The Angle Of The Pick And Position In Playing Guitar

By Pascha Bocharov

In this article I would like to tell you about the basics of guitar technique. Even though these are the basic things, a lot of beginners don’t know them or know particularly. For a long time I asked myself:

Which angle of the pick is better?

How much should I bend my fret arm?

Should I put the fingers of the pick arm in a fist, or keep them straight?

Is it possible for the thumb of the fret hand to be over the neck?

And much more…

I didn’t learn the answers in a moment. But you have a chance to know them in this article.

So, let’s start.

  1. The length of the guitar strap

This is one of the most important things! You should always use a strap (even when you play sitting) with a fixed length. Why is that? Because one day you will go up the stage (will you?) and play standing there wearing a strap (of course if your style allows you to). If you get used to playing without a strap of with a different length you may face a fact, that you can not play as good, as at home.

Of course if your music in not very complex it is not so important. But if you have solos or riffs where you have to stretch your fingers, then it’s the first thing, that I would tell you to pay attention to.

What length to choose? The one where you are comfortable to play. And where you look cool with a guitar 🙂

I would recommend you to find a golden mean. Don’t lift the guitar up to your jaw (this looks nerd) and don’t drop it to the knees (this looks dumb too). I personally prefer a height where the wrist of my pick hand lies a bit above the waist. You have different physical traits, so you may prefer a different height. Find it for yourself and don’t change.

  1. Positions of playing

Most of your time you will spend practicing at home. So it is important to find a sitting position which will be the most comfortable for playing through a lot of time.

There are two main positions:

  • Classical – when the body of the guitar is placed between your legs
  • On the right leg – when the body lies on your right leg (when your pick hand is right)

I recommend you to use a classical position. Why is it more comfortable than another one? The guitar will be in the same position as if you play standing. This position is good for playing hard things (solo, riffs with finger stretching). It takes less tension because you don’t have to bend over your guitar. But again, if you play simple music and don’t take so much time to practice it is not that important.

  1. How to hold a pick

I think everyone knows but still:

You should see only a point of the pick, which contacts the string. The point may sometimes look out a bit more, when you are playing a rhythm. It is not necessarily should be exactly the same as in the picture maybe it will be more comfortable for you hold a pick a bit differently.

  1. The pick angle

If you already play on the guitar with picking and/or sweep, then grab your pick and look on an area, which contacts the string.

Notice, that the point of the pick is erased only from one side.

Turn the pick upside down.

Notice, that the erased area is again asymmetrical. These two areas are diagonally opposite to each other.

What does that mean? Why doesn’t the abrasions take places all over the point of the pick?

This happens because you hold the pick not straight perpendicularly, but keeping a 30 – 40 degree angle to the strings

And it is correct! Maybe you haven’t noticed that before, if you already have played for some time. But still it is one of the secrets of guitar speed! The pick goes through the strings easier if it touches them with only one edge and not with the whole surface. What’s more you would have to bend your hand in a very unnatural way to hold a pick perpendicularly to the strings. A straight wrist makes exactly the right angle:

Remember this, but don’t go crazy with the angle. As it increases there appear more grinding and noise. The best angle is 30 – 40 degrees.

  1. Type and thickness of the pick

The type (shape) of the pick in playing on the electric guitar is basically not very important. The first thing here is, that it should be not very erased and rounded on the tip, otherwise the sound may lack brightness and attack. But brand new, sharp pointed picks may cause more grinding.

From the other side, the thickness of the pick is very important! If the pick is too thin, it will bend before going through the string, and you will have delays, while playing fast. Because of this fact, I suggest you to use picks thicker than 1 mm.

Another important thing is the material of the pick! It shouldn’t slip in your hand. Do not choose slippery picks!

  1. The pick hand

In my article about Guitar practice I told you, that you don’t have to copy anyone’s technique, because we are all different and someone else’s technique may not match to you. What’s more the hand position is not static it changes while playing. I recommend you to go through these advises:

  • It is better to keep your fingers tight while playing fast and unbend them while switching to chords. How much to bend or unbend – as much as you need to play freely (if you need it at all)
  • Don’t lean on the neck with your fingers – this will limit you on a high speed.
  • The pick hand does a lot of job in isolating noises. It either presses the strings with the palm while playing a rhythm or with the thumb when soloing.

These are the common things. For every technique there are, of course, a lot of details.

  1. The neck hand

The position of the neck hand changes too while playing.  I again recommend you the following:

  • Twist your hand a bit, when you play chords on the lower strings (4, 5, 6) for easier playing. In this case the thumb is placed behind the neck perpendicularly to it.


  • It is usually a zone (fret), marked for each finger on the fretboard.

  • In some cases the finger can pick notes on the other frets.
  • The finger presses a string with the tip, or sometimes with the phalanx (rolling, bare)

  • The thumb may hang over the neck, when you play on the higher strings (1, 2, 3), if it doesn’t affect on the quality of picking.
  • It also may hang like this when you do some techniques (vibrato, bends). The hand here stays straight.

But again, these are the common things. Each technique has it’s own difficulties.

I hope, that you will be able to use the principals, that I’ve described above.

Do you have troubles with hands position, picking, or isolating the noises? It is easier to shoot them with a guitar instructor, who knows, sees, and hears more than you. He can literally set up your hands, considering the size of your fingers, hand and other features.

Author: Pasha Bocharov – professional guitarist and teaches electric guitar lessons in Moscow. Contact him if you have problems with your guitar playing so he could help you.

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