How To Hold A Guitar Pick & Why It Matters (Speed, Strumming & Tone)

A guitar pick is a critical component of playing guitar when not using fingerpicking. Since the guitar pick is such an essential piece of playing guitar, allow me a few minutes to teach you how you should hold the guitar pick and why it makes a difference when playing guitar.

How should you hold a guitar pick? The guitar pick should be placed on the side of the last digit of the index finger and held in place with light pressure from the thumb. The point of the pick should extend from where the cuticle lines meet.

How to hold a guitar pick

This is the most common and recommended way to hold a pick. There are many variations of how people hold picks, which can be okay to use, but it’s vital that you can maintain control of the pick. 

Now that you know how you should hold a pick let’s dive into why it matters.

Should You Use A Guitar Pick?

Strumming with your thumb can give a warm, soft feeling, and fingerpicking creates its own unique sound where multiple strings can be plucked simultaneously. So, what does using a guitar pick add? 

A guitar player should use a pick to increase volume, control, and increase their versatility when playing. Using a pick will help prevent the guitar from being lost and buried among the other sounds.

It isn’t easy to produce the volume that can be made when using a pick. Even at a campfire, strumming with your thumb often isn’t enough to overcome the sound of people talking.

If you are somewhat reluctant to use a guitar pick, I encourage you to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the worst that could happen? Just chuck it in a couple of weeks if you still don’t like it.

If you have trouble finding the correct string with your pick, try planting your pinky finger below the strings.

Does It Matter How You Hold A Guitar Pick?

We’ve established the purpose of a pick and whether you should use one or not. In fact, I encourage you to try it using a pick. Now that you are using one, you may be wondering if it matters how you hold a guitar pick. Does it make a difference how you hold your guitar pick?

The way you hold your guitar picks matters because it impacts picking speed, control, accuracy, which muscles are used, and overall comfort. There can be different ways to hold the pick depending on which playing technique you are using.

Holding the pick as previously described can provide more control and accuracy because you control the pick with your fingers. Just a slight adjustment of the thumb can completely change the pick angle. If holding the pick awkwardly, you would have to rotate your entire wrist to achieve the same effect.

That said, many great guitarists hold their picks in interesting ways. I’d recommend trying different positions when you learn a new riff and seeing what works best for you. 

How you hold a pick for strumming can be pretty flexible, but for maximum speed, there’s a particular technique that many of the greats use.

How To Hold A Guitar Pick For Strumming

How you hold a guitar pick for strumming out chords isn’t that critical, as long as you can maintain control of the pick. 

I recommend holding the pick as I suggested before, as it will allow you to rapidly switch from strumming to quickly picking notes. However, some players like to hold the pick as if they were pinching salt so that the other three fingers can be used to fingerpick.

The thickness of the pick matters when you are strumming. A thick pick is suitable for playing lead lines but not necessarily for rhythm. 1.0 mm is about as thick as I recommend for strumming. You can go for a thicker pick if you want, but it will make strumming harder. It’s doable, but then you start to have a more challenging time playing rhythm chords. You’ll have to have a loose grip on the pick, which could result in the pick slipping.

A thin pick gives a slapping percussive feel while strumming due to the ‘give’ of the pick slapping against the strings. 

How To Hold A Guitar Pick For Speed

Do you have the basics on how to hold the guitar pick but want to play faster? Do you feel like the way you are holding the pick may be holding you back? If not, it may be something you want to think about. 

If you want to play as fast as Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen, here is how to hold a guitar pick for speed.

To pick guitar strings with speed, hold the guitar pick so that the tip is perpendicular to the guitar. Next, rotate your wrist downward so the pick is at an angle compared to the strings and not parallel. A thick pick, as well as a firm grip, should be used when picking fast.

I understand that description may be a little confusing so let’s break it down into smaller chunks. 

First, start by holding the pick as you would for strumming, as I taught you previously. Hold the pick on the side of your index finger, with it held in place by the meaty part of your thumb.

To play with speed, you will need to hold the pick so that it is straight out from the guitar and not at an angle, as pictured below. If the pick is angled, it will speed you up when picking one direction (up or down) but slow you down when picking the other direction.

Now that you have the pick 90 degrees from the guitar’s body, it’s time to think about its angle relative to the strings. Usually, the pick will be nearly perpendicular to the strings, but you will want to angle it down slightly to increase your picking speed. A 30 to 45-degree angle relative to the strings is what is recommended. 

How To Hold A Guitar Pick Without It Slipping

Playing guitar without the pick slipping is a learned skill and takes a little bit of practice.

Holding the guitar pick with the side of your index finger and the bottom of your thumb will provide the most control and help keep the pick from slipping while you play. Firmly holding the pick will also help to keep the pick from slipping. 

 If the pick does slip, it can quickly be corrected in that position using your fingers. 

A thin pick will allow you to hold the pick securely while strumming the strings.

Experiment with how firmly you hold the pick between your index and thumb. If you find that the pick is slipping too often, try a more firm grip. Also, see how fast you can correct the pick’s position when it does shift.

If you still have a problem with the pick slipping, try using Gator Grips by Dunlop or Big Stubby’s, also by Dunlop. There are other picks on the market with various textures, shapes, and holes that can help you keep the pick in place.

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