I wish there was a single simple answer here for you. There are in fact a lot of tiny nuances to the “correct” way to hold a pick. These include the distance down the pick that your thumb sits, the angle in relation to the strings, and the angle in which the pick extrudes from your hand. There is no absolute rule when it comes to this.
The fact is, different techniques call for different methods of holding the pick. It is also wholly dependant on what each guitarist feels is comfortable. With that in mind, there are a few basic principles to stick to so let’s dive into those before we get too complicated.
I’m going to write as if this is your first time picking up a guitar so if you’re a little more advanced please don’t assume I am trying to be condescending.
For most of you, this will be your right hand.
If you are right-handed your right hand will be your picking hand. Rarely, people like to use their non-dominant hand for strumming. If you are just beginning it’s a good idea to break this habit. You’ll find much more variety of guitars available at better prices if you play right-handed. Not that it’s a bad thing to play left-handed.
Jimmy Hendrix and many other famous guitarists were/are left-handed players. Obviously, if you play left-handed the pick will go in your left hand.
Whichever hand is dominant, it is also important that you hold the guitar correctly.
The angle of the pick depends on what you feel comfortable with. If you have a soft pick sticking straight out towards the guitar is great for strumming. If you have a heavier gauge pick this may make it difficult to strum as a beginner. If this is the case, you can angle the pick a little toward the bridge of the guitar and shorten the length that is sticking out.
To hold a pick in this style you ‘pinch’ the pick between the pads of your thumb and index finger. This method is best for thinner picks and strumming. It is also the most comfortable way to hold a pick for most beginners.
Some people like to use the side of their middle finger to support their index finger while playing with a pinched pick. This is by no means required but don’t let it put you off if it feels more comfortable either.
Instead of pinching between the pads of your fingers, you will be using the side of your index finger. To get your fingers in the correct position, make a fist with your thumb sticking up like you are about to have a thumb war. Then, press your thumb on top of your fist. Lastly, open up your fist until the tip of your thumb lines up with the last knuckle of your index finger. The pick should fit in the spot between your finger and thumb.
Some people like to keep the rest of the fingers closed while holding a pick like this. You could also hold them out straight. Whatever feels comfortable for you.
This method can feel a little uncomfortable at first but it is more accurate for picking individual strings. It is all but necessary to nail fast lead lines.
As you progress with your guitar playing it will become second nature to be able to switch between these two methods. You can do so by simply rolling your index finger further down while holding the pick. This will give you the advantage of having the pinched grip for strumming open chords and the grasped grip for more accurate and fast sections.
No amount of reading is going to get you comfortable playing with a plectrum. You just have to play!
Whether you choose to use the pinch method, press method, or a combination of both you need to play for a few hours to feel proficient.
If you’re just starting out, try the pinch method first for your chords and the O method for picking riffs. If you get bored strumming out the same chords try using this trick to play along with a bunch of different tracks.
The short answer is no. There are plenty of guitarists that rarely use picks. However, if you never use a pick you are also limiting the styles of music you can play. It’s almost impossible to shred without a pick and there are a bunch of techniques that require picks such as sweep-picking.
The same applies if you never play without a pick. You’ll be missing out on a bunch of potential techniques and tones.
If you’re a beginner and you are playing a lot of finger-picked acoustic songs you can forgo using a pick in the meantime. Yet, it is still a good idea to get comfortable with one early on.
For example, I had a contract to play for a month in a venue that has an in-house percussionist and he liked to play FAST. If I weren’t using a pick I’d have ripped my fingers to shreds. A pretty obscure example, but it shows is a good idea to prepare for anything.
This is really up to you and what you feel comfortable with. A thinner pick will move easier across the strings while a thick pick will sound more accurate.
A heavy pick is good for solos and lead lines but also requires your picking to be exact. You will hear missed notes in a chord a lot easier when compared to a thin pick which blends your strumming much more effectively. For this reason, a thin to medium gauge pick is usually preferred by beginners.
I would recommend getting a set of picks that has a few different gauges so you can experiment and find what you feel most comfortable with.
Tight for picking individual notes and a little looser for strumming. The looser you hold the pick the easier it will glide over the strings. You may drop the pick a lot when you first start practicing but you will get a feel for how tight you need to hold it fairly quickly.
The same applies to how close to the tip you should grip the pick. The more toward the wide end of the pick you hold the easier it will move across the strings. If you hold closer to the tip you will be more accurate with your stikes of individual strings.
The main takeaway I would like you to get from this article is that once you get the basics down you have to just play a lot to find what works for you. There is no exact way you should hold a pick until you start drilling down into very specific techniques.