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 common scales use seven notes to give their specific sound, but we can also play “diet” FIVE note versions. A PENTATONIC SCALE is just a five note version of a full seven note scale (penta=five tonic=tone). Pentatonic just means omitting two notes from a given 7 note scale (there is also such a thing as a MAJOR Pentatonic scale that uses only five of the seven Major scale notes. We’ll learn all about this scale later). If you think of a full 7 note scale as a human body, the 5 note pentatonic version would be the skeleton. These skeletal notes give us the general outline of the full scale.
But why would I want to play a truncated version of a bigger scale? If I have 7 notes at my disposal why don’t I use them all?
Good question. The answer is simple-“less is more“. The more notes a scale has, the smoother it sounds (the space between notes is shorter). But when we play a pentatonic scale with less notes, it sounds more open and immediate. Pentatonic scales cut out the fat and get right to the meat of the scale. Think of them as “bullet points” for a scale-they give you just the highlights.
Because they sound so direct, they are used in several styles of music. Straight ahead R&R, Country, Rhythm & Blues, Folk, World Music, etc. all use these simple yet intimate scales in their respective genres.
Do you remember the FOUR FRET BLOCK that we learned earlier?
The Minor pentatonic scale incorporates this fingering but doesn’t use the middle (2nd) finger.
QUIZ TIME!!! HOW MANY MINOR PENTATONIC SCALES ARE THERE???
Twelve. Remember that minor pentatonic is just a scale formula or shape. We can start this shape on any of our 12 chromatic notes to produce 12 minor pentatonic scales. The same is true for other scales. For each type of scale, there are 12 possible starting places-meaning there are 12 of every kind of scale.
If, for example, we wanted to play an F# minor pentatonic scale, we would start on the letter F# as our tonic. Since our circled tonic is on the LOW E string, we need to find an F# on that string. From there, just follow the orange line for direction. Here is how you would play an F# minor pentatonic scale. Just remember that your index always plays the second fret, your ring (3rd finger) plays the fourth fret and your pinky plays the fifth fret in this example:
Follow the blue arrow to play the scale backwards (descending):
Here is the F# minor pentatonic scale ascending and descending: