How to hold a guitar pick—Gibson App video
| June 14, 2024 |

Video: How Do I Hold a Guitar Pick Properly?

Picking techniques are essential for shaping your sound and unleashing shades of musicality

Holding a pick properly is a fundamental guitar skill you cannot ignore, especially if you are a beginner. A pick and your technique in holding it can significantly change how you play, bringing precision, speed, and a unique tonal quality that fingers alone might not provide. Whether strumming chords, picking out melodies, or diving into complex solos, a pick/plectrum gives you control and clarity, enhancing your overall sound.

I always say that a pick is about half of your rig. Materials, gauge, and picking style greatly affect tone—and if you choose to fingerpick, that’ll also be a major factor in your tone—just ask Jared James Nichols. From beginners to seasoned pros, adding picking to your arsenal of techniques opens up a world of musical possibilities, making exploring various styles and genres easier.

Try an EBow from time to time, too, for kicks and to discover things you can’t do with a pick. Specialized pickup systems and pedals that offer unusual sustain and feedback possibilities are also worth the time.

This video from the Gibson App (get an overview of the app) aims to help you start with the endless possibilities of your picking hand and avoid bad habits from the get-go.

This video is part of the Basic Skills course in the Gibson App

In addition to the basics covered in the video, here’s a quick look at some common and advanced techniques every guitarist should know about that are fun to explore. Also, I’ve written an article on choosing the right pick that may prove useful for pick/plectrum newbies. The rationale for the material and gauge of the pick is discussed, along with other factors to consider.

Alternate picking

Alternate picking involves alternating between downstrokes and upstrokes. This method is crucial for fast and efficient playing, providing a smooth and consistent sound. The video above will set you on the right path for this technique. Many guitar teachers recommend learning scales in a three-note-per-string pattern. This approach is excellent for fast legato lines and strict alternate picking. They maintain a consistent picking pattern across each string, which facilitates smooth transitions with minimal movement to the next string.

Of course, interrupting that pattern is the spice of life. Still, it’s one of those things that can unlock the fretboard a little earlier in your learning process because it’s easier to visualize and commit to muscle memory.

Economy picking

Economy picking combines elements of alternate picking and sweep picking—it’s my preferred way of approaching guitar. It focuses on the shortest possible path to strike the strings, making your playing more efficient and faster in some scenarios. For example, if you move from a lower to a higher string, you use a downstroke, and from a higher to a lower string, an upstroke. Incorporating short sweeps into this style feels natural if you practice slowly and work up to higher speeds.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking is about playing consecutive notes on adjacent strings with fluid sweeping motions of the pick—up and down. This technique is popular for arpeggios and fast runs, enabling rapid note sequences with minimal hand movement—a relaxed picking hand is essential for the best results. It’s one of the techniques that will get you unstuck from the box shapes that everyone learns when first starting out. Some players tend toward long-flowing lines, while others use the technique to outline chords and keep a melodic passage flowing toward a climax.


Fingerpicking, or fingerstyle, uses your fingers instead of a pick. This technique is common in classical, folk, and flamenco music. It allows for a broad range of dynamics and intricate patterns, as each finger can pluck a different string simultaneously. Unusual interval patterns and rhythms are readily possible with this technique.

Hybrid picking

Hybrid picking merges the use of a pick and fingers. Typically, the pick handles the downstrokes while the fingers pluck higher strings. This method enables more complex and varied playing styles, blending the advantages of flat-picking and fingerpicking. Country players use this technique a lot, but it can be applied in any style where you want to punctuate melodic lines with chordal or dyadic accents.

Tapping (and two-handed tapping)

Tapping involves using the fingers of the picking hand to tap notes on the fretboard, creating a percussive and fluid sound. Often used for fast, complex solos, tapping is a hallmark of many virtuoso guitarists. Let me Google “Stanley Jordan” for you if you want to watch and hear an early pioneer and master of this style. Quite a few new instruments were also invented for this technique: Chapman Stick® and the harpejji are just two of many stringed instruments. For controlling synths via MIDI, the Ztar from Starr Labs has been around for decades and can be used exclusively for tapping, depending on the configuration of the instrument.


Flatpicking uses a flat pick or plectrum and is the common lead style in bluegrass and country music. In terms of technique, it’s probably about the same as normal alternate picking but on steroids. It encompasses single-note lines, double stops, and strumming, allowing for a wide range of sounds and techniques that require considerable dexterity and good timing. Often, these lines are relentless, flowing through melodies and accents without resting between the phrases. The same goes for mandolin picking.

Tremolo picking (AKA speed picking)

Tremolo picking—an unfortunate misnomer that probably grates on many of us—involves rapidly and repeatedly picking notes up and down a single string. This technique produces a sustained and intense sound in various genres, including metal, post-rock, surf-rock, and classical music. Dick Dale was an early proponent of this technique, as evidenced in the classic tune Miserlou.

String skipping

String skipping involves deliberately skipping over one or more strings when picking. This technique adds a unique rhythmic and melodic texture to your playing and is often employed in progressive rock and metal. It’ll also help you introduce wider intervallic leaps into your melodic lines.

Palm muting

Palm muting entails resting the side of your picking hand lightly on the strings near the bridge while picking. This technique produces a muted, percussive sound commonly used in rock and metal for rhythm playing. Does it djent?

However, some muting is necessary for all styles as one consciously mitigates the natural tendency of open strings to vibrate in sympathy with each other even when not plucked. Sometimes, you’ll see high-gain players with a cloth wristband or hair scrunchie fixed near the guitar nut to help manage unwanted notes from open strings and from sympathetic ringing behind the nut.


Which picking technique is best for beginners?

Alternate picking is typically the best starting point for beginners because it establishes a solid foundation for more advanced techniques.

How can I practice picking techniques effectively?

Start slowly and use a metronome or a drum machine to build accuracy. Gradually increase the tempo as you become more comfortable with the technique.

Can I use more than one picking technique in a song?

Absolutely! Combining different picking techniques can add variety and complexity to your playing, making your music more dynamic.

Are you ready to improve your guitar skills? Start practicing these picking techniques today using content from the Gibson App and the included metronome, and you’ll see significant improvement in your playing. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced player, mastering these techniques will enhance your musical versatility.

Explore the world of the Gibson App today and start your free trial on iOS and Android devices.

While you’re here, stock up on your favorite gauge and shape of picks.