How to use a plectrum or guitar pick

Updated: Apr 5

How to use a plectrum:

When playing guitar with a plectrum (or guitar pick) there are a couple of things to consider in order to get the best playing experience. So, how to hold a guitar pick?

First, you need to decide what type of plectrum to use, as they vary in size. As a general rule, thinner plectrums such as the Jim Dunlop Nylon .60mm plectrum work best for lighter picking styles such as acoustic guitar strumming. Smaller and thicker plectrums such as Jim Dunlop Jazz III plectrum work better for harder picking styles such as rock and blues playing, where riffs and lead playing are more important then light chord strumming.

But did you know that plectrums can be made from lots of different materials?

It is possible to buy metal plectrums, plastic plectrums, glass plectrums and even plectrums made from tortoise shell and that's not even the half of it! There are so many unusual materials to try out when choosing your plectrum so choose wisely.

Plectrum and picks

Once you have the right type of plectrum for your chosen playing style, then you must look at the way you are holding and using the plectrum. It is best to hold the plectrum at a 45-degree angle pointing towards the headstock, this helps with crossing over the strings as the angle prevents the pick from getting caught on the strings. Holding the plectrum at this angle also adds a slight ‘bite' to the sound, which can be useful in certain styles if music such as rock.

The plectrum should be held with a decent grip so that it doesn’t slip out of your hand however you don’t want to hold on to it too tight otherwise you can add unnecessary tension to your hand which can cause problems long-term.

Eddie Van Halen for example, had a very unusual style when it came to using the plectrum, along with other famous guitarists. Specifically though, Van Halen would hold his palm away from the instrument with his plectrum between his thumb and middle finger whilst doing alternate picking. An unusual technique which nevertheless allowed him to play at the quick speed he acquired.

Follow Tom's article with "Guitar string muting"

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