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Revolutionary Pick Thinking

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John Hardly 16 May 04 - 08:12 AM
DonMeixner 16 May 04 - 09:56 AM
ddw 16 May 04 - 10:13 AM
John Hardly 16 May 04 - 11:59 AM
ddw 16 May 04 - 12:15 PM
GUEST,Tunesmith 16 May 04 - 01:09 PM
John Hardly 16 May 04 - 01:22 PM
Mooh 16 May 04 - 01:33 PM
Sam L 16 May 04 - 05:13 PM
John Hardly 16 May 04 - 06:08 PM
Sam L 16 May 04 - 11:20 PM
Kaleea 17 May 04 - 02:37 AM
Big Mick 17 May 04 - 12:46 PM
M.Ted 17 May 04 - 12:57 PM
GLoux 17 May 04 - 03:19 PM
Sam L 17 May 04 - 10:26 PM
DonMeixner 17 May 04 - 10:58 PM
John Hardly 18 May 04 - 09:26 AM
Mooh 18 May 04 - 09:48 AM
M.Ted 18 May 04 - 10:21 AM
Steve in Idaho 18 May 04 - 11:00 AM
DonMeixner 18 May 04 - 05:40 PM
John Hardly 18 May 04 - 06:03 PM
John Hardly 15 Sep 04 - 09:39 AM
GUEST 15 Sep 04 - 11:53 AM
Mooh 15 Sep 04 - 01:59 PM
Justa Picker 15 Sep 04 - 02:39 PM
Marion 15 Sep 04 - 04:01 PM
John Hardly 15 Sep 04 - 05:19 PM
Mooh 15 Sep 04 - 05:56 PM
Steve-o 16 Sep 04 - 11:48 AM
GUEST,DavidfromSydney 16 Sep 04 - 08:17 PM
Murray MacLeod 16 Sep 04 - 08:37 PM
John Hardly 18 Sep 04 - 10:08 AM
PoppaGator 19 Sep 04 - 02:32 AM
Murray MacLeod 19 Sep 04 - 08:37 PM
John Hardly 19 Sep 04 - 10:43 PM
Mooh 20 Sep 04 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 20 Sep 04 - 03:40 PM
GUEST,Joe 02 Nov 04 - 10:55 AM
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Subject: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 16 May 04 - 08:12 AM

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.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: DonMeixner
Date: 16 May 04 - 09:56 AM

Hi John,

I like your thinking here and I too have unending trouble with flat picks. I never know whether it is in good playing position until I hit the the strings. Nerve damage you see. Can't tell if I am squezzing too hard or not at all. The pick turns in my fingers and I am lost.

The one thing I think you need to look at is different pick positions. Everyone has a different string attack. One persons may be perpendicular to the strings while an may have the point of the pick tilted ip so the hand is passed the string the pick is stricking. The reason the thumb pick works as a flat pick for some people is because it works for some people as a flat pick. :-)

It is rigidly mounted to the one position that those lucky few use a flat in. And rigid means no adjust ment. That may prove to be the issue.

I've never heard of the "thimble". When I frail I use a thumb pick and a Dumlop .025 upside down on my middle finger.   When I play guitar I most often use just my index finger nail for all my flat picking. I am going to try acrylic nails to over come the down time caused by nail breakage.

Keep the research


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: ddw
Date: 16 May 04 - 10:13 AM


As another fingerpicker who has struggled with the arcane art of flatpicking, I read your post with considerable interest. I understand the concept of thinking of the thumb/finger going about their regular business — I'm going to try it out — but the pick you're describing sounds like a complex way to do the same thing Fred Kelly has done with his Bumble Bee Pick

Have you tried one of these? I'd be interested in your comparison.



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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 16 May 04 - 11:59 AM

I apologize in advance for the length of these posts. It's just so hard to describe these concepts in few words. Reminds me of Rick's long, detailed expainations of fingerings for chords! *grin*

yeah -- that's my point. It seems that, even with good technique, there comes a time or a special need that forces us to dig up some means to "cheat" so we can get away with it. Your nerve damage is the thing that has you looking for solutions.

My point about the flatpick is that it's attached to the wrong digit in order to maximize your brain's ability to signal it to make an upstroke. It's kinda like (though not exactly *grin*) holding a hammer in your right hand but hitting the nail with your left (hammerless) hand. If the tool (pick) is attached to your index finger, it almost magically makes the upstroke natural. As I theorized above, I think that's because, in what comes naturally (ergonomically speaking), whether we realize it or not, our downstroke is accomplished with our thumb (pushing) and our finger merely there to steady the pick. the upstroke, conversely, is done by the index finger pushing (or plucking) up and the thumb is merely steadying the pick.

Since the down stroke is never the problem -- if all you ever did was downstrokes, we wouldn't even be having this conversation -- it is the upstroke that needs to have the tool attached to it.

If you want to test my theory it's easy to do. Assuming you hold your flatpick properly (where's Rick when you need 'im?!) with your index finger curled, the pick laid between the outermost knuckle and the end of the finger, and then the thumb covers over the pick in an opposite direction from the index finger. Try this. With your hand flat on a table, palm down, put a National on your index finger such that the point is both sticking up (relative to the table) and the "pick side" of the National is on the thumb side of your finger. Now when you pick your hand up and curl your index finger around as though holding a flatpick, the pick should, with little adjustment, be in the same position as a flatpick would be. It's as uncomfortable as hell because the National is riding sideways on your finger! But for a short test it won't kill you. Now try to pick up and down. When I did I noticed immediately that the angle of the pick was still wrong, BUT -- up and down strokes came with equal ease -- unlike when I had the pick on my thumb attempting the same thing.

You might notice (I don't blame you for not reading all the way down to the end of my windy post!) that I mentioned I have a Bumblebee pick on order for just the reason you state. I'll be interested in trying it out because I'm wondering if it will still have the discomfort of feeling like it is riding sideways on my index finger. It is, after all, still made to wear on the thumb. I actually talked to Fred Kelly about my idea.

I did try the "Shark Pick" -- a device that velcros a pick to your thumb. I couldn't get the velcro to work on my finger.

When it comes in I'll report back to this thread.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: ddw
Date: 16 May 04 - 12:15 PM

My miss, John — senior moment. I did read all the way thru, but was thinking about the pick without knowing its name and by the time I finished I was skimming and it just didn't register when I went to Elderly and started scrolling thru their 412 kinds of picks to find it.

Ain't gettin' old a bitch?

But it beats the alternative....



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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: GUEST,Tunesmith
Date: 16 May 04 - 01:09 PM

I started playing the guitar with a classical technique and, at various times, I tried to get to grips(!) with a pick but never felt in control; however, at some point, I made a very big effort and now it feels very natural. One tip is to keep a pick in your pocket, and in spare moments finger it - the object being to become very comfortable with the feel of it and its dimensions. There is a very interesting article ( dissertation!) on the correct way to hold a pick by Tuck Andress ( I think that's how you spell his name) on his website.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 16 May 04 - 01:22 PM

I read the Tuck thing a few years back. Man, is that thing convoluted! (and I don't know anyone who's read it that has adopted it). It's actually a very entertaining read though If you've read contrasting viewpoints by Dan Crary, Joel Mabus, Happy Traum, and the plethora of other flatpickers out there who have written about their methods

Again, I'm not arguing that one can usually, with persistence, learn to handle a flatpick. I'm just thinking outside the box here and pointing out what I think is a fascinating principle I stumbled upon.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Mooh
Date: 16 May 04 - 01:33 PM

You may be right about the upstroke but I simply don't experience it that way.

For every downstroke there has to be an upstroke and the discipline is in training each stroke to have an equal strength, agility, attack and dynamic. Wasting the upstroke is inefficient so I put it to use, though not as much as I'd like while fingerpicking (the thumb that is) but always while flatpicking. I found this easier with the thumbpick (I use the Fred Kelly Slick Pick these days but learned on Nationals and Dunlops) than with the bare thumb or thumbnail because the thumbpick can be made to have the same approach angle to the strings on either stroke. More rigid picks will twist on the thumb more readily as there's less give and flex, so I like the light FK Slick Picks.

The problem with attaching the flatpick to the index finger for me (and all of my more advanced students) is that it would limit my ability to use both flatpicking and fingerpicking styles as a hybrid or to quickly move back and forth between them. That's assuming one could even maintain the proper pick angle. Also, from watching myself and countless others, I know that many if not most players don't maintain the same angle of index finger to strings on any plane consistently.

It is important to acknowledge however that your solution might work for some players and might even have a niche market, particularly for players with limiting physical reasons. I have to say though that I would highly recommend against it for beginners.

Keep us in the loop, this is the most interesting pick discussion in a while.

Peace, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Sam L
Date: 16 May 04 - 05:13 PM

I can't begin to get into this discussion, because I'll bore everyone silly. But if you are up to it, you can look up my patent on the uspto. gov site.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 16 May 04 - 06:08 PM

That's interesting. The reason(s) that Fred Kelly wasn't that interested in what I had to say (he was friendly, just not interested) is because he too can upstroke with the thumbpick. I asked him (to clarify) if he meant with his index finger sidled up to the thumbpick for support. He said no, he can just "free pick" it. Then he proceeded to show me over the phone. Now he did play an electric (quite ably I might add) and volume was not an issue -- so he could be very light with his touch. I'd think that would certainly help with that thumb-upstroke. He's heavily (almost exclusively) into Merle stuff.

I always figured that there were some folks out there who were going to teach themselves by sheer force of will to do that difficult upstroke.

When I hybrid I use a flatpick and middle, ring, and sometimes pinky.

You link. I'll read. One of the first things I did when this began to occur to me is consult a lawyer to look into patent. He assured me there would be no sense in it. Fred Kelly thinks there is already some index finger flatpick out there in production, though he couldn't give a clue as to where to look.

I still think the concept is fascinating and I intend to do more experimenting.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Sam L
Date: 16 May 04 - 11:20 PM

He was probably talking about me. Early on I talked to him a few times, sent him some early ones. But I produced few by an inexpensive die-cutting process, and have set it aside until I have the last nuance I can get from it. My fingerpick is the same as my flatpick, except for a little variation to make palm-muting easier.
    Going to a lawyer is usually too much for picks. Although many do, Kelly included, I'm pretty sure. His patent was pro-prepared, I'm almost certain. Get David Pressman's Patent It Yourself, if only to understand when and why you might look into it, when, and what to do and not do in case you'll consider it later. I got drawn into it by degrees as a sort of hobby in itself. It's funny and entertaining searching old patents, learning to read and weigh them. Very hard, too, and I'm not really bright enough.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Kaleea
Date: 17 May 04 - 02:37 AM

How to make pick which is like a part of one's thumb is one of the most common questions! It's right after the old "to pick or to fingerpick" question. I really believe that there will someday be the perfect pick for all--till then, we'll just have to make do with the picks that do ok for some. There are a multiude of thumbpicks, some of us have thumbs which just don't take to any we've found "yet".
    I've been playing & teaching guitar for longer than I care to tell. I teach the various picking styles, depending upon how the student seems to "take" to one or another. I, however, am a "Fangerpicker" although I can use the flatpick. The feller from Kentucky who first showed the little 14 yr old me some picking used his fingers when we were jammin, having fun, & generally playing. When he was seriously playing rock & roll, he used a flatpick for strumming & lead. His fingers were actually faster without a pick as that is how he grew up playing.
    Later, I realized that my "style" seemed to be playing more arpeggio-like accompaniment & rhythm guitar & quit worrying about whether to pick or to pluck. I usually start students with the fingers, but teach students BOTH, & that way, they can choose their own style. I can tell you that students who are able to use their fingers can normally adapt quite easily to using a flatpick or thumbpick--but it doesn't work as well the other way around.
    Crazy, thing is--when I play autoharp, I use picks on all 5 digits!   Go figure.         
         Just keep on pickin' OR fangerpickn'!

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Big Mick
Date: 17 May 04 - 12:46 PM

Big problem for me, John. Great thread.

I am a fan of Fred Kelly picks. I tried the speed pick and didn't care for it, but it lead me to the slick pick. When I am flat picking I lick a stiff pick, when I am strumming I like another, and fingerstyle is one of my fav's. Trouble always was that the thumb picks didn't work well for a decent, quick time strum. The slick pic, for me was the best compromise. I stumbled on the Bumblebee pick and am trying it now. So far it has been a very good marriage.

All the best,


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 May 04 - 12:57 PM

I really learned to manage a flatpick when I started playing tambura (the Serbian/Croatian one) because the style required a lot of tremolo--played fast, clean and in strick tempo--(oh, and really loud, too)--It was hard to learn at first, mostly because I had to undo a lot of bad habits, the worst of which was a careless disregard for how I positioned my hand, the pick, and the instrument.

The real problem that most folks have with their flat picking is simply that they never concentrate on learning or practicing good pick technique. A lot of it has to do with the fact that many contemporary guitar players are self-taught, and tend to fudge stuff they didn't know how to do, if they even hear it in the first place. Also, in blues, rock, and folk music, the guitarist generally doesn't carry the melody--Another thing is that, with amplification, the guitarist doesn't need to worry much about getting volume out of the instrument--

Whatever the reason, if you listen to a lot contemporary players, and compare them to the old guys that they are emulating, there is a lot missing. My general feeling is that the kind of pick you use is kind of a red herring--they way you use it is what makes the difference.

When I was playing the tambura(and, to be honest, I was strictly a bargain-basement tamburasi), I tried every different kind of pick, so I generally had all shapes and sizes, from triangular and felt things to stone picks..I was particularly fond of picks that had cork of various shapes and sizes attached. One day, I was working up some Russian music with a friend who was a great balalaika and domra player. She asked, "Do you have an extra pick?" "Sure, what kind do you want?", "It doesn't matter, I can use anything." And she could.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: GLoux
Date: 17 May 04 - 03:19 PM

Interesting thread. Have any of you finger-picked finger-pickers given Wayne Henderson a good listen? Sounds like flat-picking, but it is not. He is amazing.

I agree with M.Ted. Don't underestimate the technique. At a guitar workshop I was in a while back, Russ Barenberg went on and on about proper pick technique.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Sam L
Date: 17 May 04 - 10:26 PM

For me tremelo is a bit of a different motion and technique, which I have to bridge to the motions of cross-picking across strings--those little hops and jumps seem to take a bigger wrist-role.

The thing that remains is that a fundamentally different pick may turn out to have advantages or interests beyond the single reason one began toying with, such as, for example, a smoother bridge of fingerstyle and flatpicking methods, or uses for people with hand injuries who can't do traditional methods as well as they'd like.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: DonMeixner
Date: 17 May 04 - 10:58 PM

If I have a complaint about most picks other than Nationals it is that they don't stay on my thumb. They are either too small or lack the spring to hold on. I haven't tried Slick Picks yet so I can't speak of them. I further find that most pick makers have an unrealistic view of small medium and larger when it comes to sizing picks.

I have a friend who is a friend of Tommy Immanuel's and he uses the same thumb picks that Tommy uses. I have tried these and again they come off way too easily. But Tommy keeps them on as does my friend Dick Ward. So it could be me.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 18 May 04 - 09:26 AM

I can't say as that I've ever had trouble with a thumbpick -- especially trouble with it staying on. If anything, they seem really tight. I lick my thumb before I put it on and it never moves (I do the same with fingerpicks).

I do find it interesting that those who have success upstroking with a thumbpick are doing so with the Kelly slickpick -- a pick that is smaller and has less resiliance (isn't as tight). One might suppose the Kelly more likely to twist or fall off on an upstroke (as opposed to the huge but tight National)

If I have "trouble" with it, it's as I observed above -- I can't upstroke easily with one unless I 1)change the angle I place it on my thumb, and 2)still hold the "pick part" between the thumb and index finger. And, rather than go through that, I find I just play easier and with better tone if I just use a flatpick.

The difference I'm talking about in my first two posts is, again, that a pick that is made to wear on the index finger but act as a flatpick MAY solve some very big problems for 1) stressful performance situations, or 2) physical problems that preclude the ability to hold a flatpick well.

I would never argue (at least I don't think I would argue -- I haven't developed a prototype yet) that a flatpick wouldn't be superior and more versatile, just that there may be an interesting alternative --AND-- I think it's fascinting to discover that when a pick is worn on the index finger all the dynamics change.

Are your hands relatively small, Don?

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Mooh
Date: 18 May 04 - 09:48 AM

I've never had to modify a Fred Kelly pick except to touch up the edge a bit with wet/dry sandpaper, but back in my Dunlop and National days I would cut them down and reshape the point, sometimes even heating them to adjust the tightness of the fit. FKs suit the shape of my thumb and I like the point, but your milage may vary.

FWIW, Chris Proctor (fingerstyle player of note) was the one who turned me on to the Fred Kelly picks, though I was never clear on whether he used them himself. There was a very good display of them at a Proctor workshop once and they sold like crazy.

Peace, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: M.Ted
Date: 18 May 04 - 10:21 AM

I don't use fingerpicks at all, and haven't for about thirty years--the jingle-jangle sound is very distracting, for one thing--The other, and more important thing is that I use both the pads of my fingers and my nails to make sounds on the strings, and finger picks make that impossible. It also allows me to do up and down strokes with the index finger--

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Steve in Idaho
Date: 18 May 04 - 11:00 AM

Very interesting. I think the thing about learning correct pick technique is the main item here. As a flat picker who is in process of learning to finger pick - well the inverse is true for me.

I learned early on that pick control is the key to making the sound I want come out of the insturment. I learned to turn the pick as I played to get varying sounds out of it. The pointy end (technical term for pointy end) makes a sharp staccato sound and is great for the lead notes on a fiddle tune, or any other lead for that matter, and the angle of attack is important to depth, duration, and tone.

The round edge is much better for chording as it tends to blend the sound from the strings. Using my middle finger I turn the pick to whatever angle that makes the sound I want from the instrument. Takes a while to learn but it can be done. And after a while it just comes naturally.

Now fingerpicking - I've yet to be able to use picks. They are the clumsiest things in the world and my abillity to tell where the heck they are in relationship to the strings drives me batty. So I just use my fingers and pick harder. Probably not the best way - but then again I'm a novice at it and have only a few songs that I really like it for.

Interesting concept you've ppresented. And I think the REAL key is to see it in your head first - then your fingers will begin to follow along.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: DonMeixner
Date: 18 May 04 - 05:40 PM


My hands are ugly, scarred, chopped up, perpetually embedded with jeweler's rouge but small they are not. And I will try Slicks when I can find them. My brother uses Ernie Ball thumb picks because they are so small. But we use picks strictly as finger pickers. I rarely use flat picks for anything but down picking and thise that I do use are Dunlop Tortex whites that cpome to a very sharp poiny and they are much stiff.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 18 May 04 - 06:03 PM

If you want a slick pick I've got an extra few around here and could send one to you gratis. You may really like it though it is quite small.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 09:39 AM


I still think that my initial theory (re: upstroke's connection with the index finger) is interesting and plausible. Alas, it seems not to be true. I've done some experimenting. I don't find it any more intuitive to flatpick with a pick attached to my index finger than I did with a thumbpick pinched between my thumb and index finger.

C'est La Vie.

I have, however, had an absolute breakthrough with flatpicking. If anyone's interested in that tale let me know and I'll describe it in a new thread (to keep subjects thread-related).

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 11:53 AM

do tell....

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Mooh
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 01:59 PM

John...I'd like to hear about your breakthrough, it'll be lots more fun reading than some of the political threads of late!

Been experimenting with a new (to me) pick known as Wedgie. It has a scoop in it for grip purposes (never a problem for me, but it feels nice) and has a nice attack.

Peace, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Justa Picker
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 02:39 PM

One word answer.

Got G.A.S.?

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Marion
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 04:01 PM

Interesting thread, John, sorry I missed it before.

So tell us all about your flatpicking breakthrough - or are you trying to make us guess?


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 05:19 PM

Don't mean to be cryptic. Also don't want to make it sound like I invented the wheel or anything -- just that I'm now able to do something I once thought impossible for me. I think that if you knew how impossible I once thought it, anyone else who has concluded the same thing about their own play might take encouragement from my breakthrough.

Anyway, this is about my latest guitar playing breakthrough. I'm now flatpicking without a pinky on the pickguard.

For those of you who never did use a pinky for a reference point, it is probably foreign for you to understand why this seems like such a breakthrough, but for me it's quite a change.

The reason I thought I'd share this is because often folks get too far advanced beyond these little breakthroughs to remember what playing was like before the breakthrough. Then it's hard for them to describe the changes. It's still new enough for me that I thought I'd try to talk about the journey from a perspective closer to the starting point.

I remember a few years ago we talked about playing without planting. I could easily understand the advantages, but when I tried it, I honestly just thought it would always be an impossibility for me. To do an upstroke felt (for lack of another, more musical simili) like doing a flip-turn while swimming, only to find the wall gone. No "push-off" point.

So it wasn't just the lack of reference point that was bothering me -- not knowing where I was on the strings, it was also an inability to execute an upstroke without that reference.

Late last winter I began to realize that I was develping a bad habit. I know that the point of having a pinky on the pickguard is to keep it there lightly, and that just as a reference point -- not a fulcrum. But I was no longer just brushing the top with my pinky. When the pace was really fast, I was realy dependent on the plant for speed. I'd tense up all the more. Eventually I noticed this because my pinky was hyperextending and, though it wasn't so much "painful", it was uncomfortable.

It also rendered the pinky useless when hybrid picking. The pinky would lock into the hyperextended mode and then it kinda "snapped" in and out. I couldn't pluck with it if I had been recently flatpicking.

So I forced myself.

I sat down daily with a handful of fiddle tunes and by slowing them WAY down and playing MUCH lighter I FINALLY found the feeling of playing while floating.

It took me about a week of tries -- not bad if you ask me. Sure, during jams I would at first revert to my comfort zone -- especially at really fast paced tunes. But slowly I've found that I now enjoy the same degree of inaccuracy that I had before the big change ;).

And the benefits are HUGE!

1. No more pinky discomfort, and I can again use the pinky when hybrid picking.

2. I have much greater control over tone --
A)I'm free to venture up the strings
B)I'm not dampening the top's vibration
C)I seem to hold the pick at a better angle for a cleaner sound.

3. Probably related to the better pick angle, I get less pick rotation. Because the pick rotates less I can hold it lighter. Because I can hold the pick lighter I have more volume control and am capable of greater speed.

4. I'm MUCH cleaner with runs on the bass strings. Some fiddle tunes played in the lower register were a challenge when my pinky was on the pickguard. Now I can have the same angle of attack on the bass strings that I have on the treble strings

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Mooh
Date: 15 Sep 04 - 05:56 PM

Muscle tension anywhere in the guitar playing limbs will reduce speed. It's easier to play faster once you can play slowly, and it's easier to play louder once you can play softly. To me, from observing several years of instruction from the instructor's chair, these are truths more important to success than most other elements of playing guitar.

Glad you discovered what worked for you, John!

Peace, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Steve-o
Date: 16 Sep 04 - 11:48 AM

Really great info, JH. I am a "planter", and have often heard that's not the best way to flatpick, but just can't get past it. I'll try again, based on your encouraging remarks. Thanks a lot.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: GUEST,DavidfromSydney
Date: 16 Sep 04 - 08:17 PM

Interesting thread. I'm left handed, but play the guitar right handed. I've always found fingerpicking quite difficult - (apart from very basic patterns). Fairly early on I started strumming with a pick and then moved on to basic flat-picking. When I watched other guitarists I noticed that they often planted their little fingers on the pickguard. Well I tried that several times, but could never do it, so I guess by default I ended up flat picking without contact with the pickguard. This helps me to use the right hand to deaden or muffle the strings for emphasis by bending the wrist on the downstroke. If I'm playing lead I tend to rest the side of my hand against the bridge for stability. In that position I can roll the hand slightly to control resonance and tone by slightly muffling the strings. I'm now working on pick and fingers picking which I find really hard.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 16 Sep 04 - 08:37 PM

Interesting post, John, and something which I have suspected for some time (not that I ever do any serious flatpicking). On the rare occasions when I do try to flatpick, I have to rest my wrist on the bridge, and the tone loss is immediately noticeable.

The strange thing is that I have no problem whatsoever in fingerpicking clean fast and loud without any soundboard contact whatsoever, whereas many (full time professional) guitar players I have seen in concert fingerpick with either their pinky or their wrist anchored. I have always felt they would benefit from learning to play "floating", just as you have done with your flatpicking.

It is heartening to know that bad habits can be overcome with practice.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 18 Sep 04 - 10:08 AM


I would encourage you to give it a try. The results are worth it. It's almost impossible for about a week (at about an hour a day practice), but suddenly it will click. A half-year into the change and now the floating is the thing that feels natural.

One more benefit is the way it translates to mandolin as well.


I had noticed that I don't plant anything when fingerpicking either. Funny, but I used to plant when I was a kid and learning. I don't even remember when I stopped doing it. It was obviously just a natural progression.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: PoppaGator
Date: 19 Sep 04 - 02:32 AM

I planted my right pinky so hard and for so long that it is permanently swollen and painful. I can't even use it for typing, and make most of my typos on the right-hand side of the keyboard, where my ring finger has to do double duty.

I have a certain level of arthritis in *all ten* fingers, but the other nine are not in nearly so bad shape, and they respond nicely to a daily dose of liquid glucosamine, becoming as flexibile and pain-free as ever (or nearly so). But my right pinky is beyond help!

I eventually learned to play without leaning on that one little digit. Years ago, I spent about three years playing very long hours as a street performer; I had decided to use fingerpicks exclusively, starting out as a pinky-planter but gradually developing more freedom and fluidity until I found myself able to move that right hand off the guitar top and out into free space. However, by the time I had developed my new and improved technique, the damage to that one little finger had already been done. Now I don't have to brace myself on it, but I can't use it for much of anything else anyway.

For the record, I rarely ever use a flatpick at all, and while I can fingerpick barehanded, I'm much more comfortable and confident using picks (plastic thumbpick, two metal fingerpicks).

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 19 Sep 04 - 08:37 PM

John, I think I am going to have a crack at this. If it only takes six months for it to become second nature , at one hour a day, then that seems do-able.

I think, although I can't be certain, that Doc Watson picks as you do, without anchoring anything. It's been a while since I saw him however, so I can't be totally sure.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: John Hardly
Date: 19 Sep 04 - 10:43 PM

Murray, that's my understanding as well -- that Doc plays that way. It stuck in my memory because one would think that, if anyone could use a reference point, it'd be a blind person, and it surprised me to find out that Doc does "float". I think you'll find that this technique change will serve you well. As I said, whenever I needed the crutch, I still fell back on it for a while, but I'm truly more accurate now than I was before the change. Crosspicking is SO much easier!

Thanks for the (what I'll take as a) warning, Poppagator. Hopefully I have saved myself the same fate!

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: Mooh
Date: 20 Sep 04 - 08:57 AM

Lots of players with vision impairment have a tighter pick/strum stroke and somehow more instinctive spacial sense. Not a tighter grip, but a shorter throw or arc to their pick movement. Very efficient. I think Doc still has a reference point though, it's just not via the pinky on the top, but via a very consistent upper body posture.

Fow what it's worth.

Peace, Mooh.

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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 20 Sep 04 - 03:40 PM

John, I tried using the National thumb pick the way you suggested. It made the bass notes come in louder and fuller but it was awkward for me to get a musical sound on the up brush particularly when using accompaniment flat picking country style. It was forceful on the down picking though.

One little trick I've used to hold on to a small thick pick is to take a piece of masking tape, fold the sticky side in on itself and wrap it around the pick with the sticky side out at the place where you grip it. It stays on the finger pretty much and forms a rough edge to grip the pick with.

I've been attempting to revamp a style whereby I keep my right wrist distended like a tenor banjo player and sweep at a 45 degree angle from the top of the wrist using a sideways motion involving the wrist and the forearm. I try not to plant but will sometimes reach out with my pinky for a reference by just touching the fingerboard.

I've been looking at the Tuck Andress article with much interest since I'm trying to learn a blues style guitar from BB King dvd's on my Gibson ES 345 electric.
It looks like an older version of Lucille but not up-to-date with the rooster tone knob for different sounds. It was stereo but now wired for mono but the pickups have the Lucille sound.


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Subject: RE: Revolutionary Pick Thinking
From: GUEST,Joe
Date: 02 Nov 04 - 10:55 AM

Using the pinkey as a plant/reference point is not only a recipe for early development of arthritis but a waste of a valuable picking finger. I know it's not conventional, but fingerstyle playing with all 5 digits is very distinctive and gives a great feeling of freewheeling. Once you breakout of the accepted norms of applied science in fingerstyle guitar (OK - learn the prescribed patterns 1st by all means) then you open up a whole set of new adventures for yourself that take you into the glorious world of innovation.

I'm not going to describe in detail how - just try it for yourself (many hours of practice and patience required though - be warned). Develop your own technique, I guarantee you'll be amazed - but only if you're prepared to "think outside the box".

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