November 7, 2022

About the Author: Stefan Joubert

Founder of S&C and master guitarist. He loves teaching guitar and believes everyone can learn to play!

A small but important detail that is often overlooked in guitar playing is how to hold your plectrum. Now although there are many different approaches and techniques to this, some are more correct than others, and will depend on what you are playing!

pile of plectrum

Find The Right Pick For You

Before you even worry about how to hold the thing, the first thing you should consider is what pick is the right one for you. Depending on what style of music you play, different thicknesses, sizes, and materials will have a big affect on how comfortable the pick will feel to use. If you’re a strummer and play mostly chords on the guitar, then a light to medium gauge pick in the standard shape would be a good place to start. When you are just starting out, you don’t want the pick to be too thick as this will require more control in the strumming hand to produce a smooth attack on the strings. A thinner pick will have more give or bend in the pick itself, which will absorb some of the impact of your strum.

Since you are strumming all or the majority of the strings on the guitar when you are playing open chords for example, this is projecting a lot of sound from each string, so if you’re bashing away at the guitar with a thick pick this can quickly sound very harsh. If you play mostly single notes, either riffs, lead lines, melodies or improvised solos, then a smaller and thicker pick can be a good fit. My pick of choice for everything is the Dunlop Jazz III, which has a smaller shape to the standard plectrum and is thicker. This gives a bit more impact and projection for those single notes, but can also be great for strumming when controlled. An important thing to remember is that your choice of pick is totally personal preference, there isn’t really any right or wrong, but hopefully these tips can help you get started.

hand with pick playing the guitar

Just The Tip!

When holding the plectrum, you don’t want too much of the pick sticking out from between your fingers, as this will have too much movement in your hand and can feel awkward. I usually have just the tip sticking out, a little less for single notes, and a little more for chords to sweep over all of the strings. This will allow you to control your picking or strumming attack on the string much more, as there will be less movement from the pick in an up and down motion within the hand itself.

Strike With The Point

The majority of the time, you will want the pointy side of the pick to make contact with the string. This will sound the clearest and most likely be the most comfortable way. There are exceptions to this rule however, since sometimes players will use one of the curved sides of the picks to achieve a softer tone out of the note, perhaps for a more delicate passage of a piece of music or something that isn’t supposed to be as noticeable.

close up guitar hands playing

Point At The Soundhole

You will also want to be plucking notes just over the middle of the soundhole of the guitar (or in the same region where this would be on an electric guitar), while aiming the point at the soundhole. It is important that you turn the pick inwards in your hand to point at the soundhole, don’t have the pick pointing straight up in the same direction as your thumb when you hold it and then move your entire wrist inwards. Move the actual pick itself within your grip to point at the soundhole. When lifting up your hand, this will result in your pick pointing to the left (for a right-handed guitarist) on a 90 degree angle to the thumb. This will be much more comfortable for your wrist, and also help to avoid any RSI!

Balled Fist VS. Open Fingers

This last tip is all down to personal preference, and is the decision to hold your plectrum with a balled fist or with an open hand. Some players will naturally grip the pick with a closed fist, which is totally fine, but can prevent you from using other helpful techniques such as hybrid picking. Hybrid picking is the technique of plucking some notes with the plectrum and others with the spare fingers on your plucking hand, so if you’re holding the pick between your thumb and pointer finger, you could use your middle, ring and pinky fingers to pluck other notes. This technique can be crucial to some styles, such as country ‘chicken pickin’, but not as important in others, so this will all depend on what style of music you are playing!

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