and the sound will be better. And also, of course, there is the topic with the absolute and relative evaluation of monetary means : If someone makes more than $100 000 a year, why not getting a $3000 guitar once for many a year. Not only the guitar would be a great pleasure but the guitar would be a great investment which may tenfold the price over 30 years even after the inflation is taken into account. Funny, I thought of the investment point in cars but not into guitars. Also, please, try to understand another point : I have always been thinking of the wood as a material of the 18th century and before. I have a very great difficulty in assimilating a huge price for what I think of a material which shouldn't be used in the 20th and 21st centuries at all. I know I am wrong but takes a bit to get used to. And I haven't gotten used to for so many years.
    Steven Bayes
    I have also used a combination of the techniques when changing on the fly : hold the pick between the thumb and the centre of the finger / fingers when playing on the thin strings and hold the pick between the thumb and the side of the finger when playing on the thick strings. Thus the angle of attack of the pick against the strings can be kept the same.
    I usually use the second technique with a slight alteration when playing fast and hard punk-ish bass lines: I hold the pick between the inner surfaces of thumb and index, and fixate it with the side/first joint of my middle finger
    Steven Bayes
    More from the Experimentations : Making tiny movements is helpful. The amplitude may increase when the pick engages the string with movements which are in an angle towards the string. The volume is decreased but still OK when a sharp pick is used shaped alike Jim Dunlop U. S. A. 208. For the angle of movement to be close to 90 degrees these technique have been found : Have long hands. Hold the guitar from the middle of the body alike a Flying V guitar can be held in the middle of the V. Hold the pick at the upper right or left corner adjusting the pick with the finger ( s ) and the thumb. In any technique, use more than one finger opposite to the thumb : finger 1 and finger 2 and even finger 3 and finger 4. Position fingers 2, 3 and 4 on the top of each other and on the top of finger 1. Thin picks versus thick picks : thick picks are better also because of the inertia but to pick the exact string with thicker picks is more difficult than with thinner. Spread fingers 2, 3, 4 straight to increase the inertia. Moving the pick at an angle versus moving the pick at close to 90 degrees angle relevant to the string : The volume decreases and there is fussing noise when applying the techniques on wound strings. OK for flat wounds. Use plain metal string 24 gauge for string number 3.
    Steven Bayes
    Again : I have last been experimenting with holding the pick between the thumb and the side of the pointing finger but not horizontal, inclined at 45 to 90 degrees engaging the string quickly with TINY MOVEMENTS, TINY AMPLITUDE OF THE QUICK, SEQUENTIAL MOVEMENTS. TINY is essential for fast movements as well as for not hitting other strings ( accuracy ).
    Steven Bayes
    Important : I have also been experimenting with sharp picks. I have shaped a Dunlop Ultex Sharp 2.0mm as well as a Golden Gate 12 into the shape of USA 208. I have horizontally filed the edges to be sharpened alike on a knife or an ax, going sharp gradually. This gives stunning improvement in speed in all techniques regardless of the angle of attack. I used as much as 90 degrees angle of attack, the pick is vertical across the string, engaging with the tip. I used tiny amplitude movements with the picking hand also in a tremolo style of playing. I have not been supporting the picking hand on the guitar when playing. Most modern guitar players, or all of them, support the picking hand, usually, through the pinky finger. I found the non supporting method to be easier and faster yet paying with a more difficult string accuracy ( picking the string one needs to ).
    Steven Bayes
    Holding the pick should be basic and is the main problem of .... a professional. Do not worry, the problem is not with you. There are professors in the conservatories of music who still try to figure out a way. Please, read the tips I put as a response to previous comments. A part from them, I forgot to mention another trick : make the holding surface rougher with a knife or whatever. In the worse case you would loose $0.35 to $0.50 for the pick. Also, try these : Golden Gate picks : not sharp but you can file them to any shape. Expensive. Dunlop Ultex ( with the Rhino ). USA 208 picks or any of the USA 20x series upon your choice of the shape. Metal picks : can make the surface rough. Most importantly : I found : THE BIGGER THE PICK THE MORE STABLE and THE THICKER THE PICK THE MORE STABLE. I read in a book : THE THICKER THE PICK, THE EASIER FOR SOLO TO ENGAGE THE STRING MORE EASILY. Other people say the thin picks are better for solo because they vibrate. Other say the mid thickness picks are the best. The book says : USE THIN PICKS FOR CHORDS. Whatever the shape, you can file the edges horizontally. Speeds up solos. Works perfect with the thick and slick Dunlop Ultex 2.0mm as well as with Golden Gate. Wears Golden Gate faster because Golden Gate is rather brittle. No problems at all except Golden Gate is expensive : $1 to $1.50 for the standard Golden Gate 12 and $3.50 for the exotic ones. For solo, I use : Metal, Golden Gate and Dunlop Ultex 2.0mm. Metal is stainless steel. Can be custom filed. very thin and slippery. ALSO : METAL PICK CUT AND WEAR STRINGS EASILY, depending on the method of playing. I thought Jazz series are lousy before I managed to achieve huge speed improvement with them and I can only say good things for the Jazz series. I doubt I can help you more, in case I have helped at all but I think you will be helped by a thick yet slick for the strings and big pick. Why do you not try Dunlop Ultex 2.0mm and the thickest TRIANGULAR Dunlop Ultex you can get. Shape them as you wish. I found the shape of USA208 the best for sharp and the shape of Golden Gate 12 the best for round picks. Shape them this way, see how goes. Horizontally file the ages to make them sharp as a Japanese sword. Not so bad on the strings. May round them or not touch them at all in case you are afraid for the strings. In case I have screwed you with this advice, you will loose $1.50 only for the two Dunlop Ultex and the USA 208. A cup of coffee. In case I have helped you, however, I want a cup of espresso. Not fair, eh?!? I don't pay when you loose money and I get paid when you win!
    Holding the pick should be so basic yet it's my main problem as a learner. The pick CONSTANTLY is moving. I'm using Jazz IIIs, and I dunno...I don't like them. Maybe they just don't work for me, but they constantly move around with the slightest hint of sweat in my fingers. Sucks
    I hold my pick wth that same angle illustrated but it's always felt more comfortable holding it with the tips of my index finger and thumb but it does tend to move around a bit if im not paying attention, the way you've illustrated doesn't feel right to me but has the benefit of staying firmly in position
    Steven Bayes
    I found holding the pick between the soft, central area of the thumb and index to give some stability. However, in case of a problem, I can only think of some very basic tricks : 1. Make sure your pick is well washed with soap as well as your hands. I am not making a joke or trying to insult you but some guitar players, mainly old generation, would use paste to make their string slippery and to improve speed. I love to do this but I don't because I would like to keep the guitar clean. I also believe there would be an effect when the strings are slippery. In case anyone does so, a good idea may be to wash well only the pick holding hand while keeping the left hand slippery. In case anyone uses anti allergenic crme or sun screen, then wash well the tip of the pick holding fingers. 2. Cut the tips of a latex or rubber glove. Use the smallest for a greater support. Like the office workers or the money counting people used to do in the past and now in the movies. 3. I found the pick moving when I hold the pick away from the tip. I forgot to address this issue. Holding the pick near the tip would increase the stability. I use this for solos. Holding the pick away from the tip would make the use of the pick easier for chords. I have used First Act huge picks, around 2" long for chords. I found them excellent.
    I dont understand the differance between the first and the second one... And i dont understand the third one as well, to be honest.
    The first example is like the picture shows. The second example is utilizing the point/tip of the pointer finger rather than the side of it. Third one (which is the way I hold it) uses the thumb on one side and the pointer and middle finger on the other side of the pick.
    Steven Bayes
    Thank you for the help with a clearer explanation. I am also amazed you are the only person in the whole world whom I know to hold the pick this way. I am happy to read there is another one and I am not the only one although I seldom use this technique mainly because I am lazy. The technique is excellent in a sense the technique offers a very good stability over holding the pick. The technique can be used mainly when the strings are engaged the way most people do : the pick is parallel to the string and hits the string with the whole lower area. A bit more difficult to turn the hand in a way the pick to be perpendicular to the string and hit with the tip. Still possible as well as the technique offers a possibility to still hit perpendicularly but the hand is turned the other way around with a fist towards the head of the guitar. I don't know whether there is any application of this. I tried. Looks funny.
    When I first started out I always used my thumb and middle. I just left my pointer either laying on the pick or in the air.