The pick is a very common tool used to play the electric, acoustic and bass guitar. Picks come in many different thicknesses, materials, and shapes, all of which influence the resulting timbre or tone of the guitar (learn more about types of guitar picks).
Regardless of the type of pick you want to play, they are pretty much all used in the same way.
- Choose your pick. If you’re strumming, go with a light pick. If you’re playing lead guitar, go with a medium to heavy pick.
- Shape your hand. Make an “OK” sign with your strumming hand.
- Move your thumb. Shift your thumb towards your palm so that it covers the side of the tip of your index finger. The outer edge of your thumb should be roughly in line with the tip of your index finger.
- Place the pick. Place the pick in between your thumb and index finger grip with the narrow corner of the pick extending a bit beyond the tip of your index finger.
- Adjust. Depending on the type of pick, adjust the pick placement and grip so that it is comfortable, and so that you have an appropriate amount of the pick extending beyond your index finger.
Tips: If you are using a pick to strum, extend the tip of the pick a bit further out from your index finger. If you want to pick individual strings for lead lines, choke up a bit on the pick so that less of the pick tip is extended beyond your index finger (this provides more picking accuracy).
Now that you have a general idea of how to hold a guitar pick, let’s dive into some of the particulars in the detailed steps.
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How To Hold a Guitar Pick – Detailed Steps
Here are the steps to properly hold a guitar pick. Once you are comfortable with the pick grip, placement, and how it should feel in your hand, there’s no need to follow these steps exactly- just grab your pick and play!
Step 1: Choosing Your Pick
Choosing which pick you want to use is going to be largely dependent on your own preferences, playing style, and what type of music you want to play.
The thickness of the pick will dictate the tone that it will draw out of the strings. Thin picks are best for strumming, producing a lighter tone with a percussive pick “slap.”
It can be difficult to accurately play individual strings with a light pick (ie. for playing lead guitar lines), as the pick will feel soft, and the tone will sound thin. Thin picks are usually less than 0.60mm and work best for acoustic guitar playing.
For electric guitar playing, medium to thick picks (0.60mm and up) work best. I typically use a 0.88mm pick when playing electric guitar, which I find to be the best gauge for my playing style (I play both rhythm and lead guitar, but tend to play more lead).
This is my preferred pick, the Dunlop Tortex 0.88mm, which is a great, no-frills pick.
If you like to play both electric and acoustic guitar, it is worth going to your local music store to personally check out a wide range of picks from very thin to very thick.
Thankfully, picks are generally quite inexpensive, so grab a bunch with varying materials, shapes, thicknesses etc. to find out what you prefer!
You can also get packs of assorted picks if you find the selection at the music store a bit overwhelming.
Step 2: Shape Your Hand
When holding a guitar pick, your hand should roughly make the “OK” hand signal, but keep your middle, ring, and pinkie finger close together.
This gets your hand in position to properly grip the pick with your thumb and index finger, while also positioning your hand to control the muting of the guitar strings.
Holding the pick like this also allows for hybrid picking (using the pick with your thumb and index, while finger picking with your other fingers), and other picking techniques such as chicken picking.
Step 3: Move Your Thumb Over
Once you have the “OK” sign, move your thumb over the side of your index finger so that you can pinch the pick between the pad of your thumb and the side of your index finger.
Your thumb should be positioned so that the outer edge of your thumb roughly lines up with the very tip of your index finger.
You can play around with this position to see what feels most comfortable. You may find that it is more comfortable to either curl or extend your index finger a bit more, which is totally fine! The more you play with a pick, the more natural it will feel.
Step 4: Place The Pick in Your Grip
Now that you have your hand in the proper position to hold the pick, place the pick between your thumb and index finger so that the narrow point of the pick is extending a bit beyond the end of the tip of your index finger.
Again, feel free to adjust where the tip of the pick is in relation to your index finger. Depending on the gauge of pick and what type of music you are playing, try changing the pick angle, as well as how far the pick extends past your index finger.
Step 5: Adjust The Pick
Now that you have the pick in your hand, try strumming or picking individual strings. If the angle of the pick in your hand feels unnatural, you can rotate it so it contacts the string differently, or sits in your hand more comfortably.
Generally speaking, if I am using a light pick (for strumming), I will extend the pick a bit further than usual past my index finger. This allows the pick to slap against the strings a bit more, adding some snap and percussion to the strum.
If I am playing electric rhythm or lead guitar (with a medium or thick pick), I will likely choke up on the pick so that I can perform smaller movements with more accuracy and precision.
Your fine pick placement will likely evolve as you improve and develop your own playing style. The most important thing is that the pick feels comfortable in your hand and it does not inhibit the mobility of your other fingers.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick – FAQs
If you’re new to using guitar picks, you can also check out these common questions!
What is a guitar pick used for?
Guitar picks are used for playing a guitar (acoustic or electric) or bass, providing a different tone and playing experience than when playing with your fingers. They are used by guitarists of all experience levels in most genres of music.
Picks generally help to improve the loudness, tone, and accuracy of notes and chords, which can be very helpful for beginner guitarists to gain consistency. If you’re just getting started with guitar, you can read up on how long it might take to learn.
Why do you use guitar picks?
Guitar picks generally produce a brighter tone than when playing with finger picking (though some guitarists will grow out their fingernails on their strumming hand to get a more pick-like tone when finger picking).
- Read More: Can You Play Guitar With Long Nails?
Some specialty picks are made from different materials (such as rubber, wood, bone, among many others) that provide unique timbres and sonic qualities that cannot be achieved with your fingers or a conventional, plastic pick.
Picks make it easier to produce a louder sound when strumming and picking. It can also save your fingers and cuticles from wear and abrasion when playing heavily or frequently.
Picks are not only used for guitar, but are commonly used when playing bass as well. This is especially true for many styles of rock, metal, punk, etc. where the attack of the bass note should be more clearly heard and defined.
Is it easier to play guitar with a pick?
In many applications, yes. A pick is not a necessary tool in all situations, but is extremely helpful when consistency and clarity is required.
Picks are great for strumming, playing lead lines, and for playing quick, accurate rhythms. There are many situations and types of music where you could use either a pick OR your fingers, and it is up to you to decide which you prefer!
How to hold a guitar pick for speed?
When playing for speed, players will often choke up on the pick, or grip a bit more of the pick body in their fingers to reduce the amount that the pick protrudes past the index finger.
Many fast players prefer thicker picks or use specialty picks (with particular grip or point characteristics) that help them keep their hand relaxed. A pick won’t automatically make you play faster, but a properly fit pick can help you develop your speed and accuracy.
A player’s speed and proficiency ultimately comes down to their practice habits, but using the right pick can definitely help. Use the right tool for the right job.
What angle do you hold a guitar pick?
The pick should be held at an angle that is comfortable in the player’s hand when held. When playing, the flat part of the pick should lay flat along the length of the string when in the act of picking.
How to stop a guitar pick from slipping?
If you find that your pick slips a lot, consider a pick with a textured surface or grip, a different material of pick, a different thickness, or an altogether different style of pick (ie. a larger profile of pick may be easier for large hands).
You’re bound to drop a pick every once in a while. If you are playing a gig, jamming with friends, or even just practicing, get an extra pick or two and place it in a convenient place in case you drop your pick while playing.
Many guitarists will tape spare picks to their mic stand or leave a few on top of their amp so that they have easy access to one in the event that they drop the pick that they are using.
What else can I use as a guitar pick?
If you’re in a pinch, cutting up old credit cards, ID cards, etc. can give you a pick with a pretty similar thickness to a medium pick. You can either cut it out with scissors, or use this cool pick punch to make tons of your own.
Where to get guitar picks?
Guitar picks are widely available at pretty much any music store, as well as online.
If you don’t have any experience buying guitar picks, it may be helpful to go into your local music store to feel the differences between all the different types of picks that are available.
Oftentimes the picks are sold individually and are kept behind the counter, so be sure to ask if you don’t see any individual picks out on display.
If you know exactly what you want, there are many places online to get specific picks (such as Amazon or Sweetwater).
There are also companies (such as D’Addario and Dunlop, among others) that can make custom picks for you with all your specific preferences as well as your band logo (or some other custom graphic).
They’re great little giveaways at shows, and being custom made, they will perform exactly how you want them to.
How you decide to hold a guitar pick is up to you and what feels comfortable. I recommend holding the guitar pick between your index and thumb in a way that provides the highest feeling of control.
Playing with the fine positioning of the pick in your hand, as well as the type of pick (thickness, grip shape, material, texture, etc.) will help you become more comfortable while learning to use a pick.
It may feel a bit unnatural at first, but the more you use a pick, the better you will become with it. Picking and strumming are essential skills for guitarists, so keep at it and have fun!