One of the fundamentals when learning to play the guitar is holding the pick correctly. While it’s not strictly necessary – you can play without one – most people play with a pick and it makes sense to learn how to do it properly.
Getting the right technique early is helpful too. Some people go years holding it incorrectly and eventually have to relearn to do it because it’s holding their playing back.
I remember I played for a while holding the pick the wrong way. I think like quite a few self taught beginners I used two fingers and my thumb in a slightly odd way.
From what I can remember it looked a bit like this:
Basically very wrong and a bit of a mess!
But I eventually figured it out, with some help from looking online, and it massively helped with my playing. It was tough at first but when I got used to doing it the new and correct way my picking became far more fluid and accurate.
So let’s look at the right way to hold a pick, for both strumming and speed, why you should hold it this way, tips to avoid the pick from slipping and more.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick Properly
Yes, there is a proper way to hold a pick. In fact there are a few ways that are acceptable. We’ll begin with the most common:
With the hand you’re going to use to hold the pick form a loose fist. You want it to be relaxed and not tight.
Don’t scrunch your index finger against the palm, there should be a small gap there. The index finger should be pointing towards your wrist. And try to keep the pinky, ring and middle fingers out of the way.
Next raise your thumb from the fist you just formed. Then place the pick on your index finger around about where the your first knuckle is.
Lay your thumb down on the pick gently so that the thumb pad is on top of the pick and pick itself is poking out from under your thumb.
Adjust the pick and your thumb slightly until it feels comfortable. You might want to rotate the pick if it’s not pointing in the right way or the angle isn’t quite correct.
This is a rough guide to holding the pick properly. You can make changes that suit you and your style of playing but that general idea of holding it is how most people play and is the recommend way.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick for Strumming
When strumming you will probably hold your pick in much the same way as demonstrated above. The only real difference might be the amount of the pick that is visible.
When playing faster (which we’ll talk about further down) you tend to want to choke up on the pick so that only a small amount of the tip is showing. For strumming it is usually the reverse, so you hold the pick further up and more of the tip shows.
But the best idea is to try out different positions and see what feels best. You might find that you prefer holding the pick further up with lots of the tip visible or the complete opposite.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick for Speed
When playing faster and not just strumming the best way to hold the pick is further up the pick itself. You want less of the tip exposed.
As the picture above shows the picks tip is just pointing out from between your index finger and thumb.
This gives you a lot more control and ability to make shorter movements with the pick, using just that exposed tip.
One of the big secrets for playing faster is reducing all movement to a minimum. The less movement and travel the pick is making the faster you’ll be able to go. You’ll be expending less energy too which will help with stamina and allow you to play faster for longer periods of time.
I haven’t touched on the angle of the pick and pick slanting which is also very important. The reason for this is I don’t consider myself enough of an expert on really super-fast, shredding style speed.
I’ve seen a lot of people recommend this video series though as extremely helpful for getting their speed up. Give it a try:
Holding a Guitar Pick Without it Slipping
The first thing to remember is that even the pro’s drop their pick or let it slip. So don’t feel too bad if it’s happening.
But there are a few things you can do to help it from happening too often.
Get the Right Grip
Firstly you want your grip to be right. Holding the pick too hard will lead to tension and affect how well you play.
But holding it too lightly will invariably lead to it getting dropped more frequently. So you need a balance – a firm grip but without any tension. You should feel relaxed when you’re gripping the pick but still hold it firmly so that it isn’t slipping or sliding around under your thumb.
It can be tricky finding that sweet spot of firm but relaxed. With time and practice it’ll start to feel more natural though.
Keep Hands Dry
Wet hands are going to make everything more slippery. That’s just obvious.
So if they’re wet for some reason – dry them. If you get sweaty palms then keep a towel handy so you can wipe them down in between songs or practising.
Try Different Picks
If you’re still having issues with the pick slipping then it might be time to try a different type of pick. There are so many shapes and sizes available and thankfully picks are very cheap. So you can buy lots and take them for a test strum or pick.
For example thicker picks are usually better suited to playing faster and single string picking.
If you’re mostly playing chords and strumming then a thinner pick will probably be better. A thick pick will sound louder than you want and will require altering how hard you strum.
Also you will want different picks for playing electric and for playing acoustic.
So get yourself a wide range of shapes and sizes to try out before settling on the one you find the most comfortable.
Sand Your Pick
In order to create more grip on a shiny guitar pick you can rough it up. Sandpaper or just scoring it with knife or something sharp will do the job.
All you’re doing is making the exterior of the pick rough. That extra abrasion will help the pick to grip to your fingers.
Tape Your Pick
Some guitarists put tape on their plectrum in order to make it more grippy and stop it from slipping from their fingers. This isn’t a long term solution because it requires you to constantly replace the tape but you can definitely try it.
You’ll need some double sided sticky tape. All you have to do is put the tape on the bottom of the pick and then stick it to your finger leaving your thumb to rest on top in the normal way.
Alternatively you can try Monster sticky pads which work the same way as the tape only less sticky and more “grippy”, are made from silicone and much more convenient to use.
Use Non-Slip Picks
There are lots of guitar picks that are designed to have extra grip. Some of the most well known pick manufacturers have made extra grippy picks.
The Fender Mojo Grip is a version of their extremely popular 351 picks but with a rubber grip added. The rubber grip, which is removable, helps with slipping but doesn’t make the actual pick itself any thicker (as the tip isn’t covered by the grip). So you get a grippier and bigger surface area you can hold but without a much larger and thicker pick.
You can’t really go wrong with Dunlop. They’re probably the most well known brand when it comes to guitar picks. The Max Grip has a molded grip to help avoid slipping and give you greater control. A good option for both electric and acoustic.
These picks have a matte finish which is somewhat grippy without being too coarse or abrasive. They’re a nice mid point between regular picks and the extra grippy type. A good choice if you want to dip your toe in and try a new plectrum with some grip.
These are just a few of many options. It can take a while to find exactly what type of pick you like so buy a few and get experimenting!
How to Hold a Guitar Pick While Fingerpicking
For the most part when you’re fingerpicking your won’t need a pick. You’ll be using your thumb and fingers (the clues in the name!).
But there are some songs where it’s mostly played with a pick but switches to a fingerpicked section. Or vice versa.
In which case you need a way to quickly hold your pick in your fingers. You can’t put it down on a table and stop in the middle of the song to pick it up.
So try this:
You sort of squeeze the pick between the parts of your finger joints where they bend. By placing the pick on the inside of the finger and bending it you can hold it in place.
Doing it this way frees up your index finger and thumb to fingerpick.
The trick comes in switching from holding the pick normally to like that when fingerpicking and then back again. It takes practice and some good finger dexterity to move the puck back and forth like that with only one hand.
If you need the middle finger or you’re going to be playing long and intricate fingerpicked pieces then that technique might not be ideal. In that situation there isn’t much you can do other than dropping the pick or even putting it in your teeth!
How NOT to hold a Guitar Pick
A lot of beginners, especially those teaching themselves, grab a pick and hold it however feels most comfortable. Unfortunately that can lead to issues further along their guitar journey.
Holding the pick in a really strange or unconventional way can hamper your progress and make playing certain styles or increasing your speed much more difficult. You then have to relearn the right method for holding it which is far more difficult after you’ve played for a while using the wrong way.
Breaking long terms habits is tough!
So it’s best to get it right early on, even if it feels odd. Below are a few examples of how you shouldn’t hold the pick. If you recognise any of them (be honest!) then refer back to proper method above and try to move to holding it correctly.
Tips for Playing with a Pick
If you’re new to playing with a plectrum then try these few tips to help you get more confidence with it.
Tension is the enemy of playing the guitar well. That applies to holding the pick too.
So try to get rid of any stress and unwanted tension. Take some deep breaths and relax before you play.
Use the Correct Technique
How to hold a plectrum is obviously important but so is how you use it. Having the right technique to play with a pick is important essential.
So, remember that picking shouldn’t be an effort. It should feel smooth and fluid without you having to think about it. An effortlessly flowing motion.
The movement of the pick comes from the wrist and forearm, not the fingers. It may not be easy when you first start but with enough practice it will begin to become second nature.
Everyone prefers slightly different methods of holding the pick, the angle which they do so, type and size of pick they use etc. It’s a good idea to try experimenting with all the various elements of using a pick to find out which you prefer and feels right.
How Close to the Tip do you Hold a Guitar Pick?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this. It more depends on what and how you are playing.
For faster single note playing you want to hold it really close to the tip. For more gentle strumming hold it much further away. Anything in between you can find the spot that feels right for you.
How Tightly Do you Grip the Pick?
You want to grip it hard enough so that so that you aren’t dropping it or letting it slip. But you don’t want to grip it so tightly you’re creating tension in your hand and arm as well as affecting how you play.
So a firm grip but light enough so that you can move it smoothly.
How to Avoid the Pick from Rotating?
Make sure your grip is right, as mentioned above.
If you’re having this issue, something you could check is your grip.
Maybe you aren’t gripping the pick enough and it keeps sliding around.
This could be due to the material being too slick or maybe an accumulation of oils on the pick’s surface.
To help solve this issue, try washing your hands & the pick with soap to dissolve any oils that might have built up over time.
This will remove some of that slipperiness if it’s due to oils & not just sweat. See our article on aiding sweaty hands while playing guitar if that’s another issue you’re having.
Also consider adding more grip to your guitar pick by modifying it and adding some cork or sandpaper.
If you’re looking for something more of a custom guitar pick, maybe try one of our handcrafted plectrums. Many of which feature grip enhancing & grip relaxation qualities.
I’ve Seen My Favorite Guitarist Holding the Pick Differently
Absolutely, some of the greats have had some very unconventional and different ways of doing everything. And that includes how they held the pick.
But just because they can play with an odd pick grip doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to! They’re the exceptions that prove the rule.
Most people will struggle to get past a certain point and skill level if they don’t hold the pick in the ways mentioned above.
What Angle Should the Pick Hit the Strings?
Ideally the pick should be angled down a little when facing the strings. So hold your pick towards the strings as if you’re about to strum and then turn it so it’s angled down slightly.
It doesn’t to have to be much but it will allow the pick to glide over the strings when you strum down. If you hold it too flat it will get stuck in the strings and be a lot less smooth.
Is Holding the Pick with 2 Fingers Bad
Sort of. It will likely put your worst at an uncomfortable angle that is going to cause extra tension and problems with your technique further down the line.
It’s best to just practice and get used to the normal way.