Guitar Pick vs. Fingers

While many aspects of playing guitar are based on technical information, what you choose to play with isn’t one of them. Whether you use your fingers or a plectrum, better known as pick, is based on personal preference. However, as a beginner, you may be confused about what will suit you better.

Flatpicking (using a pick) suits strumming and playing lead guitar more, while fingerstyle (using your fingers) is a better fit for classical playing. Flatpicking or fingerstyle are both useful in their own way. However, one method may give you better results based on the type of guitar you play or the sound you want. 

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dreamstime l 4968508

Understanding whether a guitar pick or your fingers will suit you isn’t complex but needs time and experience. You can only judge what works once you’ve tried the method long enough. This article will teach you what both ways sound like and what they’re used for, so you can think over what style you’d like. 

Is Using a Guitar Pick Better or Your Fingers?

There is no visible advantage of a plectrum or your fingers on one another. Their results are what guitarists base their choice on. 

If you’re choosing based on what your favorite guitarist used, it’s up to you, but it might not go as you hope it will. So it’s best to learn the different methods and try them out yourself.

Flatpicking (Using A Pick)

The pick is the smallest and cheapest part of your setup, but it can make a world of difference. There are many sizes and materials you can choose from, and they also come in various thicknesses.

Using a pick also depends on the strings of your guitar. Playing with bare fingers isn’t recommended on steel strings. However, nylon strings don’t need picks.

You use a pick by holding it between your thumb and index finger. If it’s a finger or thumb pick, wear it on the respective finger. 

It gives a sharp sound that is consistent no matter what chord or string you play. 

You’ll notice that the lead guitarists mainly use a pick. For rock and metal players, using a pick is the better choice.

Fingerstyle (Using Your Fingers)

Beginners tend to gravitate towards using their fingers more, seeing that it allows a broader range of sounds. 

As you advance, you’ll see that moves that require multiple sounds at once, such as chord-melody arrangements, bass notes, or folk songs with two simultaneous notes on non-adjacent strings, can successfully be played using fingerstyle.

In fingerstyle, you can think your fingers are 4 individual picks. Depending on the sound you like, you can play with your fingernail or fingertip. 

Fingerstyle doesn’t have a consistent sound, so each part of the finger creates a different sound. 

Additionally, fingers produce a mellower tone than the picks. Classical and acoustic players prefer using their fingers.

Hybrid Picking (Using Both)

You might be surprised to hear that the best of both worlds is possible here. Hybrid picking utilizes both fingerstyle and flatpicking. 

So you’re using fingerstyle for techniques your pick can’t do and vice versa. You’d need to become well-versed in both styles, though. Although, it will give you maximum complexity, range, and speed when you play. 

You’ll play how you usually do but alternate between holding and using your pick. Keep in mind that you won’t have all your fingers free since at least two will be busy holding your pick, so you’ll need to improvise and practice quite often. 

A small pick (relative to your hand size) makes it easier to incorporate fingerstyle, so it’s best for hybrid picking.

FlatpickingFingerstyleHybrid Picking
SpeedHighestSlowMedium
ToneConsistent &Sharp toneDifferent with every finger & a warm tone.A mix of both
Best forLoud strummingRockMetalShreddingLeadClassic, Pop music, Jazz, bluesAnything, if you’re good with it.

Different Types of Guitar Picks

Picks have a great variety of factors you can mix to find your perfect match. 

The table below explains the aspects of a pick and how they change their performance.  

FactorsDetails
ThicknessTypically found in Thin (0.40-0.60 mm or less), Medium (0.60-0.80 mm), Heavy (0.80-1.20 mm), and Extra Heavy (1.20 mm or more) sizes. The thicker the pick, the mellower its tone and the wider its range. You can try Dunlop Tortex 0.50mm as a thin pick or  Fender Classic 354 Heavy for a heavy one.
HardnessThe stiffness of a plectrum mimics the performance of generally thick picks. If it’s a thick plectrum but made of nylon, it may perform like a thin one. And a thin but sturdy pick of bronze will function like a thicker one.
TextureThe texture impacts the grip of your fingers and the sound made. A textured pick gives more grip to sweaty fingers but also has a grittier sound, such as the Dunlop Gator Grip. A smooth plectrum might slip around, but it’ll produce a clean sound like the Jim Dunlop Flow Gloss.
ShapeStandard tear-drop picks with sharp tips give a brighter tone and are best for soloing. On the other hand, a rounder point pick gives a mellow tone and is ideal for strumming. You can easily find options for both.
MaterialIt gives the overall durability, stiffness, and texture to the pick.Standard materials are Nylon (Soft)Celluloid (Stiff)Acetal (Delrin/Tortex in other companies). Wood, Leather, and Rubber are also available for softer picks. Similarly, you can find bronze and steel for harder picks.

FAQ

Q. Can you use the Same Pick for Different Guitars?

Generally, there are different pick variations recommended for each guitar type. You could use the same pick, but the result won’t be as good.

Q. Does Playing Guitar With Your Fingers Hurt?

As a beginner, it is normal for your fingers to hurt while playing the guitar for a few months. However, it will later subside.

Q. How can you Protect Your Fingers While Strumming?

You could tape your fingers to protect them from getting hurt. Or, you can consider changing your strings to thick-gauge strings that create calluses rather than cutting your fingers.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between guitar picks or fingers to play comes down to personal preference. You can think about what kind of guitar you play or how you would like it to sound. If you’re still unsure and are in the beginner’s period, you should try out both styles and pick what you find easier. Don’t forget to practice often and try new things as you go!

Resources

https://www.libertyparkmusic.com/guitar-pick-or-fingers/
https://guitarsongsmasters.com/using-pick-or-nails-fingers/
https://support.yousician.com/hc/en-us/articles/201682961-Should-I-use-my-fingers-or-a-pick-
https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/best-guitar-picks/
https://hubguitar.com/technique/when-to-use-a-pick