The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #69788   Message #1186695
Posted By: John Hardly
16-May-04 - 08:12 AM
Thread Name: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
Subject: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
Here's the concept...

Of course I would not argue that, with good technique, one CAN learn to keep a flatpick properly positioned in one's hand. Still, there are many, if not most, who still struggle with the pick from time to time -- and almost always at the wrong times (mid-song in front of a crowd).

Almost everyone has tried everything -- gorilla snot, drilled picks, sanded picks, adhesive-backed sandpaper dots on picks, licking fingers, breathing on fingers, factory textured picks, sliced picks, different shaped picks, bigger picks, smaller get the idea.

At some point it almost always occurs to us to at least TRY a thumb pick. MOST who try a thumb pick find it unsatisfactory and I'll try to explain why we do find it unsatisfactory for flatpicking, and how I arrived at my idea and its relationship to the thumbpick.

I play regularly with a clawhammer banjo player, Jim. Clawhammer banjo players are real people too. There is a device used by clawhammer banjo players to increase their volume -- believe it or not, volume is a problem for clawhammer banjo players *grin*.

The device is more or less a topless thimble worn on the index finger. I think it's even referred to as a thimble in some circles. Because a clawhammer style is all downstrokes, the "high" side of the topless thimble is over the fingernail, essentially acting as a more rigid fingernail to sound the string louder on the downstroke.

Jim handed me his thimble one time as we were playing. I put it on my finger and plucked around on the guitar with it.


I could flatpick with it.

Sure, the angle of attack was wrong, though surprisingly, not terribly wrong.

It made me stop and think about what was happening. That's when some stray thoughts I had been nursing for a few years -- at least since I first started seriously pursuing flatpicking -- started to gel.

As I mentioned before, it seems that at some point or another, everyone tries a thumbpick to solve the problem of the errant pick. The problem(s) with thumb pick for this task:

First, the angle of attack is wrong or unnatural -- this can be adjusted for, but it is still a problem.

Second, and this is the big one, and requires a long explanation...

As a lifetime fingerstyler learning to flatpick fiddle tunes for the first, time I went through an interesting evolution. At first it was just clumsy....and the "clumsiness" was almost the exact feeling one might get from participating in a potato sack race.

Oh come on, tell me your summer camp didn't do sack races?

Anyway, that sense of tying your feet together to force you to hop is just the same as tying your index finger to your thumb (by making them share the task of holding a flatpick) and then asking you to cover the same strings with them together as you did when they split duty.

I started to make great gains when I was able to start visualizing, as I was playing, that my thumb was still doing what it always did (as a fingerstlye player) -- playing the downstrokes, upstokes were the work of my index finger.

How cool. I made a huge leap forward in my picking progress

Now here's what's wrong with the thumbpick as a flatpick. It's not just its angle that catches and hangs it up on the upstroke -- it's your brain. Your brain is wired (and it's ergonomically easier (muscles pull, they don't push) to downstroke with a thumb. When you connect the pick to the thumb it will more or less automatically dictate that what you do with that tool is whatever the digit to which it is attatched is neurologically wired to do.

You can do the same trick of the mind that I've trained myself to do -- imagine, as you sidle your index finger up beside the thumbpick, that the index finger is still making the upstrokes. But why kick against the goads? Why force yourself to train your mind when the obvious alternative would be more ergonomically effective?

I think the reason most people never get past the idea of attaching a pick to the thumb is that it's already been done by fingerpickers for years. It's like when you were in elementary school and assigned an art project. As soon as you saw the first, quicker kid's assignment, all hope for an original thought flew out the door. Every kid turns in the same artwork (of various quality). Besides, thumbpicks are available. Index finger picks are not -- at least not ones that are angled for flatpicking.

My idea is a pick that attaches a flatpick to the side of your index finger. I've proven the concept to my satisfaction with an uncomfortable feeling National thumbpick on my index finger. It worked like a charm. Upstrokes were as easy as down -- even though the National was not properly angled. I just tried one of those adjustable "Shark picks", but the velcro fastener would not hold it on my index finger. I will next try a Kelly "Bumblebee". If that works I'll re-post here to let you know.

Thanks for indulging me this musing. I just find the concept fascinating.