Picking is setting strings in motion, typically one tone at a time, with some type of object or finger surface.
For our studies, we will train with a pick, though we will explore other options. We have a lot of options for picking, and different types of music/sounds/articulations call upon a variety of technical considerations.
Our goal is to find our picking pocket. To do this, we will look at the core principles of picking. Over time, we dial in the whole system. Be exact, at the beginning. Don’t train mistakes.
We promote using 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
- Thumb side left [top]
- Thumb side right [top]
- Index side right [bottom] – also could be 2 finger
- Index side left [bottom] – also could be 2 finger
Rather than keeping the pick parallel to a string, angle the pick.
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.
I’ve found I drop it most following days of fingerpicking training. Transitions between multi-technics training and jamming can always use a touch more awareness.
All of the demos in the video are using a pick, but many of the following motor ideas can apply to “using fingers as if a pick”.
Great for tremolo picking & super fast picking. To use it in these ways, we find the angle of approach. Picking the bottom of the string is a common.
The elbow also adds weight/accenting to our picking.
This is the primary motor for the motion of picking. It is at the ‘center’ of our picking system [not including shoulder – which is a relaxed support]. The wrist has the most fluidity for most situations.
Adds finesse. Using the fingers is sometimes for specialty strokes. The joints can move in whatever ways work for you.
Highly uncommon, yet possible. Not demonstrated in our video, nor a part of our practice. Keep your shoulders relaxed. It’s common for shoulders to rise during difficult passages.
Training with a pick [experimenting with motors & surfaces] will ultimately lead to using a combination of motors. We call this finding your picking pocket. The wrist, being in the middle of the motor system should provide most of the motion, while the other drivers provide weight & finesse. There is no ‘right’ combination. It is up to you to discover your pocket. And, it may change over time.
Picking Along the String Plane
The video demonstrates picking along the string plane. The string plane is the length of the string. Experiment with picking at the bridge & over the neck. You will hear a difference in string timbre.
Near the bridge is brighter, & over the fingerboard is warmer. In Classical guitar, picking near the bridge is called ponticello, & picking over the fretboard [near the 12th fret – the middle of the string plane] is called tasto.
As you train, you should start to feel your natural picking motion emerging. Log time with experimentation. Take your time; use slow motion. Figure out how your picking hand works. Don’t train mistakes!
Stabilizing is resting your motor hand on the guitar while you are picking, which provides points of reference for your motor arm/hand system [there are many].
Floating is hovering your motor hand over the strings while you are picking [we still ‘stabilize’ – touch the edge of the guitar with the forearm]. I prefer putting the binding of the guitar in the elbow crease.
Types of stabilizing…
This is a base stabilizer. By resting our arm on the side/top of the guitar, we have a point of reference. This is most commonly used for strumming, yet we can pick in this way too, & when we do, our hand is floating.
It is common to use the guitar soundboard to stabilize. We demonstrate this using the pinky under the strings.
With this type of stabilizing, we are using our wrist or palm to rest on the bridge, without touching the strings [as in palm muting].
We can rest our motor hand on the strings, either below or above the strings being picked. This is vital if we are using distortion, so the guitar doesn’t clamor. We often roll the hand back & forth between the fingers & the thumb side of the hand. This creates a ‘channel’ in the hand for the string to vibrate.
This is dampening the strings right next to the bridge using the soft fleshy part of our palm. This creates an effect, as well as a point of reference. If we moved ‘too far’ up [towards the fretboard], the strings would be muted.