I am picking up the guitar again, being now 30 and having played when I was about 9, and I'm a bit confused on what approach I should take while self-learning.

I would ideally like to play things along the line of Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and Elliot smith. I used to play classical, so I've never used a pick, and it feels off to me, and I'd rather play more finger-style with a small amount of picked stuff. Most beginner material is geared towards pick style.

Is it bad to approach both, and does anyone have any suggestions on how I should proceed?

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    First place to start would be to check out hybrid picking. Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 22:15
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    I have been learning some Elliott Smith stuff recently and a lot of it is harder than it sounds. He is often doing chords and melody lines simultaneously with a lot of non-standard chords. Look up some of his tabs, and remember thumb for E, A, and D string, index finger for G string, middle finger for B string, and ring finger for high E. Look into Travis Picking for more.
    – charlie
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 20:29
  • Yeah, that's a long-term goal of mine. He also has quite a bit of material that is picked, and with Willie, I've been inspired to try to get comfortable with that for when i get there. Thanks for the tips Charles. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:35

4 Answers 4


I do not believe that learning both picking and finger-style concurrently will negatively impact your progress.

One of the hardest things to do when learning an instrument is to stay motivated. My advise is: grab onto whatever you can to stay excited and interested. There are so many things you can work on when you have time to practice that, especially in the beginning, you should ensure that what you are working on is fun.

That being said, taking some time to get used to the feel of a pick is going to be great for your overall experience with the guitar.

The pick and your fingers are tools that help you create sounds. Use those tools when and where they make the most sense. It’s going to be hard to finger pick a Randy Rhoads solo…but it’s also quite hard to use a pick when playing his song ‘Dee’.

It was easier for me to learn complicated strumming patterns with a pick at first. Though eventually I found that there were a number of pieces that I preferred strumming with thumb and finger rather than a pick. As long as you are practicing with proper technique I don’t think you can go wrong. Picking up the guitar is the most important step…take whatever path you can to get where you are going.

But if a pick is just not for you…you can always play the beginner material you have on hand without a pick.

  • Thanks! I imagine it probably doesn't make too much difference, but holding a guitar "classical style" obviously feels more natural to me. Would an over-the-right leg approach be best for these styles, regardless of the picking bit? Justinguitar.com recommends the latter if not playing classical music. Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 7:41
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    @shootingstars I would say stick with what's comfortable. Neither one is better than the other, although the classical position is very ergonomic and makes some things easier to play.
    – charlie
    Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 20:26
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    @shootingstars: I totally agree with Charles. There really is no wrong way when it comes to this type of thing. What is typically thought is a good starting point for most people, but as you grow you end up in your own style. Experiment, put on the hat and see how it feels. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 17:59

It's like any musical instrument. They all have separate techniques even vocals. It's muscle memory at the end of the day. Tuning in to the specific movements of you body to act in accordance with the instrument. That is probably why people refer to instruments being a part of you during playing.

My advise for learning would be to practice both, but not too quickly that you forget what you learned previously. Play with one style for say a week or two. Then change to another for two weeks and then try and integrate them both together. Don't move on until you are comfortable that you have learned what you need.


I do this myself. I learnt on acoustic and electric guitar and never had a pick available (just never owned one!) for about the first 3 years of playing.

These days I'm fairly adept ad playing with fingers and with a pick. I'll often use a pick for chugging/strumming so as to save my fingernails getting worn, but when it comes to a solo, I tend to tuck the pick into the top of the scratch plate and play the solo with my fingers.

This allows a few techniques which aren't really possible when playing with a pick (well not for me) like playing 3 strings in immediate synch, and stopping them all at the same time too, van halen style tapping (I find this much easier without a pick), and fingers are free to adjust volume etc while playing so "violin" sound (volume down -> pluck string -> bring volume up), plus of course finger picking across strings.

I'd say learning to play with and without a pick would enrich your style as more things become possible/easy for you. The examples above are what works for me, it might be different stuff for you.


Short answer dont.

It takes a large amount of effort and practice to get total mastery over the picking action. My advice to you would be to descide on what kind of guitarist you want to be and to stick with the picking action that is best suited for the style of music you want to play.

It is better to have one picking action down good that being a jack of all trades and a master of none.

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    I have to disagree if you can learn different styles it will broaden your musical horizons playing with different techniques is a great way of increasing proficiency with any instrument. Different grip with drumming for example. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:33
  • @NathanTaylor Is it too much or confusing to try to learn both simultaneously, though? Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:37
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    @shootingstars no not at all if you have the time during the song to adjust the grip off you plectrum to allow for finger playing faster songs maybe a problem. dropping the Plectrum maybe a concern haha! Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:44

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