Guitar Picking Technique and finding the right pick

The new Oxford dictionary describes Picking as: to repeatedly pull at something with one’s fingers. It sounds so simple, and I think for most players (or 4-year-old :)) it is, as for myself it’s the weakest link in my technique chain. I picked up bad habits when self learning guitar as a kid, all but one I’ve been able to re- condition through hard practice and wood-shedding through the years. I started playing Violin and trumpet at the age of five in my public school system that had some really dedicated teachers who really cared about music. By the time I was in 6th grade I understood intervals and could read scores and charts well. I understood the circle of 5th’s and was starting to click with a little harmony and analyses. Why would I need an instructor to learn my 4th instrument my parents thought, they were off on that one a bit :) Guitar has been my first love since my grandparents bought me a 3/4 Harmony for Christmas that didn’t leave my side from 8 years old.

Sears Harmony 3/4 size vintage acoustic guitar

Sears Harmony 3/4 size vintage acoustic guitar

Not having someone teach me proper picking technique is what created this deficit in my playing. My wrist is to tight and I grip the pick very hard. For 10 years I’ve been aware of my technique flaw and am trying to correct it but find it difficult when I’m in the moment improvising. When I loosen up (literally) my playing becomes very clean and I have twice the chops but it’s difficult for me to do as an unconscious response like breathing. That’s what I do when I’m improvising, trying to create the ideas in my head bringing them to the speaker the way I hear them in my consciousness. Keeping cognizant of my picking technique in those moments are focus breaking for the most part still, but getting better. I do pretty well in the studio with my technique now, but playing live is a whole different cup of tea. Some of this issue is caused by picks, they always felt uncomfortable, some fit better than others, but none felt like my old school vans from high school or my scooter boots that are 8 years old. They slipped out of my hands often, at the end of rehearsals picks were all over my playing space.

In the late 80 I started using Jim Dunlop Green Totex heavy gauge picks, I would take gritty sandpaper and scratch them up so they wouldn’t slip in and out of my fingers. Most picks have this flaw for my skin type, Fender etc. I sweat when I play with a band, it causes my hands get oily from it like a 15-year-old hitting Mid puberty. In the Mid 90’s I switched to Jim Dunlop Jazz 3 picks, the small diameter forced me to play with less motion and they have a rough surface by design that helps with slippage. However the Jazz 3’s are just a tad to small, I wish the made them just slightly larger. I also can’t pick an acoustic with them because of their size, I flat pick with a Fender size pick.

A year or so ago I was checking into these boutique type picks that people swear by, at $25 US a pick “they better be” I thought. The day I was ready to drop $35 on a single guitar pick (just the sound of that is ludicrous isn’t it?) I came across Pete Weise talking about these picks he liked and started using called Black ice by Planet Waves of all companies. I really admire his playing so I thought “oh heck why not” and ordered a a pack of 10 from Musicians Friend. I was fortunate that the warehouse person who packed my picks sent me ten packages of ten picks each :) I called MF they told me I could keep them. This pick looks just like a Dunlop Jazz 3 but slightly larger, just what I always desired. The surface was slick like a Fender pick thus the skeptic in me came out. They’re made of Duralin and cured in a process they label tumbling. Something about this process make them slip far less than any other pick I’ve ever used and they’re just a bit Larger than a JD Jazz 3. The bonus is the material, it feels comfortable like no other pick I’ve driven.

I’d be interested in hearing from other players, what kind of picks they use and what the pro’s and Cons are for them.

Peace out!



6 responses to “Guitar Picking Technique and finding the right pick

  1. Cool read! I am aware of the problems that can arise by learning picking the wrong way. Hence I’m actively trying to focus on grip and grip strength. I have the same problem you have – my pick slips when I’m getting sweaty fingers – although it’s probably also due to me not being experienced enough to build up a firm enough grip for a long time.

    I started out with Fender Mediums – because they were shipped with my started pack. However, as I continued playing, I found that they would get destroyed really fast – the plastic would give away very soon. Either I was picking too hard or too excessively or what I don’t know.

    Then a friend of mine visited me, we jammed a bit (aka I did a horrible power chord baseline and he improvised a kick ass solo over it), and he gave me one of his stronger picks. I found out that that worked surprisingly well – it seemed to give me more control over the strings, too.

    After whittling down that pick, I went around looking for a new set to buy. And that’s when I stumbled over the Ibanez Grip Wizard Series Sand Grip picks. They basically have the sandpaper integrated – and they make for a fantastic grip! I suggest you give them a try. :)

    • I wish someone would make a Jazz size pickup with that surface on it, the fender size is to large for me to play electric with. I did order 20 of them for acoustic guitar though, I’ll let you know when they get here.

      What kind of music do you play Mike?

      I also added a contact form so you wouldn’t have to use facebook :)

      • Awesome!

        Well, at the moment almost Rock exclusively. ACDC, Bon Jovi, KISS, that thing. I’ll probably want to do some Blues in the future, too – but I figure I need to get more of a hang on the normal stuff first.

        You think the size is too large to play electric? Why?

      • It’s really personal preference no other reason. I find Fender size picks to large and cumbersome compared to a Jazz 3 or Black Ice which makes my playing sloppy.

        FWIW If you’re playing rock like what you mentioned get the heaviest pick you can and learn to finesse the pick to create the desired dynamics. Stay away from Mediums and try extra heavy’s and see if you can adapt.

        Oh yeah, an learn parasite too! Very fun song to play :) <— Huge Kiss fan!

        Guitars only

        Full Band Same Arrangment

  2. I don’t know much about the guitar, but I do play flute and I’ve experienced the same struggles with muscle tension and lack of fluency in my playing. Have you ever tried the Alexander Technique? It centers around bodily awareness and muscle relaxation to improve musical performance. Worked wonders for me when I was in college. Thanks for liking “What Every Music Teacher Wants You To Know” and subscribing to my blog!

    • Greetings Mrs. Firecracker :)

      I haven’t tried the Alexander Technique but I’m certainly going to read up on it. The technique I use is a breathing technique taught to me at by Robben Ford at one of his Cliques that Eric Johnson, Steve Vai and many other players I’ve come across use. It’s based on a technique from Zen Guitar however I don’t think it actually has a name.

      Thank you for the tip! Even if it doesn’t pan out for guitar I play Trumpet, flugelhorn and enough piano to be dangerous with chord substitutions with zero chops. It also sounds like it would help with any wind instrument I’m guessing since you play flute.

      Thank you for stopping in!