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How to Select and Use a Guitar Pick for Beginners

You can ask nearly any experienced guitarist and they will probably have a story about getting their first guitar, or playing one for the very first time. 

Perhaps it is a faint recollection of stinging sensations from pressing down on the strings, little red indents left on the fingertips before any calluses came in. Or maybe it’s an image of scratched and scuffed fingernails after hours of pickless strumming. 

Either way, memories like this have a way of imprinting themselves on your body — a guitarist’s growing pains, if you will. 

Regardless of your experience level, you’ll have muscle memories of your own at one point or another. Whether those memories are of good guitar playing, however, will largely depend on your having the essential equipment.

So let’s go back to the basics: selecting the right pick. 

Guitar Picks 101: A Brief Overview

A guitar pick is a small, flat piece of material that you use to play the guitar — either by strumming or picking the strings. A pick is an important accessory for any guitarist, but there are so many different options out there that it can be hard to know which one is right for you. 

Finding the right pick mainly comes down to one important factor: 

Feel. 

What feels right for you will depend on a combination of 

elements — size and shape, materials, and thickness. 

Guitar Pick Size and Shape Considerations 

From squares and rectangles to triangles and teardrops, guitar picks come in a myriad of shapes, each of which delivers a different tonal effect and compliments a particular playing style. 

When it comes to selecting the right pick shape for your playing needs, you really can’t go wrong with old reliable: 

A triangular teardrop shape. 

Playing Comfort

Triangular teardrop picks are fatter at the bottom and taper to a rounded tip. They fit comfortably between the thumb and forefinger, and are easy to maneuver for different strumming and picking techniques.

However, it’s important to consider that comfortability largely depends on the size of the pick relative to the size of your strumming hand. 

Folks with larger hands or fingers may struggle with smaller picks because they’re easier to drop or fumble. 

On the other hand (literally), those of you with smaller hands may prefer a smaller pick because it closes the distance between your hand and the strings, making it easier to switch between hand techniques like finger picking and palm muting.

Playing Specialty

That said, your playing specialty also impacts the size and shape of the pick you… well, pick!

Acoustic guitarists who mainly play rhythm tend to prefer larger picks with a certain amount of flexibility when they strike the strings. This allows them to deliver that distinctive rhythm tone that’s so familiar for folk and country music lovers.  

Material Considerations 

The next thing to consider is the type of medium used to make the pick. Guitar picks come in a range of different materials — wood, metal, celluloid, acrylic, nylon, you name it.

Material choice is largely based on personal preference, but here are some important elements to consider when you are making your decision:

Texture and Tone

Different materials have different textures — and you most likely want a pick that feels good between your fingers. At the same time, you want to consider how different materials and textures impact the tone you produce. 

Generally speaking, the smoother the pick, the softer the sound. For example, celluloid picks are smooth in texture and glide easily across the strings to generate that warm and well-rounded tone. 

Alternatively, harder, more textured picks generate a grittier and more distinctive tone. Nylon picks, for instance, create more friction between your fingers and the surface of the pick itself. This makes them easier to grip than smooth picks, and are less likely to slip between sweaty fingers.

Wear

The final thing to keep in mind is how quickly the pick wears down. Certain materials like nylon are more durable than celluloids, and last longer even with more frequent playing. 

Guitar Pick Thickness Considerations 

Guitar picks typically come in 1 of 4 different gauges: 

  1. Thin — 0.40mm to 0.60mm thick.
  2. Medium — 0.60mm to 0.80mm thick.
  3. Thick — 0.80mm to 1.20mm thick. 
  4. Extra Thick — 1.20mm+ thick.

Thickness impacts the durability of the pick itself and the sound it produces. 

Thin picks are flexible, allowing for faster and more fluid picking techniques. Thick guitar picks have a more rigid feel and are more durable than their counterparts.

Some guitarists prefer thin picks because they are easier to use when strumming chords; others use thicker, heavier picks that help them dig into the strings for more aggressive playing styles and louder tones.

However, you might also consider using two different kinds at once — one for strumming chords and another for picking individual notes or power chords.

How Do You Use a Guitar Pick? 

In order to get a nice ringing sound for each chord and note you play, you need to make sure you’re properly positioning your hand and pick relative to the guitar.

Guitar Pick Positioning 

The first thing you want to do before you start playing is to position the pick correctly in your hand. The most common way of holding a guitar pick is between the thumb and index finger. You want to make sure that the topmost point of the pick protrudes from your hand toward the floor as much as possible, while still allowing you to touch the strings easily. This position lets you strum with ease while still being able to control your picking motion with your fingers . 

From there, you can try out different playing styles to achieve different sounds. The two basic techniques are strumming and picking.  

Strumming

Guitar strumming is the act of hitting multiple strings at once with your fingers or a pick. It’s the most common way to play chords on the guitar and is typically used for rhythm playing in various music styles such as folk, rock, country, and pop.

A strumming pattern is just a series of down- and up-strokes that you play one after the other as you alternate chords. You can do this in different ways, like moving up or down the fretboard, but most guitarists stick to downstrokes when they’re starting out. 

Picking

Picking refers to playing individual notes on the guitar, rather than strumming chords. 

While this isn’t as mellow as strumming, using a pick to pluck individual strings will produce a nice percussive sound. 

Closing Considerations 

Though an overlooked accessory, picks greatly impact how you play your guitar — especially when you consider how factors such as shape, size, material, and thickness can enhance or detract from your experience. 

Choosing a pick that best suits your musical needs is an important element to fully enjoy your guitar playing. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, following the guidelines above should leave you well-equipped to find a pick that’s perfect for you. 

 

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Attak Pik: Where Sound Meets Science

New to Attak Piks? Acoustik Attak guitar picks feature raised structures on their tips, leading to various sound enhancements such as desirable harmonics, tone brightness, and percussive effects. 

Get Attak Picks now. With a single pluck of a string, these structures produce a pattern of multiple strikes which produces a series of waves at different times. This results in a greater complexity in wave action when compared to that produced from traditional picks.

Did you enjoy this article? Strum on for more:

Interview with Grammy Award Winner Jason Mariani 

Interview with Attak Pik’s Brian Gross

Blade Guitar Pick Review by Jacob Rozmajzi

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