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How to Position Your Right Hand for Pick-style Guitar Playing

It's important to learn how to position your right hand for pick-style guitar playing. If you use an electric guitar, it's almost exclusively played with a pick, whether you’re belting out rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz, country, or pop. Although you can play acoustic guitar with either a pick or finger-style, playing with a pick is very popular.

On both electric and acoustic, you'll play most rhythm (chord-based accompaniment) and virtually all lead (single-note melodies) by holding the pick, or plectrum (the old-fashioned term), between the thumb and index finger.

To play pick-style, hold a guitar in your lap and drape your right arm over the bass bout. Your right hand, held loosely outstretched, crosses the strings at about a 60-degree angle. This position is good for playing with a pick. Take a look at the following figure to see the correct way to hold a pick — with just the tip sticking out, perpendicular to the thumb.

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For strumming (playing rhythm), strike the strings with the pick by using wrist and elbow motion. The more vigorous the strum, the more elbow you must put into the mix. To play lead, use only the more economical wrist motion. Don’t grip the pick too tightly as you play — and plan on dropping it a lot for the first few weeks that you use it.

Picks come in various gauges. A pick’s gauge indicates how stiff, or thick, it is. Thinner picks are easier to manage for the beginner. Medium picks are the most popular, because they’re flexible enough for comfortable rhythm playing yet stiff enough for leads. Heavy-gauge picks may seem unwieldy at first, but they’re the choice for pros, and eventually all skilled instrumentalists graduate to them (although a few famous holdouts exist — Neil Young being a prime example).

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