The question of holding a guitar pick seems to be very common among beginner guitar players.
There are a lot of videos and guides out there that will teach you “the proper way” to hold a guitar pick”.
New players mistakenly believe that it some kind of a magical secret and the answer will immediately make you play like Jimmy Hendrix or David Gilmour.
In this article, you will find out what’s really the “correct” way to hold a pick and how it can help you improve as a guitar player.
“Correct” Way of Holding a Guitar Plectrum (Does It Exist?)
You probably noticed that every time I mention ways of holding a plectrum I use quotes. And that’s not accidentally.
The simple truth is that there is no right or wrong way to do it.
As I’ve said, there are many people that can teach you “their” correct way to hold a pick, but the fact that it works great for them doesn’t necessarily mean it will feel comfortable for you.
A lot of top guitarists in the history, as well as many contemporary rock stars, use absolutely weird picking techniques.
Some of the ways look absolutely insane and it seems like it’s almost impossible to produce any kind of sound that way.
Check out this awesome video by Stevie T that proves the point that there is no correct way to hold a guitar pick and every guitarist does it differently.
Here is the list of famous guitarists who’s picking technique is absolutely weird.
- Synyster Gates
- Kirk Hammett
- Tosin Abasi
- Michael Angelo Batio
- James Hetfield
- Eddie Van Halen
- Pat Metheny
- Steve Morse
- Willie Adler
- Marty Friedman
Does it mean all these great guitarists play the guitar “wrong” because they hold their picks, not in the “right way”?
What Impacts the Way You Hold a Pick
Hopefully, by now we can get out of the way the “correct” techniques and move to actually useful and actionable stuff.
The reason why it’s hard to give a short answer to this question is that there are many factors that impact the picking technique. These factors vary from player to player so something that works for me might be uncomfortable for you and visa verse.
Additionally, most of the times when we play the guitar, these factors get mixed up and this will also require you to change the way you hold the pick.
To answer this question we need to look at the different factors that impact your holding technique first.
Strumming/picking separate notes
Depending on whether you strum or play separate notes you may change the way you hold a pick. For strumming, you can hold it with thumb, index and middle finger. When playing notes you can hold it in many various ways depending on the specific technique you use to approach a note (sliding, bending, pull-off, hammer-on).
Depending on which technique you use you will need to slightly change the position of the pick which will inevitably change the way you hold it.
This might seem not a big deal until you actually try playing the same lick or song in a standing position. You will notice that it feels very different if you are not used to playing when standing. The extra pressure and discomfort can also require you can find a way to hold a plectrum more efficiently.
Another problem while playing standing is slipping a pick. When you sit on a couch you can easily pick it up, but if you are standing with a guitar that will not be so easy.
If you have ever tried playing a distortion guitar, you know that it is completely different from playing acoustic/clean. You have to mute all the strings that you don’t play to stop them from making unnecessary noise.
The technique is called palm muting and it forces you to hold a pick with thumb and index finger while using the rest three fingers and your palm to mute unnecessary strings.
Here are some other factors that impact the way you hold it:
- type of strings
- style of music
- play soft or hard
- which string you are playing
- wrist position
- level of playing
- mood: aggressive/ non-aggressive
Since all these factors are constantly changing and mixing up, naturally your right-hand position and picking technique will change as well. Sometimes you will even switch between playing with and without a pick.
How To Hold a Pick as a Beginner
You should hold the pick whichever way feels comfortable to you. Holding technique evolves as you improve as a guitar player. This is why you will always notice changes in your right-hand position, left-hand position or even your body position while you play the guitar. Over time you will naturally find those shapes and positions that work best for you, including the most efficient way to hold a guitar pick.