Holding the Pick

Question by Fred

In your video “Pick versus Finger for Chords” I see you — like most guitarists — hold the pick between thumb and first finger with the first finger curled in so the pick sits near your knuckle. Most music books show it this way also.

Sometime way back when, I learned to hold the pick between thumb and first finger but without curling the first finger in, so the pick rests on the ‘fingerprint’ pad of the first finger. I’m finding it very uncomfortable trying to change that habit. So my question is this: Is there some advantage to how one holds the pick?

Also, the video doesn’t really show what fingers you use in striking the other strings. For instance in the root position triads, etc., is there a favorable fingering for the non-pick strings?

M-A’s Answer:

Hello Fred, thank you for you question.

Here’s the “Pick versus Finger for Chords” video here:

First, I don’t believe there’s an optimal way to hold the pick. I was doing exactly like you (using the “pad” of the index and thumb) for a long time. I don’t know exactly what happened but my technique changed over the years.

…but of course, I’m not just talking about me. Look at 100 guitarists and they’ll all hold the pick differently! Check out Metheny, it’s very unconventional but it stills sounds superb. If you’re uncomfortable changing your habits, by all means, stick to what’s most comfortable for you!

For the second part of your question: the fingers not holding the pick are striking the other strings, yes. That is, if the thumb and index are already “busy” holding the pick, there’s three fingers left. Those three, I let grow my nails just a little bit and “claw” with them.

I could also have used the expression “pick and claw” with seems to be more and more popular!

Thank you,

Marc-Andre Seguin
“Improve Your Jazz Guitar Playing with a Real Teacher”


Old Comments for Holding the Pick

Jul 15, 2012
Holding the pick
by: Fred

Thnaks Marc and Javier for your comments regarding picking. I’m trying out different techniques both with and w/o the pick. I feel comfortable picking single notes and scales with the pick, but in strumming chords I find it challenging to produce a ‘smooth,’ mellow sound. I’ll definitely watch other guitarists more closely to see how they work their magic.

I’ve been enjoying this sight. The lessons and dialog here keep me motivated to continue improving my music theory and playing. Thanks again.

Jul 15, 2012
Correction to myself
by: Javier Alonso

I correct myself: closely watching Tommy Emmanuel’s performance of ‘Endless Road’, effectively he uses a thumb pick, and a flat pick in other themes.

In the 1975 Montreux performance of ‘Nuages’ by Joe Pass, he starts with a flat pick, and he places it in his mouth after the first four bars -as I said before, I do that when I don’t know what to do with it besides fumbling. It seems that he stopped using pick around mid sixties.

Jul 14, 2012
Picking… Finger or Flat
by: Javier Alonso

Fingerpicking -á la Travis- versus flatpicking…
The choice seems clear when we talk about country or ragtime guitar: finger.

James Taylor uses only his nails -see his web page for a tutorial on how to nail care- Chet Atkins -God bless his six stringed soul- used a thumb pick, Wes Montgomery used mainly his thumb, Mark Knopfler mainly bare fingers and pinching, and I don’t remember Les Paul using a pick, neither Joe Pass or Tommy Emmanuel.

Most branches of rock require flatpicking, specially neoclassic-metal-however-you-call-it but I’ve seen similar picking speed in spanish-classic guitar when player uses four of his fingers attacking a single string.

This is not a black-and-white choice, there are infinite shades of gray. One must choose the style that most fits him to feel comfortable.

Me, sometimes I don’t know what to do with the pick -Fender Thin usually- and it ends up between my lips!

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