How To Hold a Guitar Pick – Step by Step Guide

Many guitarists assume they know how to hold a guitar pick the right way, but you’d be surprised how many do it wrong.

But here’s the thing:

An improper technique will impede the progress with your instrument, especially with advanced picking techniques, where you need to play fast and accurately. A correct grip can be the difference between success or giving up. It’s that important.

In this article, we show you a step by step guide for gripping it the right way.

Why use a Pick?

The pick (often called a ‘plectrum’) is the best way to get the loudest and brightest sound from your guitar. Especially in the early days, that’s a big advantage for the beginner. They cost very little too, so there’s no excuse not to try one (you should try a few to see which you like the best).

However many beginners dislike using them, as they can move (or slip out) the hand when playing, and that’s usually due to poor grip. In other words, you aren’t holding it correctly. But when done correctly, it makes your strumming and picking technique so much better.

How to Hold a Guitar Pick

  1. First, hold your hand like you are giving the thumbs up sign.

thumbs up

 

2. Curl your fingers like you’re making a fist, take a plectrum and rest it on the top of your index finger. It should be at roughly a 45-degree angle to the first finger.

put pick on first finger

 

3. Now close your thumb down on it, leaving only 4 or 5 millimeters jutting out between the thumb and index finger. Be mindful of the grip. Not too tight, as that can cause cramping, nor too loose, or you may drop it. It may feel weird at first, but with a bit of practice, it will feel like second nature.

holding the pick

 

Don’t have too much showing, as it will be hard to control and will probably fall out your hand when you strum.

too much pick showing

 

Nor too little, or you’ll knock your fingers by accident when you play.

too little plectrum showing

 

This is better. Make sure your fist is not entirely closed: this extended ‘O’ shape should be loose and comfortable.

correct amount of plectrum protruding

 

It should look T shaped as you look down your hand.

T shaped

 

Tips for Using a Plectrum

Know you know the right way, here are some pointers for using it:

Strumming

Establishing a natural sounding strum over a chord sequence is tricky for beginners, but correct positioning of the plectrum will help. The lower half of your arm, not the wrist, should be guiding your hand. This will give you a natural, rhythmic flow. 

Downstrokes will tend to be easier to play, whereas upstrokes (or a combination of up and downstrokes) are a bit harder. Stay with it though, it will take some time to feel natural. Don’t be scared to make micro adjustments to the plectrum while you play either. So long as you don’t drop it, you can reposition it mid-song quite easily.

Playing Lead

Using your plucker sideways on (see the T shaped position above) is crucial for accurate and fast lead work when playing scales such as the pentatonic, modes such as the Dorian or Mixolydian, or arpeggio runs. Techniques such as alternate picking require this stance too.

It also helps with projecting your sound, which is particularly important in acoustic settings.

Type

Thinner plectrums tend to be better for strumming, while thicker ones are preferred for lead as they help the attack. Medium-weight pluckers are a safe bet for newbies at around 0.65-0.73 millimeters. There are many shapes and sizes, as well as textures to choose from. One word of advice though. If you keep dropping it while you play, get one with a grip like this Dunlop one made from nylon.

grip on pick

 

Summary

Learning the best way to use one of these little bits of plastic is one of the essential techniques to get under your belt if you’re starting out. Hopefully, you’ve managed to improve finger positioning from this tutorial and found the tips handy. If you want to test drive the new hold with some great rhythms, head on over to this strumming patterns article.

Best of luck!

Roz

Roz is a music teacher and our go-to person for anything music theory! When she's not teaching or writing for Zing, Roz writes and plays in alternative/ psyche /art rock band The Roz Bruce Infusion.