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Learn to Play Guitar Fast - How to use a guitar pick correctly

Updated on October 4, 2014

Getting a Grip - The right way to pick guitar..

Do you want to master guitar picking with a flatpick? This an an essential technique for speed and proficiency on acoustic and electric guitar. Do you have problems using a guitar pick? You are here because you want to learn to play guitar fast and to do that you need to master guitar picking technique and use a plectrum correctly. Great pick technique is vital to play guitar fast. This page will show you how to pick guitar well.

Take a look in any rock or jazz guitar tutor and you will nearly always see one or two choices given on how to hold a guitar pick. Orthodox and metal grips come to mind for a start, but here are a few tips and tricks to get you started - ways you can use to pick guitar well. Whether you are looking for acoustic guitar instruction or you want to learn speed picking on electric guitar, one of the first steps you need to master is that basic plectrum technique. There are many effective ways of picking guitar and in this free guitar lesson. I will show you the right way to use a guitar pick.

Photographs and images used here are my own, please do not copy.

Using a guitar pick - Holding your guitar pick or plectrum to avoid breaking guitar strings

Or OUCH I broke another E string

Your plectrum grip is going to be personal to you. I have a way of holding my guitar pick that I thought was quite unique until I found one of my colleagues also holds his plectrum that way.

Interestingly enough, Justin Sandercoe recommends against the two finger grip that we both use for picking guitar, but it works well for both of us as professional guitar players. I have a lot of respect for Justin, but there are worse guitar pick grips recommended than the two finger grip. If I want to hybrid pick I drop back to a one finger guitar pick grip and I use all three spare fingers anyway. The key principles are easy however.

A correct guitar pick grip saves money and time! A plectrum acts like a lever, and works like a crowbar if you are not careful. If you hold a plectrum too far back it is difficult to control. You need to hold your guitar pick really close to the tip, then you don't have to grip so tightly and your wrist won't lock up. Sorry Tom, but 2 cm back from the tip is much too far and you appear to be showing about half of that anyway. In my view, half a centimetre is about right for a good guitar pick grip. Get this right to master precision playing for lead guitar and you will also avoid dropping your guitar pick in a song or breaking guitar strings!

Using a guitar pick - Bulk Buy Guitar Picks or Plectrums - Learn Guitar Fast - Guitar picks on sale

I once bought 1000 plectrums on eBay - I gave most of them away. It is a cheap way of buying plectrums. We all lose them and as a teacher I often just give them away.

To Play Guitar First Learn To Hold A Guitar Pick

Learn Guitar Fast - Important guitar basics - how to pick guitar well.

On line guitar lessons rarely go back to absolute basics, but your plectrum technique is so important. Now you have the guitar pick between your finger and thumb, rest the guitar pick on the top string (Bass E string) to start with. Your fingers and thumb should appear to be pointing towards the head of the guitar where the tuning pegs are. Your wrist should be flat and slightly dropped to make it more relaxed and easier to control. This also enables you to "palm mute" later. If you hold the guitar pick hand up it should like a bit like a snake or bird's head. Play some slow strokes just on Bass E by pushing the guitar pick gently with your thumb.

A Good Fingerstyle Playing Position
A Good Fingerstyle Playing Position

Guitar - How to play acoustic fingerpicking guitar

The different hand positions for guitar pick and finger picking

The hand position for fingerstyle or classical guitar is completely different! For your fingers to work efficiently they need to point towards the floor with your wrist being raised. (See photo) You cannot play plectrum guitar properly with a classical hand position, nor can you play fingerstyle guitar properly with a dropped wrist.

How to Play the Guitar 101 - Using a Guitar Pick

How do you control a guitar pick properly?

When you have the pick grip right, you can use the guitar pick almost like an extension of your thumb. For single note playing, use down strokes of the plectrum for slower notes, faster notes are best picked down and up alternately. On the upstroke just push the guitar pick up gently with your finger. Your elbow should absolutely NOT be moving when you pick single notes - if it is, you are in danger of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome as well as playing with a ham-fisted technique. If you can't play without using the elbow, review your grip on the plectrum.

Using the Metal Grip on a guitar pick

How to tremolo pick guitar in thrash guitar style

For a mini-tutorial in thrash style tremolo picking, follow this link I have set up for you on Google Docs. You can print it or work off screen. A good example of where to use this style of playing is One by Metallica. (How to play One by Metallica here)

Thrash Style Tremolo Picking Exercise Here

Tenacious D - The Pick of Destiny

Pick of Destiny Gifts for Guitar Players

Tenacious D had some cheeky hits with Tribute and Wonderboy amongst other things. One thing is not in dispute - their ability to wield the Pick of Destiny! Here is the TAB book for the album.

Guitar Wrist Action When Using A Guitar Pick

Getting fine control of your plectrum when you pick guitar

Although your wrist will move slightly when you pick single notes, it is NOT your wrist that makes the note. This is where so many amateur guitar sites (and some pros) get it wrong. Thumb and fingers should guide the guitar pick in lead playing, wrist comes in for tremolo picking only. Where the "play from the wrist" instruction slips up is this: if you are turning your wrist to play with a guitar pick, then you are moving through a circle, moving further than you need to, and you will not be able to play guitar fast!

Now you can pick guitar....

Here are some pages where you can learn songs, chords, techniques or just enjoy the music . You can check them out on my profile if interested.

20th Century Boy

Band In A Jam Project

Best Songs To Learn On Guitar

Born To Be Wild


Harley Davidson Guitar Stuff

Hey Joe

Highway to Hell

House of the Rising Sun

Johnny B Goode

Improvise on guitar - first lesson


Perfect Day

Play Guitar REALLY Fast


Smoke On The Water

Stairway to Heaven

Summer of 69

Learn Guitar Chords For Beginners

Basic Chords For Beginner Guitar

Here are some basic guitar chords for you to try. I have uploaded them to Flickr so you can copy them from photos.

E chord

D chord

A chord

For more chords in diagram form please click here.

How To Play Guitar Chords Without Breaking Strings

Guitar Chords For Beginners

Or guitar - how to play without breaking strings! Even the best guitar lessons I have seen do not tell you this. Do not "slice" strings. Notes and chords should be played with the flat of the pick. Slicing strings with the plectrum is the number one cause of string breakage. I can play really hard with a 2mm plectrum on .009 - .046 strings and yet I never break a string in performance because I keep the correct pick grip, a loose wrist and never slice with the pick edge. I only need to change electric guitar strings when they sound dull.

When you strum chords, keep the wrist loose and bouncy. The elbow will move when you are strumming, but it should be your fingers and wrist that are controlling the pick. A relaxed wrist avoids breaking strings!

Guitar Strings - How to pick guitar strings to buy

You won't break many strings if you play as I do - even though I play quite aggressively with a 2mm thick guitar pick. I always choose Elixir strings because they keep their tone for up to a year in daily use. That is pretty amazing, but they ARE expensive. As I very rarely break strings it is worthwhile spending that bit more. As guitar players we all have favorite string brands though and you might choose to buy your guitar strings here. This is a great selection! If you have a favorite brand of guitar strings, just type it into the box and search.

The choice is yours, but the dream is the same... If you love the guitar, I hope you have found this page useful. Thank you for visiting.

Acoustic Guitar Or Electric Guitar? - Are guitar lessons on-line useful? Did this help?

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    • profile image

      greenfall 4 years ago

      This is one of the most thorough lens on Guitars and learning - from how to play to picking the best strings not much more to add except to practice and that means time put in

    • profile image

      BeginnerGuitarLessonsMadeEasy 4 years ago

      Some good stuff here. Very useful.

    • Teddi14 LM profile image

      Teddi14 LM 5 years ago

      Great lens. I am blessing it, pinning it and liking it!!!

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 5 years ago

      @LisaMarieGabriel: I see what you mean. I misunderstood to mean, no elbow picking. My bad... :) But yes, as you mention the small movement from the elbow, the wrist is naturally going to come into play as a result. In certain types of music, the technique works better than others, it works well in stuff like the new flamenco, but for bebop, it takes a while to develop especially when playing arpeggios across the strings.

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      @JeffGilbert: Thanks for the input. In a sense, yes, you are right, particularly for tremolo picking. I do it myself, but the danger of saying "play from the elbow" is that this actually translates in beginners to playing from the shoulder. The key to fast picking on one string is actually minimal movement and generating very, very small movements from the elbow with a flexible grip is ideal. Whereas turning the arm at the elbow is not good. Hope that explains :)

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 5 years ago

      This is a great lens, a lot of great information. As a contrasting opinion, playing from the elbow will not develop carpal tunnel, and it's a technique that is essential for fast non-legato playing. If you ever watch flat pickers, or guys like Jorge Strunz from Strunz and Farrah, it's all elbow motion. Having used elbow motion for many decades, it's allowed me to play fast, and I have no medical symptoms from playing the guitar. Anyway, just my 2 cents... :) But you've put a lot of great information here that will definitely help people to play the guitar. :)

    • leilasi profile image

      Leila 5 years ago from Belgium

      Great lens! Inspires me to learn more guitar playing :-)

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very informative and useful resource on how to use the guitar pick. I would love to learn guitar picking some day. Thanks for this wonderful resource. Hope you've had a great start to 2013. Wishing you all the very best...stay blessed! :)

    • profile image

      HowAboutThis 5 years ago

      Good info. My son is working on his picking. Practice, practice.

    • Alex Cortes profile image

      Alex Cortes 5 years ago

      Great lens. I've been working on my picking because my teacher says I tend to grip it too high, but it takes work to break old habits. It's become more apparent with my acoustic playing, perhaps because of the different string action, but important to get right. Thanks again for the great info!

    • profile image

      timathee1 5 years ago

      great tutorial keep up the good work

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I tried to take guitar lessons twice. The first teacher was very folk style and encouraged me not to use a pick at all. The second was a classical guitarist and was very "picky" (pun intended) about hand positions and playing. I suppose I have a very strange style in comparison to the two of them. =D

    • nestboxes profile image

      nestboxes 7 years ago

      Great page. As a guitar plucking beginner I found this information very useful and I have lensrolled it to my customized guitar pick lens. Like GonnaFly I am currently still a "bumbler"

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 7 years ago from Australia

      Most interesting. I have played the guitar for years, but have never really learned to use a pick - I just bumble my way along with a style of my own....

    • I-sparkle profile image

      I-sparkle 7 years ago

      This is a fantastic teaching lens. I was really impressed by the comprehensive detail and flow of this piece. Great resource information as well. I am going to nominate if for a LotD. Congrats on a job well done!