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[VIDEO] Flatpicking and fingerpicking

"I'm not the best singer in the world; I'm just good at picking up what I want to sound like."

— Shawn Mendes

By now you should have your guitar, a few picks, and I'm assuming you have your fingers, so let's start learning how to use them.

Let's start with...

The pick

Here you can see a few of the picks I have in my collection.

You'll likely notice that they have basically the same shape, kind of triangular with rounded ends. These are the most common shapes, and I recommend you first learn to use them before trying out other shapes (yes, there are weird shapes too).

Another common name is plectrum. I believe it's more common to refer to them as pick, but you can use that name and people will (hopefully) understand you.

As far as materials, most picks are either made of plastic or nylon, though some are even made of metal (like the one in the lower left corner of the last photo).

Texture is important, as it will make it better to handle. I tend to prefer the picks which have some roughness, as they are much better to hold and prevent slipping. However, the ones I'm using right now happen to be quite glossy and still hold very well.


Can you guess which is the one I use the most from the ones above? It's the green one.

Let me show you a closer photo so you can see what happens when you use a pick too much.

Can you see the dents on the side? Yep, some punishment alright. This is what comes from playing with a technique called "pick scraping", which we'll see later.


How to hold the pick

There are a few common ways in which you can hold the pick in your hand, but to begin with, I want you to try with just one technique.

This is the two-finger grip:

The way you see in the picture, you hold the pick by pressing it between your index finger and thumb. You don't need to press too tightly on the pick; you'll learn how to better control it as you gain more experience.

You should also hold the pick so that you pluck with the pointy end. It's also possible to use the other, more rounded points (which I encourage you to play later), but for now focus on that grip.


Picking technique

There are two basic ways in which you can use the pick, and which I want you to practice first.

  • Down stroke

This is when you hit the strings with a downwards movement to pluck it. Check the following video to see an example.

  • Up stroke

This is when you hit the strings with an upwards movement. It's contrary to the previous technique, but involves a slightly different movement of the wrist. Although it seems exactly opposite to the down stroke, you will find that it is a little bit more difficult. Check the video for an example:

  • Strumming

This movement involves hitting multiple strings with one single sweep of the pick. It resembles the other two techniques, but done in rapid succession until you get one smooth pass.

Those basic movements will take some time time to get used to. For now, focus on hitting each string with the flat of the pick, that is, don't pluck them at an angle, like in the following picture:

What to watch out for

The movement of the pick involves moving many muscles in the wrist and forearm. For now, focus on using mostly wrist movement, but do not move the whole wrist from the elbow, as you can see in the following video:


The fingers

Using your fingers instead of a pick has its advantages:

  • You've got five of them.

An obvious advantage. You can use one finger for playing a single string, or you can use more fingers on a single string to play it faster. You can use several fingers to play many strings at once, or in succession. This is much easier that when using a pick, especially since you can play non-adjacent strings, which is not possible at all using a pick.

  • You can't drop them.

Though it's not a serious issue, some guitar players have a tendency to drop the pick when playing live. Well, you won't be dropping your fingers any time soon, I think.

Fingerpicking technique

There are a few ways in which you can fingerpick, but for now, I want you to focus on two techniques:

  • Sweeping/strumming

This is the first technique I want you to practice. It's the simplest way to play chords (which we'll see in the next lesson). Just use your thumb in a single motion and pluck the strings. It's possible to use your other fingers for strumming too, even use more than one finger at the time, but you will find it's easier at the beginning to use the thumb because it's the strongest finger.

Just like with the pick, you can do it upwards or downards too, using the fingernail and fingerprint respectively. Check the video for an example:

  • Arpeggiated

This is the technique used to play chords one note at a time. For this we will usually use the thumb to play the thickest string, then use index, middle, and ring fingers to play the rest of the notes. The pinky finger is not usually used, but I recommend you train it as well.


Now let's get to the next lesson. We'll start by learning what are called "Open Chords".