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How To Hold A Pick | Lesson #6

How to Hold  A Guitar Pick For Smooth Strumming 

It might seem obvious to some, but holding a pick properly can make a big difference in your guitar playing. In this lesson you'll learn how to hold a guitar pick for smooth guitar strumming. No small feat for the beginner guitarist. 

In my years for teaching guitar I've found two things that consistently give new guitar students a tough time. The first one is changing chords from one to another on time. The second is how to hold a guitar pick to get a smooth strum…  without the pick falling out of your hands

Before we start on the technique, let's talk about the value of using a pick.

Why Use A Pick?

First off, you don’t have to use a pick. In fact I sometimes advise new beginners to strum chords straight down with their thumb if they are struggling with fingering the chord. That way they can concentrate on the fingering of the chord without worrying about how to hold the pick. 

I use my thumb and fingers to strum my nylon string guitar. We’ll talk more about fingerstyle guitar in one of the upcoming lessons. 

Learning how to use a pick can come in handy though. It’s especially helpful in getting a smooth strum if you are going to play a steel string acoustic guitar. 

With that in mind here's how to hold a guitar pick…

How to Hold A Pick

Let’s start off with how to place the pick properly.

  • Wrap your first finger into itself, and place the pick on top of the first knuckle.
  • Place your thumb over it so that the bottom of the pick sticks out.
  • Roll your thumb backward a little bit so that you will be able to press the back part of the pick and it will still wobble. Wobble helps you produce a smoother strum.
  • Practice this until you can hold your pick properly.

Check the picture below to see how the ideal way of holding the pick.

Don’t worry if the pick falls out of your hand because it might take a while for you to be able to hold it tightly at the back while still letting it wobble. It will improve with practice.

What Thickness Of Pick Should I Use?

I advise you to use a medium pick as a beginner. Though it’s easier to strum with lighter picks, it becomes harder to play single notes. 

A thick pick is great for playing melodies, but not easy to strum with. A medium pick is perfect for beginners, but if you are not really concerned about melodies, you can go for a thin pick.

Arm Motion

The next thing after learning how to hold a guitar pick is to learn how to move your hand and arm while holding the pick. 

Generally, the picking motion is just back and forth.  You can practice this movement by properly placing your pick on your finger as described above, and then just move up and down over the strings. Go about equal distance on each side of the sound hole. Imagine the movement of a simple pendulum and do the same with your pick. 

As you move back and forth over the sound hole remember to keep you wrist loose and turn it slightly up as you strum down, and slightly down as your arm comes up. 

It's important to master this movement because it's the basis for most of the strums you'll learn in the beginner stages. 

You will become better at this with practice… practice the motion of constantly moving your hand up and down over the strings. You’ll get accustomed to the feel of the pick in your hand and how it sounds on the strings.

how to hold a pick guitar strumming

Smooth Strumming Tips

Let me give you a little tip. Turn your wrist slightly on the way down. On the way, up, slightly turn the wrist the other way. Your elbow and your wrist should be involved in this movement, though the wrist has more to do. 

Relax! Your wrist must be flexible. If you are having a hard time getting a good smooth strum it's most likely that you need to relax your wrist and let it move freely. 

All you need is practice. Practice this up-down strumming motion with the pick in your hand.

What's Next?

In lesson #7  you'll learn Your First Guitar Chords

See you soon.

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  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    i picked up guitar after 25 years and im 63 yrs old.i was watching your utube video .i can play about 20 open chords clearly ,but never played barre chords . dont no if these lessons are for me but like your technique.want to learn folk songs (james taylor ,cat stevens etc>)
    where would i start

  2. Hi Tomas. I’m a 70 year old left handed gal who finally decided to take lessons. I was encouraged years ago to try right handed only to be extremely frustrated, so I sold my guitar and amp. Now that it’s more convenient to find left handed guitars, I’ve decided it’s now or never to learn. I have a Fender electric and a Baby Martin acoustic.

    I’m wondering if it would be better to take lessons on line, and if I could go at my own pace. I see my teacher once a week for 1/2 hour. I feel I’m wasting money because it takes me longer to learn and my vision is poor. Sometimes I have to record my exercises/songs because I can’t play in front of him. Please advise on your process. Thanks!

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