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.

 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. 


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.

 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.


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.