What is a guitar pick & how do you hold one?
Holding and using a guitar pick correctly is lesson one for beginner guitarists and yet it’s also something you’ll revisit as you progress on your guitar journey.
Because of this, it’s worth taking a few minutes to understand all aspects of pick use and lay a strong foundation upon which to build your technique.
What is a guitar pick?
A guitar pick or plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument.
Picks are commonly made of plastic but can also be rubber, and metal. They come in varying thicknesses which produce different volumes, sounds and percussive effects.
Fun fact: the Queen guitarist, Brian May, uses a sixpence coin (old British currency) as a pick!
How to hold a guitar pick properly (3 methods)
Hold the pick between your index finger and thumb using a relaxed grip and one of these three methods:
The O Method
Hold the pick between the pad of your thumb and the side of your index finger. This grip tends to balance tone with control.
The Pinch Method
Hold the pick between the pad of your thumb and the pad of your index finger (you can even try adding your middle finger too). This works best with thinner gauge picks and for instances when you need to strum a lot.
The Fist Method
Hold the pick between the first joint of your thumb and the side of your inward curled index finger with your other fingers curled into a fist. This method is the preferred one of bluegrass players and those using a thick picks.
What is the correct way to hold a guitar pick?
The O Method is widely regarded as the ‘correct’ way to hold a pick.
We’d suggest starting there and trying the other two methods down the track once you’re comfortable with the O Method.
How to use a guitar pick
Strumming is producing a sound by striking multiple strings. It results in a rich, percussive sound that’s the mainstay of most rhythm guitar.
To strum, hold the pick using one of the methods outlined above, keeping your strumming elbow and wrist loose, then move your arm up and down lightly striking each string as you pass.
In its basic form, plucking is using only one string to produce a sound. To pluck, strike a string with your pick then pull the pick away from the other strings to avoid hitting them accidentally.
Choosing a guitar pick
Picks come in different gauges and are usually labelled as thin, medium or thick followed by a millimetre measurement. Each gauge is suited to a different purpose.
Thin gauge picks
Thickness ranges from 0.40 to 0.60 mm. They are best used for acoustic strumming which relies on treble-heavy tones and a percussive sound.
They lack the thickness needed for rock rhythm, lead and combination strumming and plucking that’s often played on more advanced acoustic pieces.
Medium gauge picks
Thickness ranges from 0.60 to 0.80 mm. They are the most common guitar picks due to their versatility. They have both the stability and flexibility needed for acoustic music and powerful rock leads.
Thick gauge picks
Thickness above 0.80 mm. They are often used by heavy jazz musicians and metal guitarists.
Specific use cases
The usual reason why picks slip is a sweaty grip. Dry your hands in between playing to prevent this.
Another tip is to avoid picks with a glossy finish. Instead, use a pick with a matte finish or one with a rough grip area which is less likely to slip.
For metal, we recommend a thick pick, held using the Fist Method. This combination will give you a loud, driving sound while enabling speed picking.
Medium thickness picks work well on acoustic guitars as they give you the right balance of flexibility for fast strumming, and tension for plucking. Since acoustic guitarists tend to move between strumming and plucking, this balance is ideal.
Speed picking requires a thick pick because thinner, more flexible picks do not enable the level of precision a guitarist needs when plucking at high speed.
The reason for this is that thin picks will bend and flex uncontrollably when playing at speed, rendering the guitarist less in touch with each strike and causing timing issues.
Most speed picking is accomplished with either the O Method or Fist Method.
Absolute beginners are best to start with a medium gauge pick as the flexibility will help avert the dreaded pick-drop without shielding the guitarist so much that they don’t learn the right amount of force to apply to the grip.
Final thoughts on guitar picks
The important thing is to find the grip and pick gauge combination that feels comfortable while also giving you the control and sound you want. It’s not a one size fits all thing.
As you progress through learning different types of strums and plucking, revisit your pick grip and gauge choice and try another combination, you might find your needs have changed and it’s time for an update.