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).
When I was teaching myself about music theory, it always seemed disjointed and confusing. No textbooks I read clearly showed me how chords, scales and arpeggios worked together. They were spending so much time showing me every individual branch of every tree that I never understood thatthey were all part of the same forest.
This little system of mine works like a charm to demystify quite a bit of theory while also making several important theoretical connections.
Now if you have read up to this point you understand that there are only 12 different notes in music. We can apply any formula (scale shape, chord shape, etc.) to any one of the 12 notes.
Imagine a row of 12 buckets.
Now let’s pretend that each bucket represents one of the 12 Major scales. Each bucket contains an infinite supply of notes from it’s Major scale.
This C Major bucket contains an infinite amount of notes only from the C Major scale ( C D E F G A B C).
A G Major bucket contains an infinite amount of notes only from the G Major scale ( G A B C D E F# G).
NEARLY EVERY SONG USES ONE BUCKET TO CREATE IT’S SCALES, CHORDS AND ARPEGGIOS!!!*
The bucket that we choose for a song is often called the KEYorKey Signature.
Let’s say we want to write a song. The first thing we have to decide is which of the 12 buckets we want to use. Let’s assume we chose C.
You can reach into the bucket and pull out any note in any order to make a melody. (Remember that there is an infinite amount of C Major notes in the C Major bucket).This melody may be your vocal line, guitar solo or whatever.
I can reach into the same bucket and pull handfulls of notes at a time. This produces chords.
Q:Will your melody line work with my chords?
A: Of course! We are drawing from the same source or collective of notes.
We should stop for a moment, let this sink in and learn a new vocabulary word: diatonic.
Diatonic means coming from the same source. The chords and melody we produced came from the same bucket/source so they have to work together. If for some reason I add an errant note to the mix(Example= I add a G# note to a chord), the chord is no longer diatonic because I have added a new element that contradicts the notes you are playing.
If the melody and chords stay true to the original bucket/source, we are staying diatonic.
This is a very “safe” way to play-meaning that if you stay within the bucket you won’t hit any ugly notes.
*Because it is so commonly heard, some styles of music (namely Jazz and Classical) might dip into several different buckets over the course of one song. The trick is to have the melody and chords switch buckets at the same time.
We’ll refer back to this concept often so please make sure you understand it before moving on.