With all of the excitement that comes with picking up a guitar for the first time, it’s understandable that learning how to hold a guitar pick correctly might go on the backburner for the time being. I was a beginner too at one point, and all I cared early on about was messing around, exploring the instrument, and having fun.
On the other hand, learning the proper picking technique can be fun too, and it will make your life easier when playing the guitar. It will open up a lot of doors for you – especially if you start to get interested in developing speed. This guide is designed to help beginner guitarists learn the best (and most conventional) way to use a guitar pick, which will provide the foundation for solid playing down the road.
Table of Contents
What Is The Best Guitar Pick For Beginners?
Before we begin with the tutorial, I want to mention that the type of pick you choose to use isn’t that important in the early stages of guitar playing. As long as it feels right, you can focus on the best way to hold a guitar pick rather than getting too deep into things like brands, thickness, etc.
However, even though picks come in various shapes and sizes, I think these characteristics are very suitable for beginners:
- A “standard” shape
- Medium to a Heavy thickness
- Nylon or Tortex (these are pretty durable materials)
Overall, I think these are the best guitar picks for beginners because these things won’t actually be phased out and you can use them for your entire guitar career if you enjoy them. Some guitarists become loyal to his or her favorite kind.
Importantly, these types of guitar picks listed above are incredibly accessible and tend to be comfortable, which can minimize any frustration.
Make no mistake though, some picks are great for certain situations. For instance, a very thin pick can be useful for those who strum chords often because it offers flexibility. A thicker pick, especially a smaller one, can be excellent for shredding.
My favorite pick of all time is the Carbon Fiber Jazz III, but for this guide, I will be using a nylon Dunlop Max-Grip with 1.14 thickness. It’s a great, durable, and sturdy pick, and if you’re curious about trying it out after reading this guide, you can find them here at Amazon and most guitar retail chains.
I recommend it because it’s solid for beginners and advanced players alike, fits the aforementioned criteria, and the grip on it is nice too if you have sweaty hands. I have this problem, so it’s hard for me to settle for a pick without some extra grip.
Without further adieu, let’s hop into the lesson, shall we?
The Three Steps To Proper Picking
In this section, I will show you the best way to hold a guitar pick, which can be broken down into three very straightforward steps. In each part of the process, I’ll also explain why certain aspects are optimal to the bigger picture. Additionally, will provide images so you can follow along easier and not have to use your imagination.
Step 1: Initial Placement Of The Pick
Believe it or not, where you set the guitar pick on your hand makes a huge difference and it can have a positive or negative impact on your playing if you put it on the wrong finger(s).
One major mistake that a lot of beginners make is to try to pinch the pick with three fingers. I understand that it might feel instinctual at first, but trust me, this will hinder you.
Instead, place the pick on your index finger, around the first joint near your nail. It should almost look perpendicular with your thumb, but with a slight angle to it. Don’t worry about what you need to do with your thumb right at this moment; it will be the primary focus of the 2nd step. Here’s a picture for reference, so you can copy exactly what I am doing:
You don’t want the pick to point straight out to the side because it will cause an unnecessary (and kind of uncomfortable) bend in the wrist when you start playing. Having the angle will set you up in a comfortable and ergonomic position, which will make your picking fluid and much more efficient in the long run.
If you hold a pick too straight out like in the picture above, the result will be this when you bring it to the guitar:
The problem with this is that your wrist is in a compromised position because it is compensating for the angle of the pick. The result is a suboptimal technique because of the way the angle at which the pick’s edge hits the string as well as excess tension in the wrist.
Step 2: Lowering The Thumb/Gripping the Guitar Pick
Once you have the correct angle of the pick on your first finger, the second step in how to hold a guitar pick is a cinch!
Simply close your grip by lowering your thumb onto it. Your grasp should be firm, but not super-tight. In fact, you can probably get away with having it a bit looser. As long as it’s not going to fly out of your hands, you’ll be in good shape.
The reason you don’t want to hold the pick too tightly is that it will also cause excess tension. Aggressive guitar playing is commonplace, and tension can be utilized for a tight, dynamic sound, but an unneeded amount of pressure will hinder your guitar speed. It’s a good idea to find a happy medium, and eventually, you’ll have greater control of your picking dynamics as you become more experienced.
With that in mind, when you drop your thumb to the pick, it should look just like this picture:
It’s not 100% necessary to have the extra skin from the top of the thumb hanging off the pick, but it can be helpful if you intend on learning how to execute pinch harmonics more consistently. Moreover, the skin can be used for dampening the strings on the descending portion of a sweep arpeggio.
Also, it might seem like my middle finger is touching the pick, but it isn’t. It’s actually freely hovering with the remaining fingers, which is precisely what you want to happen.
Step 3: Bringing The Pick To The Guitar
In the previous steps, I showed you a couple of examples of how incorrect placement can be detrimental when it comes to getting your pick to the guitar.
However, this step will show you how everything should look if you’re holding the pick correctly. Trust me, if you’ve ever tried to hold the pick wrong on purpose, this will feel a lot better!
With that said, once you have everything in order from the last 2 steps, you can finally take your pick to the guitar. It should look a lot like this:
The angle of the pick is much more efficient at attacking and crossing strings in this position than the other one.
It’s okay to have the remaining three unused fingers touching the body of the guitar, but you definitely do not want to anchor them. Doing so will limit your movement and slow you down. You can lightly touch it for some stabilization though.
I also want you to take note of how the forearm and wrist are settled here. Your forearm should rest comfortably on the top of the guitar, and your wrist should feel stable, but mobile at the same time. This is because there will be times where you’ll be palm muting and other times you won’t. In this case, you’ll be prepared for whatever comes at you.
These pointers on how to hold a guitar pick will be useful for when you learn individual picking techniques, such as alternate picking and picking with all downstrokes. On top of that, while this method is great for speed, you can definitely apply it to strumming chords.
Its versatility and practicality are why this is the best way to hold a guitar pick – there is no real reason to switch up your basic picking technique if it works across the board. Furthermore, by learning the right way to do it from the get-go, you’ll develop the necessary muscle memory to make precise, deliberate movements.
Conversely, If you learn how to pick incorrectly, you will develop muscle memory for that, and everyone knows how hard bad habits can be to shake off. I am aware that some guitarists have done amazing things with unorthodox technique, like Marty Friedman. However, is it optimal? Probably not.
The earlier that you develop good habits, the easier it will be to work on specific things. You’ll be able to focus on actually composing and performing music without having to think twice about what your picking hand is doing – good technique will become second nature to you. I hope that this guide to how to hold a guitar pick will help you achieve this.
If you’ve enjoyed this tutorial, and are interested in improving and taking your guitar speed to the next level, check out the follow up to this article: 5 Smart Guitar Tips For Playing Faster. In it, I provide you with helpful tips on how to build speed effectively. It’s a gradual process, but if you’ve been frustrated with your progress and you’ve seemed to hit a brick wall, you can get out of a rut with a little bit of guidance!