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How to Hold a Guitar Pick (Plectrum)

Plectrums are quite tricky to get used to at first, and how to hold a guitar pick is one of the most common problems to correct with new students, especially adults who have been playing a while.

Firstly, the quality of your plectrum is very important. If you go to see a national concert orchestra, the lead violinist is often playing a violin worth in excess of $1 million. The bow, just the stick and horse hair they use, can be upwards of $40,000. We use a $0.40c piece of plastic. In the tonal stakes we have a lot of catching up to do.

Remember, the plectrum determines the tone of every note that the guitar produces. If your pick is too thin, you get too much ‘clack’ as it moves across the strings.

While choice of pick is a personal choice, make sure to start with one that is over 1mm thick. I recommend Jim Dunlop 1.5mm picks to all my students. They’re well made and produce excellent tone.

You should hold the plectrum between the pad of the thumb and the side of the index finger. I can’t stress this enough!

Look at photo 3a.

How to hold a guitar pick

 Notice that the pick balances nicely on the edge of my finger. It is not on the pad. The thumb pad then comes across and sits on top of the plectrum so that only 2-3mm or 1/8th of an inch sticks out as shown in photo 3b. 

 How to hold a guitar pick 3b

If you get this part right, when you move your hand to the guitar strings, the pick should lie fairly parallel to the strings. Rest the pick against the strings as shown in photo 3c.

How to hold a guitar pick

 Finally, we want to hold he plectrum at a slight angle so it glides through the strings when you strum. To achieve this, pinch your index finger and thumb together very slightly to make an angle of about 30° between the pick and the string. This is shown in photo 3d.

How to hold a guitar pick

Now the pick will slide through each string with the minimum of resistance in whichever direction you strum.

My biggest piece of advice is not to over-grip the plectrum. It should be light and bobble around a bit when you strum.

For more beginner’s lessons, why not check out: 15 Essential Guitar Lessons for Beginners.

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Joseph Alexander, guitarist & guitar teacher - Fundamental Changes for guitar

Author - Joseph Alexander

Joseph Alexander has been a guitarist and expert music tutor for over 20 years. His tuition books are published in four languages and have sold over 200,000 copies to widespread critical acclaim. He is currently writing and publishing cutting edge-material that breaks down the barriers between learning and playing the guitar. As well as a…

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13 responses to “How to Hold a Guitar Pick”

  1. Kinchloe says:

    Been playing for 32 years and only just found out about the whole 45-30° angle thing. This is the fourth website to confirm it…live and learn.

    • jopheza says:

      Glad the guitar lesson helped you! Holding the pick is such a subtle thing, but it really makes a massive difference to your guitar tone. Cheers! Joseph

  2. Joule says:

    Picks are important, Dugain are great but I recently found picks that are juste perfect, the Vladimir Muzic Picks (made of carbon)

  3. Jack says:

    That’s how I hold the pick but not mentioned is the other fingers. I see a lot of guitarists stretch out the remaining 3 fingers either straight out or curved. Here your hand is in a light but not tight ‘fist’ which is what I do then there is support for the pointing finger and thus the pick too. I can’t understand why so many point the fingers outwards.

  4. Gavin says:

    What?! The pick points down in the same direction as the finger points? I’ve never Eben considered that! My pick points across the finger 90 degrees to the way the finger points!

    I’m going to try this tomorrow. 🙂

    This is like finding out I’ve been wearing my underwear backward for 30 years!!

    • Joseph Alexander says:

      Pretty much yeah! There’s always going to be differences between people but that’s the general idea.

      Thanks for commenting!

      J

  5. I don’t quite agree on the index finger. I have it much more curled backwards in order to provide a solid platform for the pick. And there will be less finger muscles involved; instead you can focus on the wrist movement.

  6. You’re saying that the grip should be light. I suppose this doesn’t concern single-string playing, since then it’s not possible to get the right attack. You have another article regarding the need to attack the strings harder and dig in more, and that‘s not really possible with a light grip, is it?

  7. C says:

    Beginners should use a thick pick? That is ridiculous as those are too stiff for them to strum with. Even legendary players like Allman, Betts, Page, Townshend, etc. don’t use picks that thick. Medium thickness picks are better for all purposes and beginners should start with those or light picks (they can move up to mediums later on).

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Will be ordering a couple more courses in the near future. I have a lot of guitar books and these are some of the best I have seen thus far. Thanks!

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