Guitar picking

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This video clip demonstrates hybrid picking.

Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:


Using a single thumb pick with the bare fingers is similar to hybrid picking. Another mixed technique is to play different passages with a plectrum or fingerstyle, "palming" the plectrum when not in use. This however requires the use of one or more picking hand fingers, and/or can reduce dexterity in the picking hand.

Comparison of plectrum and finger picking techniques

The pros of each guitar picking style are indirectly correlated to the cons of the other.

Fingerpicking advantages

Fingerpicking guitar Al Di Meola guitar in Utrecht, Netherlands.jpg
Fingerpicking guitar

Fingerpicking players use up to four (sometimes five) surfaces, usually nails, to strike string independently. However, that does not equate to four plectrums, since plectrums can more easily strike strings on both up and downstrokes—which is much more difficult for fingers. Also, each finger can be over a different string, which greatly reduces or eliminates the need for traditional string skipping. [1]

Advantages of plectrum picking

Various guitar picks. Guitar picks-KayEss-1.jpeg
Various guitar picks.

Fingerstyle techniques

Plucking patterns

To achieve tremolo effects, varied arpeggios, and rapid, fluent scale passages, the player must practice alternation, that is, plucking strings with a different finger each time. Using p to indicate the thumb, i the index finger, m the middle finger and a the ring finger, common alternation patterns include:

In some genres, such as folk or country, the player can "lock in" to a picking pattern for the whole song, or even the whole performance, since these forms of music are based on maintaining a steady rhythm. [2] However, in other genres—such as classical, flamenco or fingerstyle jazz—it becomes necessary to switch fluently between patterns.

Tone production

Tone production is important in any style. Classical guitar, for example, stresses many techniques are that applicable to other styles. Tonal techniques include:

Playing parameters include


Some of the many possible fingerstyle strums include

Varieties of fingerstyle

Plectrum techniques

Guitarists resolve the problem of playing notes on non adjacent string by practicing string skipping. To achieve speed, plectrum pickers methods of mixing up and down strokes.



Playing guitar with pick.jpg

Flatpicking is a technique for playing a guitar using a guitar pick (plectrum) held between two or three fingers to strike the strings. The term flatpicking occurs with other instruments, but is probably best known in the context of playing an acoustic guitar with steel strings—particularly in bluegrass music and old-time country music. Probably starting around 1930, flatpicking developed when guitarists began arranging old-time American fiddle tunes on the guitar, expanding the instrument's traditional role of rhythm guitar accompaniment with an occasional single-note melodic run.

The melodic style in bluegrass is often fast and dynamic, with slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, powerful strumming and rapid crosspicking. Bluegrass flatpickers usually prefer guitars with a flat top rather than an arch top, and steel strings rather than nylon. The archetypal flatpicking guitar is the 'Dreadnought' series made by C.F. Martin & Company.

Alternate picking

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs strictly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run, and is the most common method of plectrum playing. If this technique is performed on a single note at a high speed, then it may also be referred to as tremolo picking.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking involves a continuous 'sweep' with the pick across two or more strings (using down-strokes when moving down, and up-strokes when moving up), and is commonly associated with playing arpeggios. To produce a series of distinct notes requires that each note be fretted individually with the fretting hand, rather than held together as a chord.

Economy picking

Frank Gambale is noted for economy picking Frank Gambale in Montreal.jpg
Frank Gambale is noted for economy picking

A combination of sweep picking and alternate picking, economy picking involves using alternate picking except when changing strings. In this case the guitarist changes to sweep picking, picking in the direction of travel: an upstroke if changing to a lower (pitch) string, a downstroke if changing to a higher (pitch) string.

Gypsy picking

The picking technique of gypsy jazz has been described as similar to economy picking when changing from lower to higher strings, but performed with rest strokes. When changing from higher to lower strings, a down stroke is used instead of a sweep or economy stroke. For instance, on switching from the G to the B string, the plectrum moves in the same direction and comes to rest on the E string—though while switching from the B to G strings both strokes would be downward reststrokes. All down strokes are rest strokes, while all up strokes are free strokes. In general while playing consecutive notes on the same string if the tempo is slow enough all down strokes may be employed. If the tempo is faster alternate picking is generally used, though often consecutive downstrokes are used to emphasize certain notes, particularly in the end of phrases, or to prepared the pick for an easier string change. This technique has become associated with Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, but was also employed by plectrum banjo players, mandolinists and many pre-electric jazz guitarists seeking a strong, projecting acoustic sound on their instruments.


La Pompe

La Pompe is the rhythmic pattern used in gypsy jazz. This form of percussive rhythm is similar to the "boom-chick" in stride piano. The first beat is a staccato chord, emphasizing the lower strings with a more "bassy" sound, produced by a down stroke; the fretting hand immediately afterward releases the strings slightly to deaden them. The next beat is a percussive strum, produced by a down stroke, that emphasizes a more "trebly" sound by engaging a fuller range of the strings. Various artists prefer different levels of staccato on beats 1 and 3, and beats 2 and 4, but in general both beats are short, but still voiced to some degree. The pattern then repeats, but before every first and third beat, an upstroke is performed very quickly (typically with the strings still deadened), giving the music its heavy swing feel.

Other techniques


Anchoring is a practice in both fingerstyle and plectrum where part of the picking hand, usually the little finger or "pinky" touches the guitar body. Although anchoring is common, many guitar teachers advise against it as it limits flexible hand movement. The contrary approach is known as "floating".

Hybrid picking

Hybrid picking is mixture of plectrum picking and finger picking. Normally the player holds the pick with thumb and index finger, picking the string, and utilizing the middle and ring finger to finger pick adjacent strings. In the context of styles of music from the American South, such as country music, bluegrass, and rockabilly, it is often called "chicken pickin'".

Hammer-on and pull-off

Hammer-on is a stringed instrument playing technique performed (especially on fretted string instruments such as guitar) by sharply bringing a fretting-hand finger down on the fingerboard behind a fret, causing a note to sound. This technique is the opposite of the pull-off. Traditionally, this technique is supplemental to conventional picking, being used to achieve legato and ornamentation effects. This is connected to the fact that hammering imparts less energy to a string, so that hammered notes are less audible. With electric instruments, it becomes possible to use these techniques much more extensively.


Tapping Tapping guitar.jpg

Tapping is a guitar playing technique, where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being pushed onto the fretboard, as opposed to the standard technique being fretted with one hand and picked with the other. It is similar to the technique of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but used in an extended way compared to them: hammer-ons would be performed by only the fretting hand, and in conjunction with conventionally picked notes; whereas tapping passages involve both hands and consist of only tapped, hammered and pulled notes. Tapping is used exclusively by some players (such as Stanley Jordan) and on some instruments, such as the Chapman Stick.

See also

Related Research Articles

The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by African-Americans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk and country music, and has also been used in some rock songs. Several rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American styles of music, such as Bluegrass and old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Classical guitar

The classical guitar is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid nineteenth century.

Tremolo Trembling sound effect

In music, tremolo, or tremolando, is a trembling effect. There are two types of tremolo.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking is a guitar playing technique. When sweep picking, the guitarist plays single notes on consecutive strings with a 'sweeping' motion of the pick, while using the fretting hand to produce a specific series of notes that are fast and fluid in sound. Both hands essentially perform an integral motion in unison to achieve the desired effect.


A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick and is a separate tool held in the player's hand. In harpsichords, the plectra are attached to the jack mechanism.

The palm mute is a playing technique for guitar and bass guitar, executed by placing the side of the picking hand below the little finger across the strings to be plucked, very close to the bridge, and then plucking the strings while the damping is in effect. This produces a muted sound. The name is a slight misnomer, as the muting is performed by the side of the hand, not the palm.


Clawhammer, sometimes called frailing, is a distinctive banjo playing style and a common component of American old-time music.

Guitar pick

A guitar pick is a plectrum used for guitars. Picks are generally made of one uniform material—such as some kind of plastic, rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, wood, metal, glass, tagua, or stone. They are often shaped in an acute isosceles triangle with the two equal corners rounded and the third corner less rounded. They are used to strum chords or to sound individual notes on a guitar.


A fingerpick or thumbpick is a type of plectrum used most commonly for playing bluegrass style banjo music. Most fingerpicks are composed of metal or plastic. Unlike flat guitar picks, which are held between the thumb and finger and used one at a time, fingerpicks clip onto or wrap around the end of the fingers and thumb; thus one hand can pick several strings at once. Generally three are used: one for the thumb, and one each for the middle and index fingers. Fingerpicks worn on the thumb are generally called "thumbpicks". Most players use a plastic thumbpick while using metal fingerpicks. But as with standard plectrums, thumbpicks come in different styles. Fingerpicks come in a variety of thicknesses to accommodate different musicians' styles of playing. Thin picks produce a quieter, more delicate sound, while thick picks produce a heavier sound.

Rasgueado is a guitar finger strumming technique commonly associated with flamenco guitar music. It is also used in classical and other fingerstyle guitar picking techniques. The rasgueado is executed using the fingers of the strumming hand in rhythmically precise, and often rapid, strumming patterns. The important characteristic of this strumming style is the fingernail (outer) side of the finger tips is also used, and in such case, in reverse of the way it is done when the fleshy side of the finger tips is used, namely downward and upward (thumb).

Fingerstyle guitar

Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar or bass guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking. The term "fingerstyle" is something of a misnomer, since it is present in several different genres and styles of music—but mostly, because it involves a completely different technique, not just a "style" of playing, especially for the guitarist's picking/plucking hand. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking except in classical guitar circles, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. The terms "fingerstyle" and "fingerpicking" also applied to similar string instruments such as the banjo.


A mezrāb or mizrab, also known as a zakhmeh or is a plectrum which is used for several Iranian and Indian string instruments.


In music, strumming is a way of playing a stringed instrument such as a guitar, ukulele, or mandolin. A strum or stroke is a sweeping action where a finger or plectrum brushes over several strings to generate sound. On most stringed instruments, strums are typically executed by a musician's designated strum hand, while the remaining hand often supports the strum hand by altering the tones and pitches of any given strum.

Downpicking, sometimes referred to as down-stroke picking, is a technique used by musicians on plucked string instruments in which the player moves the plectrum, or pick in a downward motion, relative to the position of the instrument, against one or more of the strings to make them vibrate. If down-strokes are played without the addition of upstrokes, the tip of the pick never comes in contact with the strings as the hand moves back up to repeat the down-stroke.

Outline of guitars Overview of and topical guide to guitars

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:

Hybrid picking

Hybrid picking is a guitar-playing technique that involves picking with a pick (plectrum) and one or more fingers alternately or simultaneously. Hybrid picking allows guitar players who use a pick to perform music which would normally require fingerstyle playing. It also facilitates wide string leaps which might otherwise be quite difficult. The technique is not widespread in most genres of guitar playing, but is most often employed in "chicken pickin'"; rockabilly, country, honky-tonk, and bluegrass flatpicking styles who play music which occasionally demands fingerstyle passages.

Hybrid picking involves playing with the pick and the right hand m and/or a the same time. The pick is held in the usual way...and the fingers execute free strokes in the typical fingerstyle manner...Hybrid picking allows fingerstyle-like passages to be freely interspersed with flatpicked passages...without any delay.


Flatpicking is the technique of striking the strings of a guitar with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. It can be contrasted to fingerstyle guitar, which is playing with individual fingers, with or without wearing fingerpicks. While the use of a plectrum is common in many musical traditions, the exact term "flatpicking" is most commonly associated with Appalachian music of the American southeastern highlands, especially bluegrass music, where string bands often feature musicians playing a variety of styles, both fingerpicking and flatpicking. Musicians who use a flat pick in other genres such as rock and jazz are not commonly described as flatpickers or even plectrum guitarists. As the use of a pick in those traditions is commonplace, generally only guitarists who play without a pick are noted by the term "fingerpicking" or "fingerstyle".

Classical guitar technique

In classical guitar, the right hand is developed in such a way that it can sustain two, three, and four voice harmonies while also paying special attention to tone production. The index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers are generally used to play the melody, while the thumb (p) accompanies in the bass register adding harmony, and produces a comparable texture and effect to that of the piano. The classical guitar is a solo polyphonic instrument, and it is difficult to master.

Flamenco guitar Acoustic guitar used in Flamenco music

A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It usually has nylon strings, as opposed to steel. It generally possesses a livelier, more gritty sound compared to the classical guitar. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.

Chuck Wayne

Chuck Wayne was a jazz guitarist. He came to prominence in the 1940s, and was among the earliest jazz guitarists to play in the bebop style. Wayne was a member of Woody Herman's First Herd, the first guitarist in the George Shearing quintet, and Tony Bennett's music director and accompanist. He developed a systematic method for playing jazz guitar.


  1. Daniel E. Smith, Dansm's Fingerpicking Songs, 5-24-99,
  2. Traum, Happy (1974). Fingerpicking Styles For Guitar. Oak Publications. ISBN   0-8256-0005-7.
  3. Tennant, Scott (1996). Pumping Nylon. Alfred pub. co. ISBN   978-0-88284-721-4.