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I have been playing guitar for a year now, but still have'nt been able to make my picking technique right. I struggle especially while playing fast solos. Could you guys please help me on this?

  • How one holds a plectrum depends on what one is doing with it. I see you have trouble with fast solos, so I will start an answer with that information. We need to know more details about any other problems you are having if you are having any others in order to answer your question more completely. – Todd Wilcox Sep 9 '15 at 13:06
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    Also, it may take a few years of daily practice to reach a skill level on an instrument that starts to sound like recordings that you love and allows you to play how you want and be truly creative. I'm self-taught and I would say it was five or six years before I really was able to move beyond the basic techniques and get creative and work on the really challenging stuff. You might give yourself some more time before you let yourself get frustrated. – Todd Wilcox Sep 9 '15 at 13:08
  • Actually i ve read many a times that angling the pick helps a lot but i always struggle to hold the pick at an angle. The pick naturally becomes parallel to the strings as i increase my speed. – Tajammul Saleem Sep 9 '15 at 13:10
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This post will be about using the kind of pick pictured below for rock guitar:

Fender celluloid picks

  1. I always recommend a heavier pick for rock chords and solos. My personal favorite pick is the one on the right in the picture above. With a heavy pick, you can grip it more firmly to really dig into a string on a solo, or you can loosen up and use a bare minimum for strumming. Also, the thickness of the pick has an effect on the tone, and the thinner picks tend to sound brighter and thinner, which isn't a good thing in many situations. A heavier pick lets you feel the strings better, since it doesn't give way as easily. Any resistance from the strings pushes back on the pick and then on your fingers, so you begin to learn exactly where the pick is at all times in relation to the strings. There are picks that are very heavy, and I would say you can go too heavy.
  2. Always use a fresh pick for the best playing and feel. When the shape of the pick at the pointy end that is used against the strings starts to visibly change because of pick material coming off, it's time to get a new pick. Buy them in bulk online to get the best deals. I've changed picks in the middle of a show before to make sure I've got the exact point I need to play my best.
  3. Make sure the pick is pointed straight at the strings. If you imagine a vertical line right through the picks pictured above, and then put them next to the strings, that line should form a 90 degree angle with the strings (in most cases).
  4. If you're at a loss on what to do, it can help to start with what's popular (hey, it's popular for a reason, right?). In this case, that means grip the pick between your thumb and first finger only. There's lots of personal preference here, but the classic grip has the thumb pointing along the strings, the pick perpendicular to the thumb, and the first finger curled around and pointing back in the opposite direction that the thumb is pointing. Your hand should be mostly relaxed, with the rest of the fingers curled next to the first finger. Depending on what you're doing, you want to be able to easily change how firmly you are gripping the pick, and this grip lets you control your firmness with the least amount of effort, which is a big deal when you're playing for a long time at a stretch.
  5. Many players tilt the pick either forwards or backwards, meaning the edge of the pick closest to the tip of the thumb is either tilted slightly down or up. Tremolo picking (extremly fast back and forth) pretty much requires this. A tilt can make the pick slide past the strings more easily and not get caught up, so you'll want to experiment with a little tilt when trying to play fast. The tradeoff is the tone can change with more tilt, so it's a balance between what you're playing and how it sounds.
  6. Grip firmness is one of the big aspects of pick grip. By firmness, I mean how hard you are squeezing your thumb and first finger together. Too loose, and you'll drop the pick. Too firm, and you'll get tired and cramped up. Also, too firm a grip can slow down your picking. Eric Johnson said in a lesson on Cliffs of Dover that he grips the pick very loosely, and he sure can play fast single note runs. Normally your grip firmness with change depending on how you want to articulate the notes. All things being equal, the loosest grip that does the job is usually the best. When you're learning, if you drop the pick sometimes from too loose a grip, that's a good sign you're riding the edge of what you can get away with. This is most especially true when strumming (which I know isn't part of your question but I mention it here for completeness).
  7. Not exactly grip related, but most of the time, you want to use as little of the pick as possible and just barely brush the strings. This lends the best tone when strumming and the best speed when playing single notes. Sometimes it sounds great to really dig in to get a spank-like sound, but as a rule, the least amount of pick that does the job is best. You can tell when you're riding the edge on this one if you sometimes miss the strings.

In general, it is helpful to stay relaxed and work on playing the notes you want with the least amount of effort necessary to get the articulation and volume you need. Relaxation and minimizing effort leads to better tone, faster playing, longer stamina, better comfort, and above all - more fun!

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This is one of those things where the internet isn't really going to help you much. We can't see what you're doing, right -or- wrong.

Your best bet is to find a trained professional guitar instructor who can watch you play and work with you to refine your technique. Even if you can just get a few lessons it will go a long way towards improvement.

That being said, in general, if you're having trouble with ANYTHING you need to 1) slow down the tempo and 2) work on it in small sections at a time. Don't speed up until you can play it flawlessly at a slower tempo. Resist the temptation to move on to the next sections (hard/impossible, I know) until you master the one you are focused on.

Good luck and don't give up!

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Typically something to consider when playing fast solos, is the kind of pick you are using. A lot of players that tend to shred use picks with a pointy tip (like Jazz III) and a thick/stiff structure. Another thing is make sure not to expose the pick too much (meaning the pointy part is the only thing that sticks out). This allows you to touch the string very little, whilst still causing it to vibrate. Furthermore it just takes quite some time to get alternate picking and economy picking down (assuming you are trying to play fast). These things need to be programmed in by e.g. playing scales and being sure you make efficient motions and don't dig the pick in too much in the strings.

Furthermore you need to be more specific on your problem, but in general all these picking problems are very related; monitor your technique and motions, think about the physics and physical aspect and make it a second nature by programming your muscle memory.

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Because we cannot see what you are doing wrong unless provided with a video footage of you playing, I am going to give you a few questions you should ask yourself while examining your picking:

  • Am I picking from the wrist? Picking from the elbow causes tension and isn't nearly as fast as playing from the wrist. Picking from the fingers (Like when you pluck multiple strings at the same time, with both the pick and the fingers) gives you a weak tone so you'll be dependant on an amplifier, so be sure to pick from the wrist. There are no wrong techniques, only inefficient techniques. And the wrist is the most efficient - Just try to move your hand the fastest possible and you'll see that it can be done from the wrist using the forearm muscles.
  • Am I anchoring my hand on the guitar? Most of the time, you should not anchor your hand on the guitar. Anchoring your hand creates tension and limits your movement. There is nothing wrong, however, with resting your palm on the lower strings when you're doing your mad rock riffs (Anastasia, anyone?).
  • Am I picking efficiently? Downpicking (Downstrokes only) incorrectly can cause a lot of tension. Downpicking is often used in metal, while palm muting, at a very high tempo, so to downpick efficiently your pick has to slice through the string with as little resistence as possible. When you're alternate picking, make sure that your hand doesn't go all over the place, and makes the smallest movements possible.
  • Is my pick getting stuck on the strings? You want the pick to be pointing straight at the strings (this makes downstrokes and upstrokes equally easy) and at an angle of around 15-30 degrees from the string (so the pick will breeze through the strings with no resistence. Too large of an angle and the tone will get muddier.
  • Am I relaxed while playing? Try this - Flex your back for 5 seconds, then relax it. Then flex your shoulders, then relax. Continue by flexing your arms, elbows and fingers (both hands). If you aren't relaxed, everything is gonna feel hard for you. It's not just a matter of the body, but also in your head. If you believe that a solo isn't hard, your body won't tense and you will have a much smoother time playing it.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter that much how you hold the pick, as long as it is with the least amount of force while keeping the pick in your hand.

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    There are quite a few problems with this post, so I have down voted. You have made absolute statements, but most are entirely opinion focused - eg picking from fingers, wrist or elbow: all are correct; no point saying you should pick from the wrist. And in any case, the question is about how to hold the pick! – Doktor Mayhem Dec 26 '15 at 20:47
  • Dr Mayhem, as a metal guitarist who have made all of those mistakes, I am talking from experience. I have also stated why each wrong technique is wrong - Elbow causes tension, isn't as fast or accurate. Picking from the fingers generates a weak tone, and wrist gives you the most control. The person who asked the question also stated that he is playing fast solos, not chords (which can be played from the elbow, still less efficient). – JohnnyGuitar Dec 26 '15 at 20:52
  • Dude, they are not mistakes. They are all techniques that are right. I too have been playing rock and metal professionally for nearly 30 years, and trust me when I say your opinion works for you but it is just opinion. You need to focus on answering the question that was asked – Doktor Mayhem Dec 26 '15 at 20:55
  • Let me correct myself - there isn't right or wrong, but efficient and less efficient. The most efficient playing technique comes from the wrist. Just try to make the fastest movement possible with your hand and you'll see that it's a circular motion from the wrist, that uses the forearm muscles. – JohnnyGuitar Dec 26 '15 at 21:03

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