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This is a common question, and some guitarists might claim there are many ways to do this.  However, there is one great way to hold a guitar pick that will give you an even sound on up picks and down picks, produce a fantastic tone, and is physically comfortable and efficient. If we just study a little bit about how sound is produced on the guitar and how the body works, we’ll see some great results. This is one of the first and most important things I teach to my students in their guitar lessons.  At they end, they always sound better with less effort.  And that makes me happy.

Please watch the following video to see the answer, as the video demonstration will be easier to follow than the steps here in this post.  However, if you would prefer to do a step by step approach, I’ve got the steps written for you below.

Or, for the fullest experience, do both!

In order to use the guitar pick properly, we should know how the guitar best produces sound, how to hold the pick against the string to get that best sound, and how to use the body most efficiently to get that movement.

How does the guitar produce sound?

This explanation is rather simplified because there are many ways in which the guitar soundboard and strings vibrate.

However, all you need to know for this discussion is this:  For the guitar to make sound, which is simply vibrations in the air, the guitar top has to move in and out to displace or move air.

The movement of the guitar top toward the guitar back and out is the most effective way to move a lot of air. 

It certainly wouldn’t move a lot of air if the it vibrated up and down, from the sky to the floor.  See the diagram.

How the guitar top vibrates

So, in order to move more air, we need the guitar top to move in and out.  In order for the guitar top to vibrate this way, something has to move it that way.  Thus, the strings must move in and out to get the guitar top to move in and out.

It is for this reason that the rest stroke on the classical guitar sounds fuller and more powerful than the free stroke, because it presses the guitar strings into the guitar, not toward the floor.

So, the best way to hold the pick on the string is in such a way that causes the strings to vibrate in and out of the guitar.

How to place the guitar pick on the strings

So let’s hold the guitar pick on the strings in such a way.

Instead of placing the pick flat onto the strings, rotate it so that the pick’s edge is on the string. See the diagram.

When in this position, instead of pulling the string toward the floor, the pick’s edge creates a ramp which pushes the string into the guitar when playing.

This causes the strings to vibrate more in and out, producing that fuller richer sound. See the diagram.

The playing edge of the guitar pick
Pick deflecting string into the guitar

Lastly, be careful not to let the pick lean toward the ceiling or floor. It should be pointing into the guitar, perpendicular to the top, and rotated to be on the forward edge.

If it leans up or down, that will change the angle of attack to the string, making your up and down strokes sound different, and feel different.

If your hand rotates so that the tip of the pick is pointed up, for example, then down strokes will feel very easy, but you will get 'caught' or have a sticky feel on and up stroke.

How to Hold a Guitar Pick - Step by Step

Equipment: guitar
Supplies: guitar pick

Learn how to get the best sound with minimum effort. Now that you know how to place the guitar pick onto the string, and how the sound is produced, here is how to hold the guitar pick. 

1. Make a loose fist with your picking hand

A loose fist, tension free.

Notice that your thumb and index finger are touching. The hand is generally relaxed.

2. Put the pick between your index finger and thumb

Holding the pick properly with a loose, tension free fist.
Holding pick properly with a loose fist, side view.

Place the pick into that place between the index finger and thumb, ensuring the pick is pointing directly into the guitar. You are now holding the pick correctly. That's it!

When you hold the pick this way, the hand is very relaxed.

Better yet, when you place the pick onto the string, while keeping the wrists aligned, move up and down from the elbow. This will naturally and automatically put the pick onto the forward edge, producing the fullest sound possible.

3. Place the pick on top for a down stroke

Guitar pick on a string for a down stroke
Guitar pick on the string for a down stroke - side view

For a down stroke, place the pick on top of the string on the forward edge. Remember that the movement comes from the elbow, not the fingers or wrist.

4. Place the Pick Under for an Upstroke

Guitar pick under the string for an upstroke
Guitar pick under the string for an upstroke - side view

For a down stroke, place the pick on top of the string on the forward edge. Remember that the movement comes from the elbow, not the fingers or wrist.

5. Move from the elbow to get a solid pick stroke

Notice that the movement is coming from elbow, that the hand is relaxed, the pick is rotated and that our pretend string is vibrating "in and out" from where the guitar face would be.

Also note that the pick is on the forward edge for downstrokes, and back edge for upstrokes.

6. Conclusion

Watch the video to see how to hold the guitar pick, hear the difference in sound, and note how relaxed the movements can be.

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