How to Hold & Use a Guitar Pick

For a beginning guitarist, the proper pick-hold is one of the most important things to master right off the bat. Grip too hard or in the wrong position, and you could wind up tense, in pain, and with a bad sound. Hold your pick too loosely however, and it could fly out of your hand!

Luckily for you, learning how to hold a guitar pick the right way is easy. Plus, once you master your guitar picking posture, it will be easier to learn more techniques down the road. To get started, you’ll want to make sure you have the right guitar pick on hand.

Choosing the Right Guitar Pick

How should you pick a pick? Well, guitar picks come in varying thicknesses or weights. There are also many brands to choose from. If you’re an absolute beginner,  you might want to try a few different picks before you settle on what feels best for you.

Beginners typically prefer lighter weight picks for strumming. If you’re working on picking scales and basic riffs, a medium weight pick should suit you just fine. Heavy weight picks are great if you are playing lots of leads on an electric guitar.

Pro tip: when you’re buying guitar picks, buy in bulk! For whatever reason, guitar picks will get lost the instant you set them down. You might also want to choose guitar picks in bright colors so they are easy to spot in case you drop one. Always buy at least 10 guitar picks when you visit the music shop. You don’t want to run back to the store in a couple days because all your picks disappeared!

How to Hold a Guitar Pick with Either Hand

hold a guitar pick

If you are right-handed, you will want to fret with your left hand and hold your pick in your right. Before you pick up your pick, take a moment to shake out and relax your right hand. Next, form a loose fist with your thumb on the outside of your index finger.

Turn your hand so that your thumb is facing you. Slide your pick between  your thumb and  the middle of your index finger. Keep a relaxed grip on your pick with the pointed end sticking out away from your hand. Your pick should be held under the center of your thumb.

You typically want to leave about a half inch of your pick sticking out from beneath your thumb. If you’ll be strumming  your guitar, you might want to leave a slightly larger section of your pick exposed. If you need to pick for accuracy, allow a smaller tip of your pick to stick out. This lets you get closer to your strings.

Related: The Different Parts of Acoustic and Electric Guitars

How to Strum Your Guitar

Hold your picking hand over the sound hole on your acoustic guitar or over the body if you are playing electric. Don’t rest your hand on the guitar; instead allow your hand to hover.

Now, use the pick to strum your guitar from the thickest string down. Don’t move your whole arm to strum your guitar. Instead, let the movement come from your wrist.  Practice rotating your wrist like you are unscrewing a light bulb while keeping your wrist straight and your grip on your pick fairly loose and easy. When you strum, you should feel a rotation in your wrist, rather than bending.

You can strum a chord from the top string down or the bottom string up. Try alternating down and up strums to hear the difference between each type of strum. You can try other rhythms or combinations like down-down-up-down to convey different feelings or evoke a genre. For example, punk music will typically use only quick down strums while an old country standard could be slow alternating up and down strokes.

Alternate Picking Technique

Once you’ve mastered strumming all the strings of your guitar, focusing in on alternate picking technique will help you play notes on single strings quickly and fluidly. Use alternate picking technique when you practice scales, riffs, or solos as this technique will help you build speed and play single notes cleanly.

To get started, hold your guitar pick in the proper position between your thumb and the side of your index finger. Don’t worry about doing anything with your left hand at first and just focus on picking. Start with a down stroke on the sixth string, the uppermost thick string, on your guitar. Next, stroke up on the same string.

At first, practice just alternating up and down strokes on your sixth string. As you feel comfortable, start moving this alternate picking pattern up and down the strings. Pick up and down on the sixth string, then do the same on the fifth string, the fourth string, and so on. Once you reach the first string, work your way back to the sixth string one at a time.

If you know some riffs already, try playing them with alternate picking. If you’re just getting started, try some of these easy guitar riffs and be sure to alternate down and up strokes as you play.

Improving Your Guitar Picking Speed

If you’re interested in playing fast guitar pieces, you’ll need to work on your right hand picking speed as well as your left hand fretting speed. A great place to start improving your speed is looking at the angle of your guitar pick to your strings. You should be holding your guitar pick at about a 45 degree angle to the headstock of your guitar and at a neutral position relative to the strings. If you are holding your pick pointed too far up, for example, the up strokes will be easier and the down strokes will be more difficult, which will slow you down.

Using a heavier pick can also help you to play faster. Light picks may bend slightly as you play a note, which slows you down as you go to pick the next note. A firm pick stays stable and allows you to build speed.

Lastly, make sure you are articulating each note. What does this mean? As you attempt to play without tension in your hands, you might be striking notes too lightly. As you increase your speed, these light strokes may become barely audible. It’s okay to play a little harder (but not too hard!). Just make sure you can hear each note clearly.

Now you’ve got your pick in hand and you’re ready to rock! All you need are some songs, plenty of practice, and a great teacher. Taking private guitar lessons from an expert instructor is a great way to learn proper technique and reach your full potential.



November 23, 2014 at 7:44pm

Great site! Awesome information and help. I have a guitar website of my own for beginner guitarists, and I like to read all I can and do all kinds of research to back up what I've previously learned. I want to make a suggestion to help your audience. I personally hold my guitar pick with the pointed end sticking out of the side of my thumb rather than the front of my thumb. This is most comfortable to me, and I have seen and read about many other famous and excellent guitarists who do the same. Adding this position to your site could be helpful for your students. Thanks for all of the help! I've learned a lot from visiting.

Suzy S., TakeLessons Blog Manager

November 24, 2014 at 11:35am

Great tip - thanks Ashley!

Comments are closed

Need help learning Guitar?

Try one of our most popular online Guitar classes for free

Switching from Strumming to Fingerpicking Patterns
This class will show you how to play guitar licks alongside chords, switching seamlessly back and forth between strumming and picking. You’ll start with small sections before moving onto playing an entire song with the help of an instructor. You’ll also get to learn a few new chords to add to your repertoire!
How to Play Guitar Scales
This group class is the perfect introduction to guitar scales for beginners. You’ll start with the A minor pentatonic scale, which can be used in a variety of songs. You’ll also get valuable practice time as you play along with other students in an interactive setting. Learning about scales will drastically improve your musicianship!
Strumming Patterns for Beginners
Strumming patterns are fundamental to playing any song on the guitar. Build your foundation of skills as you learn different styles in this group class, such as pedal strumming. Your instructor will also teach you how to alternate between palm muting and strumming, as well as how to create syncopated strumming rhythms. You’ll be playing your favorite songs in no time!
Guitar Basics Plus Easy Chords to Get You Started
This beginners’ guitar class is an excellent starting point for those wanting to learn the basics of the instrument. Your instructor will cover how to hold and tune the guitar. You’ll also learn easy guitar chords and how to switch between two chords. Having a solid understanding of these concepts will set you up for success on the guitar!
Essential Tips to Stay on Beat
In this helpful guitar class for beginners, an expert instructor will introduce new strumming patterns. You’ll learn about how to use a metronome, as well as how to play the different parts of songs in popular music. Each exercise we do as a class will help you fully grasp these new concepts.
Strumming Techniques & Simple Songs to Play
Your instructor will play along with you as you learn a few familiar melodies in this interactive, group guitar class. You’ll be introduced to picking individual notes on the guitar, which will help improve your finger dexterity. Lastly, you’ll learn all about guitar tabs and how they’ll enable you to play many of your favorite songs!
Playing Guitar Solos & Other Guitar Basics
This group guitar class will give you a chance to practice your performance skills as you solo with the help of your instructor. You’ll also get to learn more guitar basics such as common chords and strumming patterns. Don’t miss this chance to further your skills as a beginner to guitar!
Ear Training for Guitar
Learning how to play guitar music by ear is a special skill that is earned through consistent practice. This in-depth class will explore tips and tricks to strengthen your guitar listening skills. Students will listen to basic guitar strums to deconstruct and analyze the musical notes. A live teacher will guide the class in real-time to explain strategies for listening to guitar melodies or chords and developing the ear training muscles necessary for playing guitar by ear. During the live, group class, students will listen and take turns guessing the differences between major and minor, diminished, and augmented triads. Students will also have the opportunity to play a simple guitar melody by ear, with peer and teacher feedback.