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Thread: How to hold the pick

  1. #1
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default How to hold the pick

    Being a guitar player has advantages and disadvantages when you decide to learn mando.

    The Mike Marshall video on mando essentials has been a huge help. I watch it almost weekly just to remind myself of how it's done.

    The toughest part of the video is about how to hold the pick. It looks like he uses his thumb and forefinger only, with his thumb pointed toward the headstock, his forefinger curled back toward the bridge, and the other three fingers curled back toward the bridge, too. He's sort of making a loose fist.

    Guitar picks are held with the thumb and first two fingers, sort of like holding a pencil, with the forefinger pointed more or less at the fretboard.

    Mike also seems to hold the pick more loosely than a guitar pick is held.

    Anyhow, I can't seem to get the hang of it. It's not just awkward. It feels out-of-control, unstable, imprecise. And with such close-together strings, I want more accuracy, not less.

    I'll keep working at it, of course, but if you have any suggestions beyond "Hang in there, man!" I'd love to read 'em.

    Thanks!

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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Play like you used to on guitar.
    Then try to play faster and louder and watch you pencil grip go all crampy and desperate; take a break frequently to recover your strength and to search for the pick that flew away on you.

    Then comes the phase when you reconsider. Learning from experience may not be the fastest way, but you know where you came from and you enjoy the ride.
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    Front Porch & Sweet Tea NursingDaBlues's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I come from a line of flat pickers. It wasnít until maybe twenty years ago that I recognized that my grandfather, my father, and I all held our picks alike. Probably imitation. I donít know if ours was ďthe correctĒ technique but it seemed to have served my grandfather and father well and it continues to do well with me. I donít have any problems with pick slippage. Iím not having to tightly grip the pick. There's no cramping. And it transfers nicely between guitar and mandolin.

    Iíll do my best to describe what I do.

    Essentially, form a plus (+) sign with thumb and index finger. Thumb across first knuckle of index finger. (You may have to adjust slightly depending on the length of your thumb, but I tend to use the mid-point of the first joint of my thumb over the finger knuckle; just do whatever is comfortable.) Tip of index finger points down to tip of pick; no curling of finger. Only enough pick extending beyond the fingertip to contact the strings. No tight grip between thumb and index finger; just enough pressure to hold it in place. Remaining fingers are relaxed and loose; either lightly flexed or partially extended.

    Like I said, this may not be the correct technique, but Iím too old to change now.

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    Registered User Drew Streip's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Guitar picks are held with the thumb and first two fingers, sort of like holding a pencil, with the forefinger pointed more or less at the fretboard.
    Who says? Not criticizing you -- legitimately wondering. I've never seen this as a "standard proclamation." I took guitar lessons from multiple teachers over ~10 years and was never taught that way. I was taught more like the Mike Marshall method.

    When I started getting serious about mandolin, I experimented with different (thicker, larger) picks but my fundamental grip didn't change. I just try to get the most sound with the least force.

    In other words, focus on tone first, and don't over-play. Pick as lightly as you can to get a clean sound out of every note. The pick grip will follow. Like Bertram said ^

    Also watch this Tony Rice video... it's kind of how I play (but not as good): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JFgC3Ub10E

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    Registered User wxfloyd's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Mike Marshall's method of the pick hold seems like a somewhat looser interpretation of what Chris Thile preaches in this video. I typically use a hold somewhere between what Chris teaches and what Mike teaches, though I felt Chris's video made more sense to me. I've also started adopting this same type of pick hold when playing my acoustic guitar, and I've found I actually get much more volume and control, compared to how I used to hold my pick (primarily carried over from electric guitar).

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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I don't agree that a guitar pick is held like a pencil with the thumb and first two fingers. I know that some people do that, on both guitar and mandolin, but the more common grip for both instruments is thumb and first finger only.

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  12. #7
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by NursingDaBlues View Post
    . . . Essentially, form a plus (+) sign with thumb and index finger. Thumb across first knuckle of index finger. . . .
    I like that. I'll try it!

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  14. #8
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by wxfloyd View Post
    Mike Marshall's method of the pick hold seems like a somewhat looser interpretation of what Chris Thile preaches in this video. I typically use a hold somewhere between what Chris teaches and what Mike teaches, though I felt Chris's video made more sense to me. I've also started adopting this same type of pick hold when playing my acoustic guitar, and I've found I actually get much more volume and control, compared to how I used to hold my pick (primarily carried over from electric guitar).
    Thanks for that. I'll watch the video.

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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I think most players lay the pick on the first knuckle of index finger. Here's a good one to watch, Bush, McCoury, Joliff, Skehan, Hoffman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTJJdlswFPE

    You can also search for threads about strips of sandpaper, Monster Grip and (ahem) Gorilla Snot and other tricks that people have for grippier picks.

    There's a lot of variations on pinky anchoring vs heel of hand anchoring: http://www.mandozine.com/techniques/...righthand.html
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Hang in there man! (Sorry..)

    I take lessons from Mike online, and follow his method. I think the accuracy comes from the hand and wrist placement, the pick then becomes an extension of the hand. When it falls into place, it just feels right. The key to precision/accuracy is having a reference point, and I really like the method he teaches where the hand is brushing either the top corner of the bridge, or just behind the bridge on the strings for the A and E strings. Realize that where Mike says it works for him may not work for you, as he has those giant mitts.

    Often while watching the video responses he does for people on Artistworks, he will say "really anchor that hand", not letting it float. I don't think of it as a solid, heavy anchor resting in the bottom of the ocean, more of a drift anchor that can stabilize the boat, let the hand move in a range you want it to.

    One thing I have learned from Matt Flinner is to always include a warmup picking exercise. Choose a pattern that is relatively interesting, somewhat complicated but not too complicated. Work it across the frets, and move on down the strings. Repeat, increasing the BPM, and continue doing that up to your limit. This, more than anything, has helped me with pick grip, hand position and volume.

    EDIT: What type of pick are you using? Also, wash your pick with your hands before a practice session. Amazing how much that helps on humid days.
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by gtani7 View Post
    I think most players lay the pick on the first knuckle of index finger. Here's a good one to watch, Bush, McCoury, Joliff, Skehan, Hoffman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTJJdlswFPE
    This is a great video and I always think about this when threads about pick grip, right hand position, wrist motion, attack angle etc. etc. come up. As for grip, it looks to me like Hoffman uses a thumb and 2 fingers. The other 4 are thumb and index. Maybe it's just me but I see slight differences in all five of these guys as far as hand position and wrist movement goes. Jolliff's attack looks the most different to me.

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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I've always pretty much held my pick in the Thile/Marshall/Compton fashion on guitar and mandolin, though I'll admit to relaxing into a pinky brush on occasion (not an anchor). I've worked hard on eliminating the pinky brush, and it's rare that I do it anymore. It just takes time to get used to it, especially if you've been playing guitar for years. You literally have to slow down, be deliberate, and know that it's going to take time to get back up to speed. But, IMO, I think it's worth it. Like a golfer retooling his swing, they stink for a period of time before they begin to see the positive results.
    Chuck

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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I think I'd be a little cautious about prescribing "the" right way to hold a pick, simply because of the variations among different peoples' hands. Not only are there bigger hands and smaller hands, there are also differences in the breadth and shape of palms, the length of fingers, the length of fingers relative to the length of the thumb, and so on. What works for one person may not work for someone else whose hand geometry is different.

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  27. #15
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    All good stuff. Helps. Thanks, gang, glad I asked!

    Part of the awkwardness might be that I'm left-handed. Even playing guitar, I usually don't use a pick. I actually seem to keep my pick in hand better on mando. And yes, bigger, heavier picks make it easier for some reason.

    Anyhow, as Kinky Friedman said when he ran for Texas governor: How hard could it be?

  28. #16
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Streip View Post
    Who says? Not criticizing you -- legitimately wondering. I've never seen this as a "standard proclamation." . . . .
    Guess it's just me, then. Anyone want to learn the patent-applied-for Charlie Bernstein guit-pick method?

  29. #17
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by ptritz View Post
    I think I'd be a little cautious about prescribing "the" right way to hold a pick, simply because of the variations among different peoples' hands. Not only are there bigger hands and smaller hands, there are also differences in the breadth and shape of palms, the length of fingers, the length of fingers relative to the length of the thumb, and so on. What works for one person may not work for someone else whose hand geometry is different.
    We all know certain great players have other ways of holding a pick, and still sound wonderful.

    I was just showing a historical approach to one of the most basic mandolin techniques. I would assume physiological differences among players will make some alterations to the basic approach somewhat, but the principle is the same.

  30. #18
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I agree with David above. I mean,think about what your hand has to look like in order to NOT hold the pick with thumb and forefinger tip,it would have to look like a gorilla's hand,,my opinion has been that people that use the 3 finger grip are usually self taught...

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  32. #19
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I was always taught the pick grip Mike Marshall advocates, starting on guitar. But different strokes for different folks.

    For an interesting take on pick grip, check out the videos of Pat Metheny (a monstrous guitar player by any account) playing with Joanie Mitchell on the "Court and Spark" tour (see youtube). He appears to be pinching the pink between thumb and fore finger, holding it well out away from his hand. Danged-est pick hold ever, but he sounds amazing. Go figure.
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  33. #20
    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post
    Guitar picks are held with the thumb and first two fingers, sort of like holding a pencil, with the forefinger pointed more or less at the fretboard.
    LOL, the police have already descended about this one. FWIW, I learned the same thing and never thought anything of it until I began playing mandolin. Now, you have me wondering if you know where you got this from, because obviously we are in a very small minority! I know that I learned from a method book (after only one lesson from my father, whose guitar I learned on) and that was 50 years ago. I can't tell you what the method book was, I sure wish I knew. But I followed that method until I could smoothly play On Top Of Old Smokey, O Shenandoah, etc. then began playing radio stuff by ear. Anyway, I specifically remember the pencil analogy. There was a very recent thread in the techniques forum about a master mandolinist that veered in this direction.

    But to the subject at hand: I personally believe that you will benefit a whole lot by re-training to the technique taught my Mike Marshall (and evidently by the vast majority of the plectrum-wielding world). I began re-training myself about 8 months or so into my mandolin journey. It was so awkward at first that it really didn't seem possible for me. I made a couple false starts over a month or so, then one day it just clicked for me.

    So, "Hang in there, man!"

    Edited to add: I find that my pick (or my forefinger) often tends to migrate to the position that NursinDaBlues mentioned. Also, I've watched closely and seen Tim O'Brien and others hold a pick like that at times. Sometimes the index finger uncurls a bit and points more in the direction of the fretboard.
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    I have used and still use both methods, finger at an X and finger straight down. I go between the two depending on how I feel and if my hand is hurting. Arthritis is the factor and I go back and forth as needed.
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  36. #22
    Registered User Charlie Bernstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    BREAKTHROUGH!!!! (Thanks to all of you and a rubber band. . . .)

    First, glad Mark G. chimed in to say I'm not the only one who holds a guitar pick like a pencil. And least it means I'm not TOO crazy.

    But it's no way to hold a mando pick, right? Right. But breaking a 49-year habit seemed insurmountable, even after watching the Mike Marshall video many times and watching Chris Thile's video, showing a similar approach.

    But today, I figured out how to regroove my brain:

    In desperation, I put a thin rubber band around my middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie, tight enough to feel but loose enough to keep the blood flowing.

    Now those three fingers stay curled under and mind their own business. My grip becomes a flattened X, with the pick against my forefinger's first knuckle, right where it belongs. And I don't backslide into guitar-style picking after half a minute. Or ever!

    Comfortable. Easy. Sounds fine. I'll keep using a rubber band until my fingers are trained to stay put.

    So thanks, gang, this helped a lot!

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  38. #23
    Registered User zedmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie Bernstein View Post

    Guitar picks are held with the thumb and first two fingers, sort of like holding a pencil, with the forefinger pointed more or less at the fretboard.
    Really?
    I've played guitar for years & taught it.
    I was never told to hold a pick that way by any teacher or book and didn't teach it that way.
    I know some people hold the pick differently, and that's fine.

    But I hold it pretty much how you describe for mandolin.

    how loosely or tightly I hold it depends on what I am playing (Chords, single notes, fast, slow, rhythm of the picking, etc.
    I adjust angle of pick on the strings, how much pick I use, how softly or hard I pick, etc.

    In the meantime my other fingers may or may not be curled under--depends on what I am playing again.
    On mandolin they are more likely to be curled under
    But on guitar I also sometimes hybrid pick (Using pick & fingers)--mostly using the middle & ring fingers & sometiems the little finger
    I also use those fingers to mute strings--so they won't be curled under then. (Although that is more common on guitar than mandolin)
    Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    As in everything else - all our hands are different & will 'work for us' in a different way than the way somebody else's hands 'work for them'. There's a way for each of us to hold the pick which is comfortable for us,in the same way that some of us prefer picks of a certain shape / size. I can't comfortably even hold the larger triangular shaped picks that some folks love.

    If you look at David KOS's post at the diagram ''Holding the Plectrum'' - i hold mine as per the right hand side diagram,between my thumb & the end joint of my first finger. It works for me & right now i'm glad about that. I've now got Trigger finger in my right hand first & second fingers.The second finger doesn't bother me,it's been like that for a couple of years now,but my first finger is painful if i try to curl it up & it's stiff even holding the pick as i do. If i'd been holding the pick with my first finger curled up,i'd have had to adapt or give up,so i'm fortunate to have a pick grip that still works for me ,
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  41. #25
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    Default Re: How to hold the pick

    Let's all be thankful that we can hold the pick as we want to. There was a guy at the local jam whose arthritis was so bad, he had to glue the pick to the side of his index finger; otherwise, he couldn't hold it at all.

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