March 1, 2024

About the Author: Cameron Hayes

Cameron Hayes is a guitar educator at the London Guitar Institute, teaching a wide range of styles such as rock, metal, blues, jazz, folk, RnB, acoustic, and many more! He teaches a large volume of students on a weekly basis and always looks to provide outstanding value in each and every lesson!

If you’re just starting out on your guitar journey and are primarily self taught, there may be some confusion for you around whether or not you should be using a plectrum/guitar pick to strike the notes that you are playing. Some people take to using a pick more naturally than others, but it is actually very important to getting the best result possible in your playing to either use this or not. I would urge all guitarist to get used to playing both with and without a pick, as different songs will require different techniques and sounds.

Hand strumming guitar with pick


For 99% of the time that you are playing chords, the use of a pick will be crucial. Yes there are some exceptions, but in order to achieve a nice clear and crisp sound strumming with a pick will be crucial and much easier to getting the desired tone. This will be especially helpful when incorporating lots of up strokes into parts, as this become very awkward when trying to strum with just the fingers. Think “Wonderwall” by Oasis.

Another scenario in chord land where we should be using a pick is when playing a song that is predominantly made up of power chords. This is very common in rock music, as the simple two note chord packs a lot of punch. To get that extra punchy and direct sound, use a pick which will make those power chords sound even more electrifying. Think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.

Man playing guitar

Separate bass notes and top note melodies

It won’t always be appropriate to use a pick, as sometimes we need individual control of the strings rather than strumming them all in one motion.

This would be an example of a more finger-style technique, where the thumb is responsible for the lower bass notes (usually on the E, A and D strings) and the first three fingers in your plucking hand are responsible for the treble strings (G, B, high E) to be able to target specific notes individually.

This technique is great when you want two different strings, without having to play all of the other strings in-between like you would if you were strumming with a pick. Think “Blackbird” by The Beatles.

Hand strumming guitar

Single note riffs/melodies

Single note riffs can vary from song to song, so this may depend on the sound that you are looking for. If you are more of a rock guitarist, chances are you will need to use a pick to get the desired sound. This would be the case for a song like “Seven Nation Army”, which has a lot of punch to the sound of that riff.

If you’re playing a single note melody, especially in more of a classical guitar style, then you will want to use your fingers. For classical guitarists, this would involve the use of the rest stroke or walking fingers technique, which will allow you to project single note melodies strongly. Think “Frere Jacques”.

Man playing guitar with music sheet

Why not both?

So we know that sometimes we will need to use a pick, and other times we will need to use our fingers, but can we ever use both at the same time? Yes absolutely we can!

This style of playing is called hybrid picking, which follows a similar approach to regular finger-style technique, although now the pick is plucking the lower bass strings for the majority of the time rather than the thumb.

This style of playing is also named chicken-pickin’, common in country music when playing fast twangy guitar parts. Check out “One More Last Chance” by Vince Gill.

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