Picking Surfaces

Core Location: Techniques

We promote experimenting with a pick as this provides the most control and range of color and articulation. You can use whatever surface/s work best for you & the principles that we are sharing are consistent for any that you choose. In fact, we're encouraging consistency as the basis for all of your motor hand articulations, especially picking. Only you can get to know your hands. Find out which surfaces and motor combinations create the best tone and accuracy.

The overall goal is to find our picking pocket. We first figure out how we will pick [this is how I pick]. Once we have it, we then keep that motion consistent for picking any of the strings. We simply move our arm to the new locations and keep our picking motion the same. "This is how I pick, now go there."


If you have enough nail length, use it, if not, use edge/tip of thumb, as close to the tip as possible [you can use the side too], & pick down


Again if you have enough nail length, use it, or use tip of the index, & pick up. Try the middle too. For fingerpicking, we can use index-middle [both up] to play scales.

Thumb Down - Index Up

Or, thumb down, middle up.

As if a pick

Hold your fingers as if you were holding a pick, & use the nail or fingertip to set the string in motion. See More on Holding the Pick, below.


A pick or plectrum is a great mechanism to produce great speed & sweet tone. Most of our melodic/scale studies will promote using a pick, but it's up to you. Experiment with all of the surfaces found in this session.

The pick has two sides & four edges. By tilting your pick slightly to the string plane, we gain access to the edges. It's very difficult to pick with the sides of the pick anyway, so we'll train in the use of the edges. Different types of tones can be created with different pick angles.

The 4 Pick Edges

  1. Thumb side left [top]
  2. Thumb side right [top]
  3. Index side right [bottom] - also could be 2 finger
  4. Index side left [bottom] - also could be 2 finger

Rather than keeping the pick parallel to a string, angle the pick to get access to the edges.

guitar pick angles and edges
Pick Angles and Edges

Holding the Pick

Many players are more comfortable using the 2 finger with the thumb, to hold the pick, instead of the 1. If the middle/thumb works for you, use it. Yet, please do try the 1 finger with thumb in the manner we are suggesting.

Try as many things ways to hold your pick as you can think of. Experiment. Get comfortable. Certain types of strokes will have different grips & picking angles.

Suggestion: put the outside edge of the top index joint pad against the 'ball' of the pad of the thumb (they fit together - like they were built to hold a pick).

Over the years, I've seen many beginners automatically hold their pick between their thumb & middle finger. In this configuration, the index can sometimes acts as a 'rudder'. When asked if they are comfortable with the way they are holding the pick, they say, "Yes," nearly every time. Is this a good way to start?

As students progress, there are things that we can ask them to do that are easier with the suggested pick grip. Students seem to gravitate to this anyway without having to suggest it again and again.

And, then, there's Eddie Van Halen. He uses the middle finger against the thumb. And who's questioning Eddie? Give Diver Down another listen.

A common issue is dropping the pick. We have to discover our best grip tension - how hard to squeeze. Different articulations call for different degrees of tension.