Using a guitar pick!
This article will cover the basics of how to use a pick. We will look at the right way to hold one and the mechanics of how to make a good sounding strum. We will also look at how holding the pick at different angles effects your sound.
To start, some players ask me if it is necessary to play with a pick, or if you can simply use your fingers to strum. You do not have to use a pick if you'd prefer to use your fingers but most guitarists use one unless they are playing flamenco, fingerstyle, or classical music. You can use your fingers but the technique is a little different, so that will be a topic to cover another day.
First, lets look at how to hold the pick. Open your hand vertically (like you were shaking someone's hand) and set the pick so that it balances on your index (or pointer) finger. The small tip of the pick should be pointing away from the palm. Now bring your thumb on top of the pick so that it crosses your finger (perpendicular). Be sure to grip close to the tip so that only a quarter or so is sticking out. The further you are from the tip, the easier it will be for the pick to fly out of your hand when you least want it to. Also, it makes you use more force when gripping the pick and you want your hand to remain as relaxed as you can. You don't want to have a death-grip on the poor thing.
Some players complain that the pick flips around on them while they play and I remember this used to happen to me all the time. Eventually you'll figure out the pressure you need to use to keep the pick from slipping around on your fingers, but still gives you a good relaxed sound. There are a few things you can do if you're not quite there yet. There are picks that have groves or a rough surface over the part you hold, and that will help you keep your grip. I've also seen picks made with holes in them, which can really help because the flesh on flesh helps keep that pick still. I've also used a hole puncher to make a hole for some of my students′ picks. One last thing that will help is to only let a very small part of the pick strike the string. If you pluck using too much of the pick it will also want to jump out of your hand.
When you strike the string with the pick, there are a few things to keep in mind. Keep your entire strumming arm relaxed. It does not require much force to get the strings to ring so don't attack the string! Try to strike the string close to the tip of the pick. The further from the tip, the more likely the pick will fly out of your hand. The final thing to keep in mind is the angle you hold the pick at. Most players start off by holding the pick flat against the string but this is not the best angle. You want to hold the pick so that it is at a 45 degree angle to the string (half way between flat and straight up and down). You don't have to move the pick for the upstroke either because the other edge of the pick will also be at a 45 degree angle as well! Why try this? The tone of the pick flat against the string is flat, nasal, and weak. The angle helps give your strum a nice warm and full sound. It may take a little practice to remember at first, but it's well worth it!
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