Guitar picks (or plectrums as they are sometimes called) come in a variety of different sizes, shapes, gauges (thickness) and composition. I’ve seen and played picks made out of real tortoise shell, copper, brass, stone, wood, bone, feathers, carbon graphite, synthetic resins and celluloid!
They each have their pros and cons, but you’ll find certain types better suited for different styles and playing techniques.
Face facts…SIZE DOES MATTER!!! A ridiculously large pick
doesn’t help your technique at all.
The idea is to have your thumb and index finger holding close to the center of the pick.
With a large pick, you have too much “sway” on the striking side (and opposite side). Imagine trying to sweep your floor with one hand holding a broom in the middle. There’s a lot of wasted motion to compensate for the big broom’s size. Now imagine the same chore using a small hand broom. Each sweep is more productive and you are much more accurate with a small, easy to manage tool. The same concept holds true for your pick…
So…OVERSIZED picks are BAD!
The most common shapes:
*All of these shapes are small enough to be accurate and manageable. Try several to find a shape that suits you.
Gauge refers to the thickness of a pick. Usually they are rated:
Extra thin/light (.44mm)
extra heavy (1.20-3mm & beyond)
The thinner the pick, the more “give” it has. It is ideally suited for lightly strummed acoustic guitar chords or even funk guitar chords that you might want to sound “softer” and not so heavy handed. Thin picks don’t have enough mass to really move the string hard-they have a little play in them. These are a good choice for beginners.
Thicker picks don’t give nearly as much as thinner ones, so their contact with the string is more forceful. These picks are excellent for single note runs because they don’t bend at the end of a pick stroke. Given their extra thickness, heavier picks respond more immediate than picks that bend or “wag”. These picks take a while to adjust to (many beginners hit the strings so hard that they pull the guitar out of tune).
A good player should be able to play with any size and gauge. Compensating for the differences is a sure sign that your picking hand is progressing nicely.
The composition of a pick has a big impact on the sound and feel. Dense materials like stone and metal have a brighter sound than porous materials like wood or ceramics. They also are considerably more durable.
Nylon is another popular pick material, but it tends to wear down much quicker than other composites.
A word of advice: stay away from “novelty” picks. You know the kind that change pictures when you tilt them. These are usually nothing more than stamped cardboard with a thin coating for the design. A few hours of real playing and they become confetti in your hand…
I use custom-made 351 shape “glow in the dark” picks by Steve Clayton USA (medium to medium/heavy thickness).
Most beginners feel that their hands are completely uncoordinated and independent of each other. This is a common complaint, but luckily there are several exercises and techniques that can help you to synchronize your left & right hands. Concentrate on placing your fretting hand on the correct fret while striking that same string with your picking hand. Both hands should “hit” at the same time.
Here’s an easy exercise: Start with your index finger on the Low E/5th fret. Next place your middle finger Low E/6th fret. Move over to the A string and play index (5th fret) and middle (6th fret). Follow this pattern up and down-while keeping the same fingering for the same frets.
You should get in the habit of playing every musical example forwards and backwards. Not only will your technique improve, but your ear will improve as well. Here is the same example switching the finger order . You’ll still use your index for the 5th fret and your middle for the 6th.
Now let’s try adding a third finger to the mix. Your index plays 5th fret, middle plays 6th fret & your ring plays the 7th fret:
Here is the the same example backwards (remember to keep the same fingering):
We can’t forget about the pinky, so…Your index plays 5th fret, middle plays 6th fret, ring plays the 7th fret & pinky takes the 8th fret.
And backwards (remember to keep the same fingering):
Notice that when we use all four fingers, we cover four frets (using one finger per fret). This “four fret block” is very important because it allows you to span two octaves without shifting your arm up or down the neck.
You can see how we used the four fret block in the exercises above. Let’s move it to a different fret and try to mimic the same fingering. Start on the Low E/12th fret with your index finger, then play Low E/13th fret with your middle. Next move your index to the A string/12th fret followed by your middle on the A string/13th fret, and so on. You’ll notice that this is the same fingering we did in the first example.
Try adding additional fingers until you can repeat the original exercises in this new location. Remember- you can move this four finger block anywhere on the neck…and you should. JUST REMEMBER TO KEEP THE BLOCK’S SHAPE INTACT! The same fingers should remain on the same frets throughout these exercises.
Practice these shapes on the lower, middle and higher registers, and you’ll feel comfortable playing anywhere on the neck.
*In the next lesson we’ll learn our first scale (the Chromatic Scale). It also uses the four fret block…but with a twist…
**Newbs are free to move on to the next lesson, OR stick around for some advanced finger independence.
In all of the previous examples, we used consecutive fingers to play from low-high, or high-low. Kind of like how you might drum your fingers on your desktop. Start the four fret block any where you like and try to play these sequences from string to string using: