Picking and Plucking

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There are three common ways of playing the guitar. Using a pick (also called a plectrum) is probably the most popular way to play the guitar. However, surprisingly, using a pick is not for everyone. Some people will claim, for instance, one cannot play rock without a pick. This is not true! Any genre can be played with or without a pick, from country to death metal. (The lone exception is classical guitar, which is invariably played without a pick.) The following may help the player decide what is right for him or her.

Using a pick

The primary advantages of the pick are its ease of striking large chords and, because the fingernails and fingertips are not involved, the players nails and fingertips will remain intact. Furthermore, use of a pick makes a louder and brighter sound. Its primary disadvantage is its imprecision, making muting strings necessary. Also, if the player wishes to switch to the tapping style, he or she must get the pick out of the way, for example, by tucking it between the fingers, or by using the middle finger to tap.


Players wishing not to use a pick may try strumming. This is accomplished by holding the picking hand's index finger to the thumb, much as one might hold a pick, and striking the strings with the index fingernail. Anything in this book written for a pick can just as easily be played by strumming.


A type of strumming found in flamenco guitar which utilizes the back of the fingernails striking the strings in succession.


Another style is fingerpicking. This usually means plucking or striking the strings with the fingernails or fingertips. Most classical guitarists alter the shape of their picking hand fingernails for the purpose of producing a desired sound. Fingernails in non-classical fingerpicking are not necessary at all.

Fingerpicking is surprisingly easy on an electric guitar, which is strange because fingerpicking is often regarded as an acoustic style. The player may hold his or her picking hand's pinky finger against the right edge (left edge on a left-handed guitar), and if it is held straight and steady, this technique may be used to brace the hand. This technique is called anchoring, and is frowned upon by some players. It is possible on acoustic guitars by using the bridge similarly, but this is not as effective as it will deaden the sound. Classical guitarists never anchor while playing.


Tapping was popularized by Eddie van Halen and Jimi Hendrix. For some people, such as Stanley Jordan, it is an entire style of playing, but for most guitarists, it is simply a special solo technique. Furthermore, playing tapping style is very different from the other two styles.