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Old 01-23-2020, 07:37 AM
shakenbake shakenbake is offline
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Default Looking for Pick Holding Advice

Iíve been holding my pick a certain way for over a decade Ė index and middle finger on one side of the pick and thumb on the other. As Iím getting into bluegrass music, I see bluegrass (and other genres) musicians hold their pick with just the side portion of their index and their thumb on the other side. Iíve been told by a small few this is THE way to hold your pick. Iím having huge difficulty adjusting to this two finger grip style for strumming in particular. It actually works nicely for fast picking strings and cross picking. But strumming it is just very difficult for me. Hereís why:

The people that I talk to basically say you need to hold your pick firmly and not let it move or angle or rotate in your fingers very much at all. Up until now the way Iíd transition from picking to strumming is to simply loosen the three-finger grip I have on the pick and the pick would easily rotate downward during a downstroke and easily rotate upward during an upstroke. And then grip it firmly for picking. So how would I do this with a firm two-finger grip for strumming? I guess Iíd just rotate my wrist up and down for each up and downstroke? This seems very awkward for me. One because Iím not used to it and two because it takes a very small amount of precious time to rotate the wrist on every stroke. Am I going about this wrong? How do others strum with the two finger grip and also transition from picking to strumming?

Why Iím even considering making this behavior change is that I do find I get more power and volume on the strings when I use the two finger grip. And also the two finger grip seems to work nicely for fast flatpicking. But Iím struggling with the strumming portion.
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Old 01-23-2020, 07:51 AM
CarlE CarlE is offline
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Not sure if this addresses your exact question, but I think this is one of the best videos I have seen explaining how to hold a pick and why. You can skip over the first 2:00 or so which are basically an ad for his online course and some introductory material, but the rest of the video is good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yn6IQ1GMRQ

Last edited by CarlE; 01-23-2020 at 07:59 AM.
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:19 AM
Matt G Matt G is offline
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Default Bryan Sutton pick technique

Bryan Sutton holds his pick just like you say - between thumb and side of index finger.




I took his course for a year - it was great. The strongest aspect of it is the technique-right shoulder, right hand, left hand, holding the guitar.

I've always held the pick the way Sutton says to, so I didn't need to adjust to it during the course. Strumming is easy for me, so I assume it will become easy for you with enough practice.

have fun!
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:34 AM
SlopeD SlopeD is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shakenbake View Post
I’ve been holding my pick a certain way for over a decade – index and middle finger on one side of the pick and thumb on the other. As I’m getting into bluegrass music, I see bluegrass (and other genres) musicians hold their pick with just the side portion of their index and their thumb on the other side. I’ve been told by a small few this is THE way to hold your pick. I’m having huge difficulty adjusting to this two finger grip style for strumming in particular. It actually works nicely for fast picking strings and cross picking. But strumming it is just very difficult for me. Here’s why:

The people that I talk to basically say you need to hold your pick firmly and not let it move or angle or rotate in your fingers very much at all. Up until now the way I’d transition from picking to strumming is to simply loosen the three-finger grip I have on the pick and the pick would easily rotate downward during a downstroke and easily rotate upward during an upstroke. And then grip it firmly for picking. So how would I do this with a firm two-finger grip for strumming? I guess I’d just rotate my wrist up and down for each up and downstroke? This seems very awkward for me. One because I’m not used to it and two because it takes a very small amount of precious time to rotate the wrist on every stroke. Am I going about this wrong? How do others strum with the two finger grip and also transition from picking to strumming?

Why I’m even considering making this behavior change is that I do find I get more power and volume on the strings when I use the two finger grip. And also the two finger grip seems to work nicely for fast flatpicking. But I’m struggling with the strumming portion.
I'm in the exact same position, I hold the pick the same way as you and is very comfortable and natural, however, for quick strumming/bluegrass - the wrist is sort of locked into a tight position, with 2 fingers the wrist loosens up creating more speed and range of motion

I usually practice a few minutes with 2 fingers every day and then switch back and I'm slowly getting better. I just feel I have no control with 2 fingers.
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:39 AM
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RalphH RalphH is offline
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James Hetfield (Metallica singer and rhythm guitarist) holds his pick in a 3-fingered grip in the way you describe.

If these people are faster at flatpicking than him then I say listen to them, but chances are they are not

I personally find it easiest to hold a pick with three fingers for strumming and two (pads, not side of finger) for fast flat picking. Its very quick to side you middle finger onto and off the pick. No rotation required. But I would practice what feels natural to be honest. The world is full of examples of the 'right' way to do things and poeple who have not followed the herd and done as well or better doing it their own way.
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Last edited by RalphH; 01-23-2020 at 08:57 AM.
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Old 01-23-2020, 09:02 AM
JackB1 JackB1 is offline
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He kind of teaches you to have your index finger curled a little. Most videos I've seen tell you to have the index finger pointed straight down towards the tip of the pic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarlE View Post
Not sure if this addresses your exact question, but I think this is one of the best videos I have seen explaining how to hold a pick and why. You can skip over the first 2:00 or so which are basically an ad for his online course and some introductory material, but the rest of the video is good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yn6IQ1GMRQ
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Old 01-23-2020, 09:17 AM
CarlE CarlE is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JackB1 View Post
He kind of teaches you to have your index finger curled a little. Most videos I've seen tell you to have the index finger pointed straight down towards the tip of the pic.
If I understand you correctly, does that mean your wrist is bent at an angle in order for the pick tip to hit the strings correctly? An advantage of holding the pick tip perpendicular to the end of the index finger is that it allows your wrist to be more or less straight. Plenty of people do it the other way so it obviously works for some.
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Old 01-23-2020, 09:18 AM
robey robey is offline
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Side of the index finger and thumb for me. Maybe start with a lighter gauge pick and don't over think it.

That said, I started out as a mandolin player and played in folk bands and on the street for many many years. I was pretty good for the genres I was in. I took lessons with a local legend when I moved to this town, wanting to learn bluegrass mandolin. He insisted I play with a quarter and lock my wrist. Worked for him, not for me. After a year of lessons and trying my best to adapt to his way, I stopped playing mandolin and haven't played in 30 years.

Do what works for you. If it ain't fun, it ain't worth it.
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Old 01-23-2020, 09:21 AM
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UncleJesse UncleJesse is offline
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I've heard to hold the pick like you would hold a key to unlock a door.
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Old 01-23-2020, 11:42 AM
shakenbake shakenbake is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CarlE View Post
Not sure if this addresses your exact question, but I think this is one of the best videos I have seen explaining how to hold a pick and why. You can skip over the first 2:00 or so which are basically an ad for his online course and some introductory material, but the rest of the video is good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yn6IQ1GMRQ

This is really interesting actually. As i was watching this video I was thinking there is no way I'm going to be able to move my thumb upwards and downwards while strumming quickly. But as it turns out, I already do this. I just decided to watch closely what the position of the pick is with respect to the strings using the 3 finger holding method i'm used to and my thumb is actually moving slightly up and down to make the up and down strokes easier. With this in mind. I tried that with the two finger technique and seems to really help with the fast strumming issue I'm having with the two finger technique. With lots of practice, i could see this working long term. Thanks for all the helpful posts.
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Old 01-23-2020, 12:19 PM
bufflehead bufflehead is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JackB1 View Post
He kind of teaches you to have your index finger curled a little. Most videos I've seen tell you to have the index finger pointed straight down towards the tip of the pic.
I've been doing the straight-down technique for years--decades, really. But recently I've been bruising the index finger under the nail when playing long gigs or jam sessions. Maybe that's an age thing?

Trying to reteach myself to curl the index finger, but it's meant that I've had to experiment with different picks, especially thicker picks. I've recently crossed into Blue Chip territory on this, and I think this may be a solution.
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:02 PM
Italuke Italuke is offline
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As a former classical guitarist, and then having played lots of gigs on bass, I never really got good at flatpicking. Looks like I too need to learn to curl my index finger, as I've always held the pick a little farther toward the tips of both finger and thumb. Gotta say curling the index feels more crude, almost fist like. Which to me feels like less fine control.

But I definitely need to change something since my picks move, rotate, and fall on the floor.

Wondering one thing though, do folks use the same exact grip for electric as acoustic? (Or even same pick for that matter?)
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:45 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is offline
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Shakenbake, there are lots of ways to successfully hold a flatpick. My first stringed instrument was mountain dulcimer, and I usually use a thumb, index and middle finger grip on that.

Always have, and probably always will.

My next stringed instrument was mandolin, which was the only instrument I've ever taken lessons on. My teacher showed me the pick position that your bluegrass acquaintances recommended, and that's what I use on mandolin pretty much all of the time and on guitar most of the time. But sometimes I shift to a thumb and two finger grip for some things, mostly if I'm trying to get a big fat rhythm sound on chords.

So it's really what works for you. It absolutely does not hurt to learn this new grip, in fact it's a good idea, but you don't need to abandon your old grip completely.

Although I have a lot of my musical roots in bluegrass music, and played in a few bluegrass bands early on, one thing that I disliked about many of the serious bluegrass players I met was that - taken as a group - there could be a lot of peer pressure and groupthink among them. The whole "you've got to use THIS kind of pick and hold it in THAT kind of grip" routine.

When I was playing bluegrass music in the mid-to-late 1970's, the impact that Tony Rice has had as an influential guitarist hadn't really hit yet. That really didn't take hold until the early 1980's. It was guitarplayers trying to imitate his sound and mandolinists trying to imitate David Grisman that led to the current orthodoxy of extra rigid picks with speed bevels and so forth.

Back in the 70's, there were a few folks playing bluegrass who were using tortoiseshell picks but most of us were using Fender mediums, medium-heavies or heavies. Mandolin players have long gravitated to extra heavy picks, so that was less of a change, but that shift to rigid picks was a sea change among guitarists.

Anyway, one anecdote and then I'll finish this post. In the mid-1980's a new mandolinist moved to Anchorage, and he and I hit it off personally and played music together, mostly in social settings but occasionally played a few duo gigs, as well. He had a really nice Flatiron F-5 mandolin that happened to have an X brace under the top instead of the tone bar bracing that's typical, and it was the SWEETEST sounding F-5 mandolin I've ever heard.

He was using a Fender medium celluloid pick, and got a great sound out of it.

As the years passed I saw less of him, because unlike me he really needed a full band setting to do his best, and he joined one of our good local bluegrass bands. He'd still come over to the house for music parties occasionally, but his mandolin didn't sound as good as it had, and he was playing mandolin less and concentrating more and more on fiddle.

I asked him what was going on, and he said something like: "Oh, this mandolin just doesn't sound very good." Which I knew was wrong, since I'd played it and known it was a great instrument.

What had happened was his bandmates had convinced him that to really play bluegrass he needed to use an ultra-rigid tortoiseshell pick in a triangle shape with the corners rounded, just like David Grisman's. And it sounded LOUSY on that mandolin!

It didn't sound exactly like a box of silverware being kicked down six flights of stairs, but it came close. And it was because of that pick and the way his bandmates told him to play.

Had it been me in that situation I would have said: "No, guys, it really sounds better with these Fender mediums," but I guess I'm more of an iconoclast than he is. Because he gradually played less and less mandolin until he reached the point where he was no longer playing it at all, and sold that fine instrument that he had.

I don't think he even owns a mandolin any longer, which - to my mind - is kind of tragic.

My point is that while it's a good idea to listen to technical suggestions that other bluegrass musicians might make, it isn't mandatory that you follow all of them. What I've observed over the years is that the more mediocre the musician is, the more likely he is to insist that you follow the same "rules" that he's imposed upon himself.

So try these suggestions and see if they work for you; it never hurts to give them a try. Learning new techniques will make you a more versatile musician. But then decide for yourself which of these pointers you'll incorporate into your playing style.

Hope that makes sense.


Wade Hampton Miller
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