Fingerstyle Guitar: Developing Your Picking Hand

Relaxed Control :

A loose wrist serves better than a stiff forearm approach when using your picking hand for most acoustic songs. Most accomplished players use the relaxed wrist approach. There is really no right way or wrong way. You will need to play how YOU feel comfortable, but for a smooth flow of notes, the relaxed wrist is the answer. Maybe if you are playing a tremelo, you will need a stiff forearm picking, but most definitely the relaxed control in most cases is STILL the answer. .

When Picking :

I would focus on medium to thick picks. Thin picks are just harder to deal with because you have lots of reverb coming through the vibration. The thicker the pick, the truer the tone, and the thinner the pick, the more the tone comes from the pick. Try finding a very triangular pick that is large when you first start out. Having more surface of the pick striking the string seems to bring out more tonal presence, and with a larger pick, you can push the limits of striking the string with lots of surface without sacrificing the area necessary to have a solid grip.

Speed and Volume :

When speeding up the alternating picking strokes, volume seems to always diminish. The best way to stand up against this is :

Listen closely to the dynamic range and try to retain an even volume whether playing slow or fast.

Use a medium to thick pick to retain a consistent volume.

When necessary, use force with the picking hand to ensure a solid presence in volume.

Use medium gauge strings instead of light gauge.

Use more of the pick surface when striking the string.The volume will not diminish as quickly as using a small part of the pick surface.

Be careful not to play closer to the fingerboard as your speed increases. The closer you play to the fingerboard, the less projection and volume. Adding speed, in combination with moving your picking hand closer to the fingerboard will only amplify the diminished volume.

Proper Position Of Pick:

Holding the pick with the side of the index finger, as the index curves under the pick, while placing the thumb on top of the pick seems to be the most natural pick position. This way the hand movement, up and down, is perpendicular (at a direct right angle) to the horizontal plane of the strings. And, there isn’t the transient sound that’s encountered when the pick is not at a right angle to the string during its attack. For instance, if you hold the pick with the tip of the fingers (index and middle), the pick angle is no longer perpendicular to the string’s plane (unless you arch your wrist). This works well on an electric; however, it doesn’t seem to work well on acoustic guitars where the wound strings, against the edge of the pick, may cause a scraping sound.

Supporting the Picking Hand :

Bracing the wrist on the back of the bridge seems to add a solid support. Of course, it’s difficult to jump quickly between strings. However, you will be forced to use nothing but wrist action. This position is a great exercise to focus the wrist movement.

Supporting the hand with the little finger on the pickguard, or face of the instrument, seems to offer a solid support without sacrifice of not being able to jump from larger string intervals. Random sounds will occur from the anchored little finger hitting and scraping on the face of the instrument.

The floating hand is the most practical position. There is no limitation on reaching the strings, no random noise, and you have total freedom of movement and the easiest method to combine both forearm and wrist to the picking action.


Crosspicking is one of the best exercises in developing a solid picking hand. Crosspicking involves lots of arpeggios forcing your picking hand to become well acquainted with jumping over and measuring distances between strings. When picking out a crosspicking pattern, each string has to be picked in consecutive order…if the aim is off, the entire pattern, or song, becomes off center. Whereas, when flatpicking on one string at a time, it’s far easier to regroup and find your place. Additionally, crosspicking melodies teaches you how to gain independence in accenting particular notes within the pattern.

What are Dynamics?

Defined in Webster as: “the variation and contrast in force or intensity.” This seems to be where many fall short. It doesn’t matter whether you’re picking on bluegrass, jazz or rock, dynamics establish the essence of the song. Varying the volume from pick stroke to pick stroke, depending on what the song dictates, or how you personally interpret the piece, is most critical to establishing the mood and feel. All effective songs communicate with interesting dynamics that contribute to the message being conveyed. The message within an instrumental setting, of course, can be quite abstract in that it might be a certain mood of grandeur, sadness, elatedness, or even cosmic awareness.

Remember to ask yourself : Am I focusing on allowing the song to breathe with my choice of note accents?

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