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I bought my wife a Baby Taylor for Christmas (she hasn't played for thirty years). She uses a pick; I usually don't. She seems to be lightly pinching it between her thumb and pointer so that the pick is almost an extension of her finger; is that all right? When I use a pick, I place it firmly at a right-angle to my thumb.

Another question: can thumb picks be used for upstrokes? I started trying to use them (usually I just strum with my thumb alone), and I haven't had much success with upstrokes? Any tricks, or should I just use the pick for downstokes and single notes?

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How to hold a pick is probably one of those topics that could get heavily debated. Maybe a Google will do better. Here's a search I did through Google.

How to hold a guitar pick

As you'll see there are many hits.

The way I hold a pick is pictured below. The pick doesn't protrude far from between the thumb and forefinger and I hold it firmly but not rigid. You don't want to hold a pick too loosely, 1) you risk dropping it and 2) a lot of tone will be lost. If you hold it too firm then you are really not relaxing which is very important to playing any instrument.


When practicing you want each subsequent note to sound as loud (or soft) as the previous. Make it so each note is consistently the same volume and tone. This will help you be aware of how you are holding the pick and eventually it'll become automatic. Over time you'll want to incorporate different levels (pianissimo, forte, etc..) of playing notes or chords. You can then do crescendos (soft to loud) and decrescendos (loud to soft) and everything inbetween.

And don't forget to have fun with it!!!
John and the rest: Thanks for the response. I hold my flatpicks as shown in the photos. I'll share with my wife.
Hey John,

Let me intro you to the Fred Kelly Bumblebee Thumbpicks. I've been using them now for over 2 years and I like to think they have improved my playing capabilities.


I used to use a pick all the time but then wanted to incorporate more fingerstyle into what I was playing, trouble is I wanted more volume out of what my thumb was able to provide. At first I was forced into using a pick, but putting it down and then picking it up again each time, especially in the middle of a song, was a major hassle.

So I decided that if I could find the right thumbpick, it would enable me to make the transition backwards and forwards each time without having to pick up and put down each time.

So I ended up experimenting with maybe 30 different types and shapes of thumbpick until I found the Fred Kelly Bumblebees. This really did it for me.

Within a short space of time I found that I could go from soloing (using alternate picking - up and down) whether on acoustic on electric to fingerpicking in a fraction of a second. Basically the thumbpick stay on all the time and it leaves my other 4 fingers free to do whatever else I wanted. I have now even dropped the automatic response of wanting to also use the first finger to also hold the pick too which I initially found myself wanting to do. Now my thumb does it all by itself whether it is strumming or picking. And I have found this has also provided more flexibility than having to rely just on my wrist when strumming.

I live in New Zealand and cannot buy the Bumblebees here so I have to buy them online and get them delivered. I have become so dependant on them that I now buy them 20 at a time for fear of loosing them. PLUS because the stores here don't sell them I now carry one all the time in case I end up going into a store to try out a new guitar.

Reading this it must sound like I am Fred Kelly himself but I am not - but am I endorsing them? Yes I sure am. In fact I cannot understand why anyone would want to use any pick that commits two fingers to having to hold them - To me, being able to use that forefinger for other work has increased my potential output by 20% AND the forefinger is one of the fingers that is easiest to train.

Oh and one other benefit. The angle of the pick itself can be changed from the thumbclip - and that is useful too.

I used to buy these from Elderly Instruments but I see now that Fred Kelly have their own site at:

http://www.fredkellypicks.com/products-page/bumble-bee

Hope this of help and Good Luck!
Hey Fred, uh, I mean Nick

I've seen the bumblebee picks and never really considered them. I'll have to see about getting a few to try out. I play various styles and the use of a pick or lack thereof will vary depending on the piece/style/sound desired.

I've been a long time devotee to the Dunlop Nylon .88's (which is pictured above). I have recently gone out and purchased many other kinds of picks to try out. Mainly this pick buying spree was spurred by my need to find a better one for the mandolin. The heavy Dawgs and Golden Gates do nice for mandolin. I've also picked up some of the Dunlop heavy Jazz picks - also nice. Recently I ordered the sampler from Butterfly picks but haven't had the chance to really give them a run through.

Bottom line, picks can be cheap and there's no reason not to give a bunch a try before settling on the kind(s) you'll use.

John
Hey John, Fred, and/or anyone who might possibly help,

I know that I'm nowhere near either of your league as guitarists, but I am able to make it part of my livlihood. My topic is a little off the subject, but I think it will fit, and besides, I'm desparate.

I am a solo, singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist, but the songs I write, sing, and play are a mixture of Country Blues and Rockabilly, with Christian lyrics. I began to have a lot of pain and swelling in my fingers, on both hands, when I played. They also turned very red at the bottom, but pale as death at the top. Now, even when I'm not playing, my hands and particularly my fingers, stay a constant purple color. After running some tests, the Rheumatologist diagnosed me with Raynaud's Disease. The small blood vessels are malfunctioning and greatly restricting, and sometimes totally stopping blood flow into my fingers. The doctor is still trying different medications, trying to find one that will dialate the blood vessels, and let the blood in. So far, nothing is working. He told me it was OK to keep playing, as long as I could stand the pain. However, my problem was compounded two days before Christmas, when I was rehearsing for a very important gig at a high profile venue, in Atlanta, GA, where Rory Block had played the week before. In the midst of my rehearsing, I was flatpicking, and realized I had dropped the pick and didn't know it. My right hand was as numb as a rock. I rested it a few minutes, until the feeling came back, and started playing again. Before I could get through the song, the same thing happened. It turns out that it happens only when I use a flat pick. When I fingerpick, I do it "Travis Style" but I use only my thumb and middle finger, trying to model Doc Watson, except he uses his thumb and index finger. But as soon as I start with the flatpick, when I join my index finger and thumb together, My hand just becomes useless and dead as a doornail. The doctor thinks the numbness is Carpel Tunnel Syndrome, and he wants me wear a brace on both hands/forearms at night, when I sleep. He has also ordered some tests for me on the 19th of this month, to test the nerves.
So, do you, or have you had any experience with this type of stuff? Will I still be able to play, if I have to have surgery? Is there anything I can do, besides what the doctor said, to make it better, and/or prevent it from happening again? I have played guitar since I was 11 years old, and I'll be 58, this coming April. If I can't play guitar, or it I have to stop playing, my life won't be worth a nickle.
Any helpful advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks a lot, and God bless!

Jerry T.
Jerry,

Wow that's a big subject you brought up and not sure how much I can help. Just hope that some of the following random comments either encourage or help buddy.

1: As far as doubting being in our league, you have not got a problem. I wake up every morning and think what a beginner I am and how much better everyone else is. But hey, I play because I love being able to make one note after another, and if sounds good, or getting better, then thats fine with me. At 53 I haven't got anyone I want to impress except myself. And really that is what keep me wanting to learn ....me wanting to impress myself.

2: My wife's side of the family has had problems with Carpel Tunnel Syndrome and I know what issues and pain it can cause. In respect of holding the pick, then I would definately try out the Bumblebee. After reading your post the first time I went and had a play and concentrated on just using my thumb (and thumbpick) to do all the work. I found that I can easily use my thumb movement alone to strum and pick without any movement in the wrist, and without having to use any support or help from the index finger.. Having said that, this might be because I have a fat thumb and the pick sits on my thumb really tight. So give this a try ....it might just be a solution ....and remember there are many, many fine pickers that have never even tried to use their fingers.

3: As far as how you would feel if you could never play using your hands again, I do really understand that feeling. But you know what? If that ever did happen to me, and I still had a breathe left in my body, I'd go out and buy another Blues Harp. I've always wanted to learn to play that thing properly and with the music theory that I've have picked up from playing the guitar, I would set out to make that thing wail. And I'm sure you could do the same.

4: As far as remedies go, I'm certainly no doctor, but if I was in your situation I would start using the Net to research people that had been experimenting with different foods to find what they have found in respect of the same medical issues you have. The reason I say this is because over the last 10 years I have come across increasing numbers of people that are starting to find remedies on their for a whole range of ailments and afflictions that have in some way been improved or made worse, by the type of foods being eaten. Don't get me wrong here. I am not one of these people that is necessaily into "new wave" herbal remedies and alternative health gimmicks, but doctors are only people like you and me, and have never met one that owned a magic wand yet. If you take a look at the increasing number of medical problems over the last couple of decades, a time when we have all been feeding more on processed foods that are stuffed full of chemicals and all manner of preservatives, that we were never intended to stick in our mouths, it's hardly surprising that our bodies are starting to complain. And I have heard some wonderfully succeessful results from people whose doctors had given up and have done this.

Anyway that's just a few thoughts for you to ponder on. Even if even just one of those comments helps in some way, then it's been worthwhile. Keep smiling!
Jerry--My wife had CT surgery before Christmas. She's played piano and saxophone for at least 40 years (sax professionally for the last 10 or 12); plus her day job requires lots of time at a computer. Her problem was numbness in both hands. She found a neurologist who diagnosed her with both CTS and "trigger finger" in both hands. She surgery in her right hand only (waiting til things settle down for her left). She's back playing already (even took up guitar), but has recently started to experience pain in her right hand (no pain before--just numbness). Her doctor told her the younger a person is who has CT surgery, the better the results. My father-in-law was a carpenter/weather-stripper and had surgery in his early 70s; he continued to feel discomfort until he died (of cancer, not CTS). My mother-in-law (90+) now wants to have the surgery because she says she feels pain, but from what I've read and been told, people with CTS seldom report "pain" before surgery. BTW, you're my age, and my wife's a few years younger. I guess if you were going to have the surgery, sooner rather than later might make sense. Best wishes to you.
John if you like the Dunlop Jazzes, which is what I came to use the most until I found the Dunlop Totex Jazz M3 pick which replaced my Jazzes, until I found the Dunlop Tortex Pitch Black Jazz 73mm and 88mm ones. Also they work great for hybrid picking, which is probably what I do most now.

Thanks! Great minds think alike--these are what I use (also the yellow size).
Back when I was subscribing to Guitar Player, they put up a full-page illustration of the picks favored by 100 top players. There was a lot of diversity...Everything from Billy Gibbons' peso to 1/4" thick nylon slabs used by some jazz guy...

With all that diversity, there's a lot of variation in how to hold the thing as well.

There can be some science or technique or "craft" if you will as well....

I've always been a fan of being able to manipulate the pick while playing. Letting more protrude for a more ringing sound, or "choking up" on the pick for a more muted sound for fast single-string work. I hold the pick so that it's essentially pointing the same direction as my index finger, and at right angles to my thumb. Normally, no more than a quarter inch of the pick protrudes.
Does anyone have any advice on the whole strumming thing ? i.e holding the pick, the pick-to-strings angle and sweep, wrist/elbow input etc. My strumming is inconsistent and untidy and i'm close to giving my acoustic guitar the Pete Townsend treatment. I have trouble getting a clean, consistent sound especially at higher speeds when the pick often pivots out of position. I also tend to stab at the strings in a vague U-shape. I see little discussion of this as if it's dead easy. Maybe i'm just thinking about it too much but i've been playing for 3 years so this is very frustrating.
Practice each downward movement slowly and smoothly ensuring that the movement is coming from the wrist as much as the arm. Ensure that you touch each of the strings that you are intenting to touch. Practice very slowly in the beginning - if possible using a metronome to ensure to keep a smooth constant rythm. You are better off making sure that one downward stroke brings out a sound that you are happy with. When you have got this down, then slowly increase your speed. Take your time and don't rush it. Above all make sure that in each strum you are only hitting those strings you intend to because later on you may encounter a soung where you only want to hit 2 strings and not all 6. Playing slowly bring out the best sound you can is often much more enjoyable than thrashing.

Finally make sure you are not starting with a very heavy and stiff pick. It can be very unforgiving.

Good Luck.

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