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Picking Variations


Different musical styles can call for distinct picking approaches. Having a repertoire of picking techniques at your disposal enables you to adapt to various musical contexts and achieve your desired sound. Whether it's transitioning between strings quickly, playing single-note tremolos, creating funky sounds, or adjusting your attack for distorted or clean tones, having multiple picking techniques in your toolbox is advantageous.

Finding Your Primary Picking Style

Every guitarist's picking journey is unique, and what works for one player may not suit another. Experimenting with different picking techniques is essential to discover what feels natural and comfortable for you. Let's explore some key aspects of picking to help you find your main style.

Pick Angle and Hand Position

• Slanting the pick: By slanting the pick either upwards or downwards, we can pick with a straight trajectory, while avoiding hitting adjacent strings. The direction you slant the pick will impact your entire hand position. Experiment with both.

• Flat vs. Angled: Having the pick flat will give a very clean tone, but having it angled can help to play fast and works especially well with distortion since the goal isn’t to have a very clean sound. Experiment with both!

• Angle down or up: George Benson, one of the fastest clean players, slants his pick upwards which is unconventional. For most, this feels unnatural, but it might work for you. Footage of Jimi Hendrix shows he also often did this. Most slant the pick downwards. Try both! 

• Hand position: There are different approaches to hand positioning. Some players prefer a more slanted wrist, while others may tilt their thumb to achieve the desired pick angle. Find a hand position that allows easy muting of unwanted strings and promotes a fluid motion.

Wrist vs. Elbow Motion

• Wrist motion: The wrist provides finer control over picking and is suitable for most techniques. However, it might not be the best option for tremolo picking, as it can lead to fatigue at high speeds.

• Elbow motion: Utilizing the elbow can be beneficial for tremolo picking due to the larger muscle involved, offering more sustained speed. However, fine control might be compromised compared to wrist motion.

Incorporating Finger Movement for Picking

• Some guitarists use the fingers as the primary source of movement instead of the wrist or elbow. Try this out, and also try different rations of finger/wrist/elbow for your picking motion. 

Problem-Solving through Actual Music Learning

• Learning actual music and challenging riffs is an effective way to develop your picking technique. Focus on finding the picking style that allows you to play your favorite riffs with the desired tone and comfort.

• Practicing slowly to gain accuracy is essential, but sometimes practicing at a faster tempo is necessary to develop techniques that work well at higher speeds.

Emulating Guitar Legends

• Studying the picking techniques of accomplished players can provide valuable insights. Observe how they angle their picks and utilize finger movements to shape their signature sound!


As you can see, there are many ways to approach picking, and many players even refer to picking as “the picking problem.” It tends to be something we struggle with throughout our lifetime as guitar players! Most of us settle into a way of picking without even thinking about it but then reach a point where we have to examine our habits because it is limiting us in some way. Have faith that you can evolve and improve and change your technique with consistent practice! Enjoy the process and approach it with curiosity and a love of learning! Happy playing!

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