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Lesson #10: Picking Introduction

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-17
Topic: Technique Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73484

Picking Introduction

The lessons in the other categories can sort of be organized, especially the theory lessons, because everything builds on everything else. But as for technique, or the way I look at it, I'm going to have a hard time putting them in some kind of reasonable order. I what I'll do is just jump right into the middle of things, and this category will just be a mishmash of all sorts of different lessons about technique.

Saying that, I'll still do my best do see if I can eventually put them in some kind of order.

Okay, this lesson is kind of an abstract on picking. Further lessons will deal with specific aspects of picking.

A pick, which is also called a plectrum, comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most popular shape is the triangle shape, with slightly rounded corners. The material and the shape of the pick can will affect what can be done with it. Soft picks(thin picks) don't create as much resistance with the strings, so some beginners feel that this is the best kind. But in my opinion, the hard pick is much better. It gives a better tone, and doesn't cause as much pick noise. Because it can create as much resistance with the strings as you want, you can play louder or softer simply by tightening your grip. Also, with practice, a hard pick will give you much more control. Many beginners feel that hard picks are clumsy, but with practice, the hard pick will generally be more useful than the soft pick.

The shape of the pick will also affect things. Most people like to pick with the pointy side of a triangular pick. Other people like to pick with one of the other two rounded sides. I prefer the rounded side, but it is a matter of opinion. I feel that by using the rounded side, I get better control. What I do is sand my picks, so that they are symmetrical, with no pointy side. But again, whatever feels best and more comfortable for you is what you should go with.

The manner is which you grip the pick will affect things. The classic grip on the pick is in-between the thumb and the index finger. But this is very general, there are many ways to hold the pick in-between the thumb and the index finger. Whether the thumb joint it locked or not, how much pick is exposed, and what angle the pick is held at are some of the considerations. Some people like to use the thumb and the middle finger, and some people like to grip the pick between their thumb and both the index and middle fingers.

Another important thing to consider is how you position your right hand in relation to the guitar. 'Anchoring' refers to what part of your right hand actually touches the guitar. Some guitarists think that all anchoring is bad, and that no part of the hand should touch the body of the guitar. In my opinion, anchoring can be beneficial, because it gives you better control. Probably the reason that many people believe anchoring is bad is because many people who anchor their right hand restrict the movements of their fingers or wrist, adding tension to their motion and playing, and sometimes end up injuring themselves. But if you learn to anchor in a relaxed way, having something touching the body of the guitar can give you added control, and a reference point to know where the strings are, hence the word 'anchor'. Some ways or anchoring include resting your pinkie(or other fingers) on the pick guard. This can serve as a reference. Other players place their palm on the bridge. If you do this, make sure that your wrist isn't rigid, it should be relaxed and free to move. Some players hook their pinkie onto the high E string while playing the lower notes. And some players leave their hand completely suspended, with no anchoring at all.

A final thing to consider is the motion that you're right hand, wrist, fingers or arm makes to actually cause the pick to hit the strings. Ideally, the smaller the motion, the better. This is extremely important if you wish to develop a high level of speed. Using the motion of the fingers or the wrist is the best way to pick. The motion should not originate from the forearm, because this would severely hamper your control. Compare it to holding a needle and a thread in different hands, at arms length, and then trying to thread the needle through the hole. The motion used to pick is a very individual thing... but I guess one thing that you should remember is to always stay relaxed. Tensing or locking you wrist, fingers or forearm will not be beneficial.

As you might have guessed already, there's really no 'correct' way of doing any of this. There are guidelines, but it's really up to you what kind of pick you use, how you hold it, how you anchor and what motion you use. But just remember, if you don't like the sound that's coming out of your instrument, or you're not able to perform certain exercises, maybe you should consider changing something about one of these aspects. Even a small change can make a huge difference. Experiment and find out what's best for you.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. Picks come in different shapes, sizes and thickness'. Hard picks are generally better.
2. The strings can be contacted with any side of the pick. The pointy side of a triangular pick is what most people use, but some people prefer the rounded side.
3. The grip on the pick varies, but the most popular is to hold the pick between the thumb and index finger.
4. Anchoring refers to what part of your right hand contacts the body. Some people believe anchoring is wrong. If used properly, I believe it can be useful as a reference point and used to give a sense of stability.
5. The motion used to contact the pick with the strings should be such that you are in control, and your arm, wrist and fingers are relaxed.
6. There aren't really any 'correct' ways. Whatever is comfortable and works for you is the best.

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