How To Pick A Guitar

In this free guitar lesson I’m going to cover the proper way to pick a guitar.

 Strumming and Picking are not so much learned but acquired skills. What I will attempt to do in this section is to give you an overall view of different techniques, but a lot of your skill will come from practicing. It is critical that you develop deliberate uses of the pick rather than go at it randomly. I will also cover various finger picking styles that will broaden your ability to play different styles of music. Your effectiveness in attacking the strings with your right hand and having control over a pick are just as important as working your left hand on the fretboard.

How To Hold The Pick

Although different players will have slight variations on how they hold a pick I believe that for the beginner you should hold the pick in the following manner:

  1. Pick is held between the first finger and the thumb
  2. Pick is against the side of the index finger
  3. Pick is held there by the flat part of the thumb so you are looking at the nail straight on
  4. About one third of the pick (The pointy end) should be showing
  5. Hand should be relaxed with the other fingers open
  6. Wrist and forearm should be loose, loose, loose!
  7. Do not “pinch” the pick between the index finger and the thumb, keep it on the side of the index finger

Striking the Strings Properly

The single most important thing I can tell you about striking the strings with the pick is to keep your wrist loose. If you tense up every time you strike the strings it will sound like you are playing with a hammer. There is no need to strike the strings with all your might either; in fact if you can learn to play with a light touch you will be able to play faster and more expressively. Lightly pick each individual string. You want the pick to be traveling away from the guitar body ever so slightly as you play each string so that it misses the string next to it. When playing one string it is very important that you limit the travel of your pick to only what is necessary to get the job done. As you play each note your pick needs to be close by to play the next one.

Playing more than one string is a little different. You must learn to stop going across and at the right time “pull up ” in time to miss the strings that you don’t want to play. Practice playing two strings at a time making sure not to touch the next string while at the same time limiting the travel of the pick so that it doesn’t go past the two strings you are playing.

The heel of your hand should lightly rest itself on the strings in front of the bridge. You’re not actually laying your hand on the strings but you should just be able to feel them. Of course you must not have your hand touching the strings you are playing or the strings will be muted. (Getting confused yet?) Again it is a light , gentle touch that works best here. Some players leave their hands completely off of the strings and anchor their forearms gently on the body of the guitar. Another technique used is to rest your pinky and ring finger of your right hand on the body below the strings.

What’s really important here is that you have some sort of “anchor” so you are always aware of where your hand is relative to the strings. More than likely you will find yourself doing what I do: using all three of these techniques to maintain control of my picking hand. Once again I will say to you: keep that hand loose.

Up AND Down We Go!

In order to utilize our picking skills to the maximum level we must become totally comfortable with alternating picking. Alternating picking is simply the task of picking the strings in an upward stroke after each downward stroke. It sounds simple enough but it goes against our natural instincts for most players. I was an unfortunate individual who only picked my strings in a downward motion. When I tried to learn alternating picking I had to spend hours practicing to break my former bad habits. So I must insist that you learn to alternate your picking right from the start.

Here is a simple exercise to get you started:

  • Begin by picking each string (starting on the 6th) 8 times, using up and down strokes(one down, one up, one down , one up, etc.)
  • Then pick each string 4 times
  • Continue by picking each string 2 times
  • Now pick each string two times using the following sequence: 6 – 5 – 6 – 4 – 6 – 3 – 6 – 2 – 6 -1 – 2 – 1 – 3 – 1 – 4 -1 – 5 – 1 – 6
  • Repeat entire exerciseDo this exercise as slowly as you need to. Never practice exercises faster than you can comfortably do them. It is better to work your speed up gradually than to try and rush and lose your control.Guitar Picking TipsHere are the two biggest mistakes players make when learning how to pick a guitar.1. Too much hand movement. It takes very little effort to pick an individual guitar string. Do not move any part of your hand or arm other than your wrist. I light, controlled motion is all it takes. If your arm is moving you’re doing it wrong, plain and simple.

    2. Not sweeping the guitar pick. Too much lateral movement will cause you to hit strings with your guitar pick that you don’t want to. The guitar pick needs to “sweep” across the strings you want to hit, kind of like you have a miniature dust broom between your finger and you’re dusting your strings off.

    Finger picking

    This not my video but it’s the best finger picking instruction I’ve seen yet, you’ll notice he’s wearing a thumb pick. That is not necessary to play this style.:


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