Should I Use a Pick, My Fingers, or Both?

This is a question that many beginners ask themselves as they learn different playing styles and methods. In reality, most beginners learned how to play guitar without using a pick.

Everyone has their tastes. Some guitarists struggle to keep control of the pick, while others can't get their fingers to accomplish what they're meant to do and can't take how rigid the finger muscles contract.

Performing with a pick has its advantages, but playing with only your fingers also offers a few significant benefits. So, should you use a pick or your fingers? Which is better, and do you need to learn how to do both?

In this article, we'll look at both approaches, their advantages and disadvantages, and how they might enhance your playing so that you can decide whether you want to favor one or profit from the best of both worlds.

What Do Fingerstyle and Flatpicking Mean?

The flatpicking technique of guitar playing is sometimes known as "picking." It’s a straightforward concept where, instead of using your fingers to pluck the strings, you use a tiny, flat instrument commonly known as a pick or spectrum. It’s a thin, flat piece of plastic, ivory, metal, or other relatively flexible element held by or worn on the fingers to pluck the strings of a stringed instrument, such as a guitar, mandolin, lyre, etc. Below are some of the different types of picks

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You may be interested in studying fingerstyle, also known as fingerpicking, if you've practiced strumming the guitar with either a pick or your finger. In this method, the strings are plucked with the bare hand, often with the fingers and thumb tips.

Some individuals, such as those who play the classical acoustic guitar, use their fingernails. Generally, the classical guitar has some soft nylon strings. Training your fingers might take some time, but if you understand it, you could create some lovely accompaniments.

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When fingerpicking, each left-hand finger is assigned to a string that they are responsible for:

  • In bass strings, the thumb is used to play the three lowest strings (4, 5, and 6) -P
  • The third string is played with the index finger - I
  • The second string is played with the middle finger -
  • The first string is played with the ring finger as shown above -

This method is known as PIMA, with each letter representing a finger.

Differences in Their Techniques

Instead of the hand functioning as a unified unit (as is the case when playing using a pick), the fingerpicking method uses individual fingers to produce notes on the guitar. This ability to simultaneously play many musical components, such as walking bass notes, chord progressions, melody, percussion, etc., is one of fingerstyle playing's biggest benefits. Many of these music components would be hard to achieve if using the fingerpicking method.

Learning fingerstyle first can be ideal for you if you tend to switch from rock to blues music or vice versa amid a song. Playing guitar with the picking technique does not depend on muscle memory. Because of this, changing genres mid-song requires much more work than using the fingerstyle technique and may sound janky or uneven. For instance, you may find it simpler to alternate between fingerpicking to slap or tap techniques.

Compared to the fingerstyle experience, using the pick causes your guitar notes to vibrate quicker than they might have if you utilized the fingerstyle approach, thus making it simpler to play faster music. However, with a significant amount of practice, you may be able to play faster using your fingers.

Differences in Tone

The tone generated by the two ways of playing also significantly differs. The tone and loudness of a guitar played with a pick are clearer or sharper and louder. In contrast, fingers provide a softer, warmer tone.

Playing using a pick is preferable if you have to perform in front of many people or in a band where your music colleagues are using amplified instruments. Without picking, playing in a band is difficult since your volume level won't equal theirs, and you'll be overwhelmed by the sound of their instruments. In addition, you'll find it much simpler to regulate your guitar's volume using a pick, which is crucial if you're using an amp or performing in a loud setting.

When you play rhythm guitar using fingerstyle, one note in the chord may be emphasized over the others, making the chords sound unbalanced and untidy.

Contrarily, when you use a pick to play rhythm guitar, you may create clear, balanced chords that work flawlessly with a lead guitar.

Playing using your fingers has a wider tonal variation and dynamic range since you can slap, thump, and pluck with only your fingers. You can also simulate the twang, similar to a pick, by using the tip of your fingernails.

As we've already established, fingerstyle guitar is the way to go if you want a warmer tone, wide dynamic ranges, and tonal variations from your instrument. It's great for playing pop songs, ballads, and classical music. On the other hand, the pick should be used if you want to project an assertive tone. You will produce a tone that is more constant and has a tougher sound by using a plectrum. Additionally, playing lines with a pick is simpler than playing them with your fingers and enables you to develop a quicker pace.

Best of the Two

You may combine both playing emphases in various ways. As an example, hybrid picking combines the two. Since this method is not very prevalent, few guitarists are proficient in it.

Using a pick and your fingers simultaneously while playing is known as hybrid picking. Picks are gripped with the thumb and index finger, while the middle, ring, and sometimes the pinkie play alternately or simultaneously. This combo allows you to play with a distinctive sound and it’s a terrific method to change up your tone. However, this method has some drawbacks since you won't have access to your thumb, which is a crucial finger for fingerstyle.

The other strategy is to place the pick in between the index finger's DIP joint and MCP joint: The only limitation is you can't stretch your index finger since the pick will fall; otherwise, you may fingerpick normally with all five fingers when using this method. When tapping or when you prefer a gentler sound, you may utilize this while placing the thumb, for stability purposes, on top of the fretboard.

Other options include utilizing thumb picks that have been shaved to the correct size, resulting in using your fingernail as a pick, sandwiching the pick in between the index and middle fingers (which can sometimes be slower, especially when learning it, and unreliable), and several more, but these are the ones that we feel are the most useful.

Use a Pick or Play With Your Fingers: Why Not Learn Both?

In summary, being able to both play with your fingers and use a pick improves your guitar playing since you may combine and contrast styles according to the music being performed. The basic conclusion is that trying different strategies is worthwhile regardless of how you currently play. A challenge today may sometimes be a breakthrough and throw open doors quicker than before. A fresh perspective may be sufficient to least inspire you to come up with new ideas.


  • use a pick

    My "day job" used to be teaching but I decided to give that up to play music full time. I have gigged all over the world playing in bands or as a solo act since then. I still have a passion for teaching others anything related to music. Writing content for gives me an opportunity to combine my love of music and education.

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