Guitar picking

Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:

Using a single thumb pick with the bare fingers is similar to hybrid picking. Another mixed technique is to play different passages with a plectrum or fingerstyle, "palming" the plectrum when not in use.

Comparison of plectrum and finger picking techniques

The pros of each guitar picking style are indirectly correlated to the cons of the other.

Fingerstyle advantages

Al Di Meola guitar in Utrecht, Netherlands
Fingerstyle guitar
  • A pick isn’t necessary.
  • It is easier to play non-adjacent strings at the same time.
  • It is easier to play polyphonically, with separate musical lines, or separate melody, harmony and bass.
  • It is easy to play arpeggios.
  • A simpler motion is required to play notes on non-adjacent strings.
  • It is possible to play chords with no arpeggiation.
  • There is less need to use the fretting hand to damp notes in chords, since the guitarist can pluck just the required strings.
  • A great variation in strokes is possible, accommodating expressiveness in timbre.
  • A wide variety of strums and rasgueados are possible.
  • Fingerstyle is useful in almost any genre.

Fingerstyle players use up to four (rarely five) surfaces to strike string independently. However, that does not equate to four plectrums, since plectrums can more easily strike strings on both up and downstrokes—which is much more difficult for fingers.[1]

Advantages of plectrum picking

Guitar picks-KayEss-1.jpeg
Various guitar picks.
  • Picks require no maintenance.
  • It involves less multi-tasking.
  • Picking back and forth with a pick is easier. Alternate picking is usually the most efficient technique.
  • Tremolo effects may be easier to achieve.
  • The guitarist picks the string with less contact that a finger would involve.
  • A pick can be louder compared to bare finger playing.
  • It may be easier to maintain articulation or clarity when playing fast.
  • Playing on heavier gauge strings can damage un-coated nails: fingerstyle is more suited to nylon strings or lighter gauge steel strings (this does not apply to fingerpicks).

Fingerstyle techniques

Plucking patterns

To achieve Tremolo effects, varied arpeggios, and rapid, fluent scale passages, the player must practice alternation, that is, plucking strings with a different finger each time. Using p to indicate the thumb, i the index finger, m the middle finger and a the ring finger, common alternation patterns include:

  • i-m-i-m Basic melody line on the treble strings. Has the appearance of "walking along the strings".
  • i-m-a-i-m-a Tremolo pattern with a triplet feel (i.e. the same note is repeated three times)
  • p-a-m-i-p-a-m-i A tremolo or apreggio pattern..
  • p-m-p-m A way of playing a melody line on the lower strings.

In some genres, such as folk or country, the player can "lock in" to a picking pattern for the whole song, or even the whole performance, since these forms of music are based on maintaining a steady rhythm.[2] However, in other genres—such as classical, flamenco or fingerstyle jazz—it becomes necessary to switch fluently between patterns.

Tone production

Tone production is important in any style. Classical guitar, for example, stresses many techniques are that applicable to other styles. Tonal techniques include:

  • Plucking distance from the bridge. Guitarists actively control this to change the sound(timbre) from "soft" (dolce) plucking the string near its middle, to "hard" (ponticelo) plucking the string near the bridge.
  • Use of nail or not. In early music, musicians plucked strings with the fingertips. Today, however, many guitarists (including most classical guitarists) use fingernails. Complex, reliable playing with fingernails requires nails that are carefully filed and shaped.[3] ) Many guitarists have their playing nails reinforced with an acrylic coating.

Playing parameters include

  • Finger to use
  • Angle of attack to hold the wrist and fingers at with respect to the strings
  • Rest-stroke or apoyando—the finger that plucks a string rests on the next string—traditionally used in single melody lines—versus free-stroke or tirando, where the string is plucked "in passing"
  • Harmonic effects by, for instance, hitting the top surface of the nail on an upstroke to produce a false harmonic


Some of the many possible fingerstyle strums include

  • A slow down stroke (bass to treble) sweep with the thumb. This is a sforzando or emphatic way of playing a chord.
  • Light "brushing" strokes with the fingers moving together at a near-perpendicular angle to the strings. This works equally in either direction and can be rapidly alternated for a chord tremolo effect.
  • Downstrokes with one finger make a change from the standard upstroke strum.
  • A "pinch" with the thumb and fingers moving towards each other gives a crisp effect. It is helpful to clearly articulate the topmost and bass note in the chord, as if plucking, before "following through".
  • Rasgueado: Strumming typically done by bunching all the plucking hand fingers into a fist and then flicking them out in quick succession to get four superimposed strums. The rasgueado or "rolling" strum is particularly characteristic of flamenco.
  • Turning p-a-m-i tremolo plucking into a series of downstrokes. This is a lighter version of the classic rasgueado, which uses upstrokes.

Varieties of fingerstyle

Plectrum techniques

Guitarists resolve the problem of playing notes on non adjacent string by practicing string skipping. To achieve speed, plectrum pickers methods of mixing up and down strokes.



Playing guitar with pick

Flatpicking is a technique for playing a guitar using a guitar pick (plectrum) held between two or three fingers to strike the strings. The term flatpicking occurs with other instruments, but is probably best known in the context of playing an acoustic guitar with steel strings—particularly in bluegrass music and old-time country music. Probably starting around 1930, flatpicking developed when guitarists began arranging old-time American fiddle tunes on the guitar, expanding the instrument's traditional role of rhythm guitar accompaniment with an occasional single-note melodic run.

The melodic style in bluegrass is often fast and dynamic, with slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, powerful strumming and rapid crosspicking. Bluegrass flatpickers usually prefer guitars with a flat top rather than an arch top, and steel strings rather than nylon. The archetypal flatpicking guitar is the 'Dreadnought' series made by C.F. Martin & Company.

Alternate picking

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs strictly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run, and is the most common method of plectrum playing. If this technique is performed on a single note at a high speed, then it may also be referred to as tremolo picking.

Sweep picking

Sweep picking involves a continuous 'sweep' with the pick across two or more strings (using down-strokes when moving down, and up-strokes when moving up), and is commonly associated with playing arpeggios. To produce a series of distinct notes requires that each note be fretted individually with the fretting hand, rather than held together as a chord.

Economy picking

Frank Gambale in Montréal
Frank Gambale is noted for economy picking

A combination of sweep picking and alternate picking, economy picking involves using alternate picking except when changing strings. In this case the guitarist changes to sweep picking, picking in the direction of travel: an upstroke if changing to a lower (pitch) string, a downstroke if changing to a higher (pitch) string.

Gypsy picking

The picking technique of gypsy jazz has been described as similar to economy picking when changing from lower to higher strings, but performed with rest strokes. When changing from higher to lower strings, a down stroke is used instead of a sweep or economy stroke. For instance, on switching from the G to the B string, the plectrum moves in the same direction and comes to rest on the E string—though while switching from the B to G strings both strokes would be downward reststrokes. All down strokes are rest strokes, while all up strokes are free strokes. In general while playing consecutive notes on the same string if the tempo is slow enough all down strokes may be employed. If the tempo is faster alternate picking is generally used, though often consecutive downstrokes are used to emphasize certain notes, particularly in the end of phrases, or to prepared the pick for an easier string change. This technique has become associated with Django Reinhardt in the 1930s, but was also employed by plectrum banjo players, mandolinists and many pre-electric jazz guitarists seeking a strong, projecting acoustic sound on their instruments.


La Pompe

La Pompe is the rhythmic pattern used in gypsy jazz. This form of percussive rhythm is similar to the "boom-chick" in stride piano. The first beat is a staccato chord, emphasizing the lower strings with a more "bassy" sound, produced by a down stroke; the fretting hand immediately afterward releases the strings slightly to deaden them. The next beat is a percussive strum, produced by a down stroke, that emphasizes a more "trebly" sound by engaging a fuller range of the strings. Various artists prefer different levels of staccato on beats 1 and 3, and beats 2 and 4, but in general both beats are short, but still voiced to some degree. The pattern then repeats, but before every first and third beat, an upstroke is performed very quickly (typically with the strings still deadened), giving the music its heavy swing feel.

Other techniques


Anchoring is a practice in both fingerstyle and plectrum where part of the picking hand, usually the little finger or "pinky" touches the guitar body. Although anchoring is common, many guitar teachers advise against it as it limits flexible hand movement. The contrary approach is known as "floating".

Hybrid picking

Hybrid picking is mixture of plectrum picking and finger picking. Normally the player holds the pick with thumb and index finger, picking the string, and utilizing the middle and ring finger to finger pick adjacent strings. In the context of styles of music from the American South, such as country music, bluegrass, and rockabilly, it is often called "chicken pickin'".

Hammer-on and pull-off

Hammer-on is a stringed instrument playing technique performed (especially on fretted string instruments such as guitar) by sharply bringing a fretting-hand finger down on the fingerboard behind a fret, causing a note to sound. This technique is the opposite of the pull-off. Traditionally, this technique is supplemental to conventional picking, being used to achieve legato and ornamentation effects. This is connected to the fact that hammering imparts less energy to a string, so that hammered notes are less audible. With electric instruments, it becomes possible to use these techniques much more extensively.


Tapping guitar

Tapping is a guitar playing technique, where a string is fretted and set into vibration as part of a single motion of being pushed onto the fretboard, as opposed to the standard technique being fretted with one hand and picked with the other. It is similar to the technique of hammer-ons and pull-offs, but used in an extended way compared to them: hammer-ons would be performed by only the fretting hand, and in conjunction with conventionally picked notes; whereas tapping passages involve both hands and consist of only tapped, hammered and pulled notes. Tapping is used exclusively by some players (such as Stanley Jordan) and on some instruments, such as the Chapman Stick.

See also

  • Ebow A device for activating strings without physical contact.


  1. ^ Daniel E. Smith, Dansm's Fingerpicking Songs, 5-24-99,
  2. ^ Traum, Happy (1974). Fingerpicking Styles For Guitar. Oak Publications. ISBN 0-8256-0005-7.
  3. ^ Tennant, Scott (1996). Pumping Nylon. Alfred pub. co. ISBN 978-0-88284-721-4.
Alternate picking

Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs alternating downward and upward strokes in a continuous fashion. If the technique is performed at high speed on a single string voicing the same note it may be referred to as "tremolo picking" or "double picking".

Good alternate picking involves a continuous down-up or up-down motion of the picking hand, even when not picking a note (except when the gap lasts longer than one full up-down motion). In this manner, an up-beat (such as an even-numbered eighth note or, at faster tempos, sixteenth note) will always be played with an upward picking stroke, while the down-beats are always played with downward picking strokes. This allows for fluid incorporation of legato-based notes such as hammer-ons and/or pull-offs in the middle of picked phrases.

The technique has many advantages and some disadvantages, largely depending on the licks the guitarist is attempting to play. For example, during fast passages, alternate picking is necessary in keeping the picking arm from tiring out. At very high tempos, alternate picking is essentially required, since techniques like downpicking are made not feasible.

Most scalar runs are most easily played using alternate picking. Similarly, the complex, syncopated rhythm guitar patterns found in death metal require a good alternate picking technique to play fast and accurately.

On the other hand, large arpeggios (especially those spanning more than one octave) are very difficult to play using pure alternate picking and almost impossible to play at great speeds, which is why many guitarists choose to employ sweep picking to play these arpeggios (e.g. Glenn Tipton, K. K. Downing, Frank Gambale & Mario Parga). Similarly, some kinds of licks are easier when played using such specialized techniques as legato, economy picking (a hybrid of alternate and sweep picking) or tapping.

Despite some of the well-known disadvantages of the technique, some guitarists (such as Al Di Meola, Steve Morse) emphasize the near-exclusive use of alternate picking, even in situations where another technique would be easier, claiming that pure alternate picking leads to a more consistent sound and allows for greater control of tone.

Alternate picking can be heard in almost all styles of picked guitar music, from jazz and bluegrass, to heavy metal.

Victor Wooten uses his thumb for alternate picking, as displayed on his DVD "Super Bass Solo Technique".


Bastardolomey is a Bulgarian heavy metal band from Sofia, formed in 2007. The band was founded by Dimitar Vassilev – Nufry and drummer Milen Ivanchev. The band's debut album is called Plastic Pig Society and was released in April 2010. Bastardolomey's aggressive metal sound involves fast guitar picking, atonal guitar solos, double bass drumming and tight vocals. The band's lyrics cover topics such as antisocial issues, the devil, religion and warfare.

The four band members are:

Dimitar Vassilev – Nufry – vocals/guitar

Kiril Petrushev – Busti – lead guitars

Venelin Georgiev – Villi – bass guitar

Milen Ivanchev – drums

The band's greatest recognition came with staging one of the main musical events in Bulgaria in 2010 - Sofia Rocks - part of Sonisphere Festival, as the local support band, on 22 June 2010, warming up for Metallica along with Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer - the Big Four (thrash metal bands) acts.

Before You Go (album)

Before You Go is an album by Buck Owens and his Buckaroos, released in 1965. It is no longer in print.

Carter Family picking

Carter Family picking, also known as the thumb brush, the Carter lick, the church lick, or the Carter scratch, is a style of fingerstyle guitar named after Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family's distinctive style of rhythm guitar in which the melody is played on the bass strings, usually low E, A, and D while rhythm strumming continues above, on the treble strings, G, B, and high E. This often occurs during the break. The style bears similarity to the frailing style of banjo playing and is the rhythm Bill Monroe adapted for bluegrass music two decades later.With this technique, Carter, who "was among the first" to use it as such, "helped to turn the guitar into a lead instrument". It is unclear how Maybelle developed her then-unique style.

It is known that Maybelle first learned the blues fingerpicking technique around 1930 from Lesley Riddle, an African-American guitarist who used to frequent the Carter family household. Carter can be heard playing in this style on a number of Carter Family recordings. She also played slide guitar and, later, with a flat-pick.


Chestnut Mare

"Chestnut Mare" is a song by the American rock band the Byrds, written by Roger McGuinn and Jacques Levy during 1969 for a planned country rock musical named Gene Tryp. The musical was never staged and the song was instead released in September 1970 as part of the Byrds' (Untitled) album. It was later issued as a single, peaking at number 121 on the Billboard singles chart and number 19 on the UK Singles Chart.

Chip Young

Chip Young (May 19, 1938 – December 20, 2014), was an American session guitarist, and later record producer who worked primarily out of Nashville, Tennessee.


Crosspicking is a technique for playing the mandolin or guitar using a plectrum or flatpick in a rolling, syncopated style across three strings. This style is probably best known as one element of the flatpicking style in bluegrass music, and it closely resembles a banjo roll, the main difference being that the banjo roll is fingerpicked rather than flatpicked.

A typical element of the technique is the use of three pitches played repeatedly within a four-pulse rhythm. This results in a continual shifting of the pitches vis-a-vis the accented pulse. The three pitches are usually played on three adjacent strings—one per string. The pick direction can vary, depending on the required emphasis and the melody.

Crosspicking is a guitar style that uses a flatpick to imitate the sound of fingerpicking. It is used both as a lead style and as accompaniment. Using repeating patterns involving two or three strings, crosspicking is particularly effective at slow to mid-tempos...The basic [patterns are] forward and reverse "roll[s]"...played in the standard alternating picking pattern (dudududu) or in specialized patterns (dduddudd) or (uuduuduu).

Using "D" for down" and "U" for "up" (and slashes to indicate groups of three), mandolin player Jesse McReynolds used a crosspicking roll of

D - U - U / D - U - U / D - U . . .creating a repeating pattern of notes that expresses the melody. Guitarist George Shuffler used a pick pattern of

D - D - U / D - D - U / D - D . . . .The traditional banjo roll form is

D - D - U / D - D - U / D - D . . .this helps to accentuate the "threes" nature of the pattern against the "four" rhythm.

The other way is using strict alternate picking:

D - U - D / U - D - U / D - U. . . .This may be more comfortable for players who are using alternate picking for most of their playing. In actuality, one (or more) of the three pitches may be varied from one repetition of the pattern to the next, for instance the top note could be toggled up and down one step.


Downpicking, sometimes referred to as down-stroke picking, is a technique used by musicians on plucked string instruments in which the player moves the plectrum, or pick in a downward motion, relative to the position of the instrument, against one or more of the strings to make them vibrate. If down-strokes are played without the addition of upstrokes (as in alternate picking), the tip of the pick never comes in contact with the strings as the hand movies back up to repeat the down-stroke.

Economy picking

Economy picking is a guitar picking technique designed to maximize picking efficiency by combining alternate picking and sweep picking. Specifically:

When picking multiple notes on a string, alternate picking (alternating between down-strokes and upstrokes) is used.

When changing to a new string, sweep picking (picking in the direction of travel: down-stroke if moving down or upstroke when moving up) is used.


A hammer-on is a playing technique performed on a stringed instrument (especially on a fretted string instrument, such as a guitar) by sharply bringing a fretting-hand finger down on the fingerboard behind a fret, causing a note to sound. This technique is the opposite of the pull-off.

Passages in which a large proportion of the notes are performed as hammer-ons and pull-offs instead of being plucked or picked in the usual fashion are known in classical guitar terminology as legato phrases. The sound is smoother and more connected than in a normally picked phrase, due to the absence of the necessity to synchronize the plucking of one hand with the fingering on the fingerboard with the other hand; however, the resulting sounds are not as brightly audible, precisely due to the absence of the plucking of the string, the vibration of the string from an earlier plucking dying off.

The technique also facilitates very fast playing because the picking hand does not have to move at such a high rate, and coordination between the hands only has to be achieved at certain points. Multiple hammer-ons and pull-offs together are sometimes also referred to colloquially as "rolls", a reference to the fluid sound of the technique.

A hammer-on is usually represented in guitar tablature (especially that created by computer) by a letter h.

A rapid series of alternating hammer-ons and pull-offs between a single pair of notes is called a trill.

The term hammer-on was first invented and popularized by Pete Seeger in his book How to Play the 5-String Banjo. Seeger also invented the term pull-off.In the Banjo tutor book "Ellis's Thorough Course For 5 String Banjo" published prior to 1900, the term 'Hammer on' is used to describe the action of performing an embellishment called 'the Shake'. The description is "The Shake, which is marked 'tr', is played in the following manner. Strike(pick) the first note only with the right hand & the remainder of the passage with the 2nd finger of the left hand, by 'hammering on' the string while it is vibrating". In the same tutor book, the action 'pull off' is termed the 'snap'.

Hero and Heroine (song)

"Hero and Heroine" is a song by English band Strawbs featured on their 1974 album of the same name. It is written by Dave Cousins and has obvious drug allusions, the main reason it didn't get much airplay on BBC radio. The song is in a similar vein to an earlier track "Witchwood" but with rather more obvious allegory.

Dave Cousins originally demonstrated the song to the band on banjo and the guitar picking under the verses does indeed retain a bluegrass feel. Keyboardist John Hawken and guitarist Dave Lambert added mellotron and guitar power chords between the verses which gives the whole song a more epic bearing.

Le Igi

Le Igi is a style of Slack Key guitar tuning traditional in Samoa.

Mechanic Manyeruke and the Puritans

Mechanic Manyeruke and the Puritans are a Zimbabwean gospel music group.

Mechanic Manyeruke, the founder of the group (born 16 August 1942) is regarded as one of the top five notable gospel music pioneers in Zimbabwe.Although Mechanic Manyeruke and the Puritans have changed members since the formation of the original group, they have managed to maintain their original music style and beat throughout their career.

Manyeruke's rhythm is his number 1 identity; he strums the guitar picking each string one at a time.

The National broadcasters call Mechanic Manyeruke, Baba Manyeruke because of his fatherly behaviour.

New Dawn Fades

"New Dawn Fades" is a song from the 1979 debut album by Joy Division. The song opens with a backwards and heavily modified sample from previous song, "Insight", presumably added by Martin Hannett, post-production. The song relies on an ascending guitar riff by Bernard Sumner played against a descending bass riff by Peter Hook. The song uses the same progression throughout, but grows in intensity as the song progresses, reaching its peak with Ian Curtis singing "Me, seeing me this time, hoping for something else", and ending with a guitar solo. The song closes side one of Unknown Pleasures. It's also one of few Joy Division songs with two distinct guitars playing, one distorted and one a clean electric guitar picking notes from the guitar chords.

It has been covered by Moby in cooperation with New Order. There is also a version from former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. Ambient techno act The Sight Below covered it on its second album It All Falls Apart, featuring vocals by Jesy Fortino of Tiny Vipers. The band Rheinallt H Rowlands recorded a version of the song, sung in Welsh."New Dawn Fades" has been featured in several films. In the 1995 film Heat, an instrumental version of Moby's cover plays during the car chase leading up to Al Pacino's and Robert De Niro's first on-screen meeting. It was also used in the 2005 remake of House of Wax, and a live version was featured in the 2006 Academy Award nominee Reprise. An instrumental version was produced by Christopher Drake on the Batman Year One Soundtrack. It was most-recently used in the soundtrack for Antoine Fuqua's 2014 movie, The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington. It's in the soundtrack of ACAB - All Cops Are Bastards.


Rasgueado (also called Rageo (spelled so or Rajeo), Rasgueo or Rasgeo in Andalusian dialect and flamenco jargon, or even occasionally Rasqueado) is a guitar finger strumming technique commonly associated with flamenco guitar music. It is also used in classical and other fingerstyle guitar picking techniques. The rasgueado is executed using the fingers of the strumming hand in rhythmically precise, and often rapid, strumming patterns. The important characteristic of this strumming style is the fingernail (outer) side of the finger tips (as opposed to their fleshy inner side) is also used, and in such case, in reverse of the way it is done when the fleshy side of the finger tips is used, namely downward (index, middle, ring and little finger) and upward (thumb).

Skeleton Jar

Skeleton Jar is the second album by Youth Group. It was first released in Australia on 22 March 2004, and on 24 May 2005 on Epitaph Records in the United States with a re-arranged track listing and one new song. The US version was released in Australia as a "repackaged" album in July 2004. In 2011 the album was voted #98 on Australian radio station Triple J's Hottest 100 Australian Albums Of All Time (Industry List).The album marked a transition point for the band, whose lineup had been stable for the first six years. Over the course of the recording sessions, bassist Andy Cassell and guitarist Paul Murphy quit, to be replaced by Patrick Matthews and Cameron Ellison–Elliott respectively, while Johnno Lattin also played bass on some tracks after Cassell's departure. "All of a sudden everything's gone kind of haywire," songwriter and singer-guitarist Toby Martin said.Martin said the album added a strong folk flavour to the band's rock roots. He told the Herald Sun: "I've definitely been listening to more older stuff in the time leading up to recording this record—like Dylan and the Velvet Underground. I really like country and folk music, so I think it's always going to come through. Maybe this time it's come through in a more authentic way, rather than playing with a genre, just playing it because we like it. I think the guitar-picking stuff on this record mostly comes from Bob Dylan or Nick Drake and that sort of stuff, more folk kind of things."Music videos were produced for the singles "Skeleton Jar," "Shadowland" and "Baby Body."

Sweet Creature

"Sweet Creature" is a song recorded by English singer and songwriter Harry Styles for his self-titled debut studio album (2017). The song was written by Styles and Kid Harpoon, and its production was handled by the latter, Jeff Bhasker, Alex Salibian and Tyler Johnson. It was released as a promotional single ahead of the album release.

Whispers and Promises

Whispers and Promises is an instrumental-pop studio album by Earl Klugh released in 1989. The album received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the 32nd Grammy Awards in 1990. In this release, Klugh delivers his well-known "light and smooth guitar picking, backed by swarms of violins, chimes and gentle alto saxophones, beautifully arranged and wonderfully romantic". The album also features Grammy Award winner Don Sebesky as conductor and arranger.

Guitar picking

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