Most beginners will ask this question pretty quickly after picking up their new guitar and trying to strum a chord. Should I learn to use a pick when playing acoustic guitar? This is a great question, and one that warrants a closer look at styles of music, types of strings, and fingernails (fingernails? Yep, fingernails). The short answer to this question is yes. For the longer answer, continue reading for some insight into the weird world of the strumming hand.
If you’re looking for a quick follow-up to the question posed above, here it is: as a beginner, start with a thin to medium thin pick. You will want something that has a bit of flex to it, but will stand up to some novice technique. That’s a nice way to say you might shred some picks when you first start out. Don’t worry! The technique will come and soon you’ll be picking with precision. There are about a million types of picks out there. Don’t get distracted by all of them when you’re first starting out. Here is my recommendation for a beginner pick: The Dunlop Tortex Wedge .5mm. I love the texture of these picks. They’re easy to grip, and don’t have any weird textures on them to distract from learning how to hold the pick correctly. Pick up a couple packs of these, you will use a lot of picks in your guitar playing career, and you always want to have a couple in your pockets, or lying around within arms reach (every mother’s dream right?).
This is one thing that they don’t tell you before you start playing guitar. You will soon be leaving a trail of picks behind you like a rock and roll Hansel and Gretel.
The link below is to the 12 pack, but it’s smart to get the 72. If there’s something you want to buy in bulk, it’s guitar picks.
There are actually many ways to strum the notes with the right hand. You can use a pick to do it, or just use your fingers. If you’re playing folk or blues style, you will often have to fingerpick. This is when you pick the individual notes with the fleshy part of your finger plucking back up towards you. This is often used in conjunction with a downward strum using the backs of the fingernails against the strings.
Here is an incredible example of fingerstyle guitar. This is a song called Windy and Warm played by the amazing Tommy Emmanuel. He’s using a thumb pick as well as his fingers, and also is using a technique called Travis picking which is the alternating bass line with the thumb.
Sometimes you will run into guitarists who use their fingernails to pluck the strings as they pull up on them. This provides a very pleasing and crisp tone that is necessary for some styles of music like classical. These guitarists often spend a lot of time and effort caring for their fingernails and keeping them in good condition. Often players will use fake nails to emulate natural ones. This is a level of dedication most guitar players never get to, myself very much included!
As I mentioned, there are about a million different types of picks. You will come across all sorts of plastics, rubber, felt, wood, metal, and just about any other material you can think of. When starting out stay away from all of those other kinds, especially metal picks. These can wreak havoc on strings and the top of your guitar if you don’t have the technique down perfectly. As a beginner, you won’t have the proper technique to avoid hitting the top of the guitar. If you buy the picks I suggest above, or some other thin pick, this won’t be an issue. The pick will simply flex when it comes in contact with the top.
As you progress as a guitar player, you will most likely start using thicker picks. These are my personal favorites:
Same with the ones suggested above, I love the texture of the Dunlop Tortex picks. If a pick has a plastic shiny texture to it, the sound will be a bit “clacky.” You may not notice right away, but as you play more this sound will drive you crazy. The shinier picks (think Fender standards) are harder to hold on to, and typically spin around before you learn exactly how tightly you have to hold on to it.
So, two conclusions for you. The first is please do not use metal picks (standard size or fingerpicks) when you are just starting out as you can do serious damage to your guitar. Secondly, it’s important to start using a pick when learning how to play. And when you do, go for the Dunlop Tortex Wedge .5mm at the top of the page for the best beginner pick for acoustic guitar.