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How to Hold a Guitar Pick: A Guide for Beginners and Beyond

by Brett Quattrucci on April 15, 2023

A guitar pick is a small piece of plastic or metal that you use to pluck or strum the strings of a guitar. It is an essential, yet often underestimated tool in the guitarist's arsenal. Understanding how to properly hold a guitar pick is crucial for controlling the tone, volume and speed of your playing. In this article, we will cover the four most important aspects of holding a guitar pick: pick position, grip, wrist angle, and relaxation.

Optimal Grip

The first thing you need to do is to lay the pick on the side of the tip of your pointer finger. Next, rest your thumb on the top of the pick and apply firm, but gentle pressure. You want to have enough pressure to prevent the pick from slipping or rotating in your fingers, but not so much that you tense up your entire hand and wrist.

I personally like to rest the top of the pick against the crease of the last knuckle on my pointer finger. I find that it naturally fits the contour and helps keep the pick from moving side to side.

How to hold a guitar pick

Your pointer finger should be curled and there should be an “0” shaped opening between your pointer finger and thumb. Keeping this shape ensures a relaxed grip which is critical to achieving speed and accuracy.

How to hold a guitar pick

Over time, you’ll start to naturally adjust your grip for different playing styles. For example, if you are playing fast or aggressive passages, you may want to hold the pick closer to the tip for more precision and a faster attack. If you are playing slow or doing more strumming than picking, you may want to hold the pick closer to the base for more flexibility and smoothness.

Pick Position

The next step is to find the right position for your pick on the strings. There is no one correct way to do this, as different positions can be used to produce different sounds and effects. However, a general rule of thumb is to hold the pick perpendicular to the strings, with about a quarter of an inch (one half to one centimeter) of the tip sticking out. This will give you a balanced sound and a good amount of control.

You’ll want to angle the guitar pick so that you are striking the string with the edge, rather than striking it with the flat face of the pick. This will make it easier for the pick to glide over the string while providing a faster attack and better consistency between strikes. Hitting the string with the flat face uses too much surface area, reducing accuracy and creating muddier sound.

How to hold a guitar pick

Notice how the pick is angled so its edges strike the strings, not the flat sides.

Wrist Angle

The third thing you need to do is to keep your wrist at a neutral angle, so that your hand and forearm form a straight line. Any bend in your wrist will reduce efficiency and increase tension, resulting in excessive strain and reduced control.

Keeping this neutral position allows you to pick the strings by moving your wrist side to side. Efficiency should be the goal of every physical aspect of guitar playing. Great guitarists are those that use the smallest movement and lightest touch required to get their desired sound. Minimizing movement is essential for developing fast, accurate, and effortless picking.

When strumming, you will use a combination of side-to-side wrist movement and forearm rotation to get a wider sweep across the strings. 

How to hold a guitar pick

Stay Relaxed

One of the most important aspects of developing speed, accuracy, and control is staying relaxed. As previously mentioned, too much tension will lead to poor mechanics and fatigue. Gripping the guitar pick too hard will put strain on the muscles in your hand, arm, shoulder, neck, and back. With time, this can lead to poor posture and even overuse injuries. 

Staying relaxed requires focus, self-awareness, and mindfulness. It’s important to focus on using the correct form and the right amount of force when gripping the pick. It’s also important to be self-aware of your posture and your muscles while you play, taking note of when and where you are feeling tension. To be mindful is to imagine what you want your picking to feel, sound, and look like. 

The Science of Mindfulness

Accomplished athletes often picture themselves performing a movement hundreds, even thousands of times before attempting it and this has been shown to increase their rate of success. It can help to watch videos of your favorite guitarists and imagine yourself replicating their movements, not just their picking style, but the way they carry themselves and their overall posture while playing. 

While this might seem like strange advice, there is a large amount of scientific research explaining this phenomenon. In fact, it’s been shown that there is a type of neuron in our brains referred to as mirror neurons, which activate when we perform a movement as well as when we see someone else performing the movement. 

In babies and young children, these neurons are essential for developing motor skills. As adults, we rely on these neurons less frequently, but they can still be beneficial if we are intentionally mindful when observing others performing an action such as picking. 

Watch the Pros

The best way to fire off those mirror neurons is to watch the pros. Of course, you don't want to spend too much time watching and not practicing, but paying careful attention to certain movements and ingraining them in your mind can be very helpful in developing your own skills as a guitarist.

Plini is one of my favorite examples of efficient guitar picking technique. Observe his wrist movement in the following playthrough of his song "Impulse Voices". It changes significantly depending on the part he's playing, but you can see that he achieves his speed, control, and accuracy by reducing his movements to a minimum.

Conclusion

Using the correct form to grip a guitar pick is one of the most essential parts of developing one’s skills as a guitarist. It can make a big difference in how you sound and feel when playing. Great guitar playing isn’t just about hitting the right notes, it’s about how you hit the notes. Developing the right touch and control is essential for creating unique phrasing and dynamics that take your sound to the next level. I hope this article has been a helpful guide for improving your picking and understanding how it should look and feel.

It’s worth noting the importance of trying different picks along your guitar journey. Given the immense variation in our hand sizes and shapes, as well as playing styles, it’s no surprise that one guitarist’s favorite pick may not be suitable for others. That’s why we strive to offer guitarists a huge variety of pick shapes and materials. Take a look at our selection and discover the ideal guitar pick for you!

Have any additional tips for your fellow guitarists? Leave a comment below and let us know how you perfected your picking.

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Author Bio

Brett, the owner and founder of Ploutone, is a modern guitarist on a mission to create a sustainable future and build a thriving community through the power of music. Brett founded Ploutone to celebrate independent artists and foster connections among guitarists worldwide. With a vision of spreading positivity and promoting sustainability, Brett hopes to inspire others to push the boundaries of their instruments and contribute to a better world.

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