One of the ways we can play the guitar strings involves the use of a guitar pick (which can also be called a plectrum). Picks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are usually roughly triangular in shape and are made of a made of a flexible material such as plastic.
Tortex is one of the most popular brands of guitar pick and these can be bought in any music store, or in many online stores, including Amazon. As you can see in the image above, these come in a variety of thicknesses (from .50mm to 1.14mm for the Tortex brand). The thickness of the guitar pick has an effect on the sound of the note as you hit the string, since thicker picks tend to be less flexible, so more of the energy is transferred from the movement of your hand as you strike the string. Thinner picks, on the other hand, flex more, and so produce a weaker sound.
The thickness of pick you choose is, in part, a matter of personal preference. When starting out using the pick (and even as you become a more advanced player), it is worth trying out a number of different thicknesses of pick to see which you prefer. You may change your preference several times as you refine your own playing style.
Some thicknesses are also better suited to some styles of music. If you play a lot of acoustic guitar, with heavier gauge strings, you may find you need a thicker pick to get a good sound from your guitar. Likewise, if you are into metal or rock genres which involve speed picking when playing lead guitar, a medium/thick plectrum is probably the best choice as it will allow you to pick with greater speed and accuracy than a thin pick which flexes a lot.
If you are new to using a guitar pick, it’s generally best to start with a medium thickness (0.73 or 0.88mm) and to experiment with different picks as you progress with your playing.
Holding the Guitar Pick
When we hold a guitar pick we usually do so with our dominant hand (i.e. the right hand for right handers, and the left hand for lefties). Shape your hand into a loose fist (imagine you are holding an ice-cream cone), and with the pointed end of the pick facing away from your hand, place the pick between your thumb and the top knuckle of your index finger. The pointed end of the pick should protude about 1 cm from where you are gripping it so you can strike the strings.
With your hand hovering just above the bridge and your forearm resting lightly on the guitar body, place the flat edge of the pick just before the bottom E string, holding the pick so that the pointed end is angled slightly away from the string. For an electric guitar, your pick should be roughly in line with the middle pickup, and for an acoustic it should be near the centre of the sound hole. Don’t worry about using your left hand to fret any notes for the moment – you’re just going to get used to strumming the open strings.
Keeping your wrist relaxed, move your arm at the elbow to pick across all of the strings using an even sweeping motion. Most of the motion will come from your forearm at this stage, though you may also have a little movement at the wrist. As you progress with your strumming technique, you will learn to use your wrist more to control the movement, especially when we start to explore upstrokes and different strumming patterns.
Your strum should sound something like this: