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Fingers or Plectrum?

09 Apr 02 - 04:08 AM (#685977)
Subject: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Terry K

We recently had a change of teacher at my guitar class. The first guy told us not to use a plectrum as he wanted us to feel the strings with our fingers and be more "at one" with the guitar. Now our new teacher wants us to use a plectrum - he says we really will benefit by using one.

I prefer picking or strumming with fingers (perhaps because that's what I've been doing until now) but he really insists I should change. I don't need the extra volume as I'll only ever play for my own pleasure so are there advantages?

Now, I realise that there are no "rules" as such and that I can please myself (and will probably end up doing both), but these two teachers have such strong views about it that I feel sure there must be some issues.

All help appreciated.

Cheers, Terry

09 Apr 02 - 04:10 AM (#685979)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Ned Ludd

Both! The more techniques you master the better.

09 Apr 02 - 04:35 AM (#685989)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: mooman

Like chalk and cheese they are two different things with different uses, sounds and suitabilities. There is really no right or wrong and I teach both styles on the guitar without prejudice to either style. Do what you feel comfortable with but, as Ned says, it is useful to know both techniques.

What does bother me is that some teachers seem to have strong preconceived ideas about what is right and wrong. I sometimes find in teaching that a good student (my best one is only 14 and I think she will be a big talent one day) often shows you a better way of playing something you've been doing yourself in a certain way for 40 years. I'm certainly not too proud to learn... even from someone so young!

Best regards,


09 Apr 02 - 07:11 AM (#686031)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Dave the Gnome

I always use fingers.

Mind you I play the concertina...:-)

Seriously though, from my limited knowledge of guitars, I would go for the 'horses for courses' guidline. My personal favourite to listen to is Mark Knopfler - Who I believe uses both at the same time!!!


Dave the Gnome

09 Apr 02 - 07:37 AM (#686041)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Dave T

I use both. Usually I hold the pick with my thumb and index finger; that leaves my middle and ring fingers available for fingerpicking. This way I can switch between flatpicking runs and fingerpicking for accompanying. I'm not recommending you try it (but feel free!) but just pointing out that there are all sorts of styles that work; some are suited to specific styles of music, so the more you learn the more choices you'll have when selecting songs and playing with others.

Dave The Gnome: I thought read a while back that Mark Knopfler played only with his thumb and index finger?

- Dave T

09 Apr 02 - 07:54 AM (#686043)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Skipjack K8

Can't get on with a pick, Terry, and have developed thumb and index finger picking style. I, for one, stand proud that I never use tortoise parts! Well, not that bit, anyway!


09 Apr 02 - 08:19 AM (#686053)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Jerry Rasmussen

A similar question could be posed for banjo... clawhammer verses finger picking, or picking with fingerpicks. On guitar, I'll use a pick for Carter family or country songs because it gives me the sound and the rhythm that I want. I finger pick for most everything else. If you play mostly blues, you're almost certainly going to fingerpick. I find that when I try to play guitar or banjo WEARING finger picks that I get so tangled up in the strings that I almost have to have my fingers surgically removed. There are very few things I do in life that make me feel more awkward than using finger picks. I guess my only advice would be is to let the song tell you what to do. Some songs tell me that they are done best a capella, which frees up rhythm, breaks you out of a structure and allows you to put all of your feeling into the song with no restrictions. But that's another thread...


09 Apr 02 - 08:48 AM (#686063)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Dave the Gnome

You could well be right, Dave - I was only going off what I had been told because I have never actualy seen him play that close up. (Chance would be a fine thing!!!) Sounds pretty good though eh?



09 Apr 02 - 09:31 AM (#686087)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Grab

Mark Knopfler only uses his fingers - he uses only thumb, index and middle fingers. Which is why his music has so many arpeggios in it (the classic of course being the final solo in "Sultans of Swing") - it's easy to sweep across the fingerboard if you're fingerpicking, but bloody hard with a plectrum!

Playing with a plectrum is useful where you need to play the same note/chord repeatedly, fast - essential for rock rhythm guitar. Fingerstyle is useful if you need to hit notes quickly or if you need to hit two or more notes at once - essential for folk, classical and much blues.

They also give a different tone to the sound, so particular solo lines sound best with one or the other. You can use finger/thumb-picks to get that plectrum tone when finger-picking, but I have the same problem as Jerry that they just tangle your fingers up in the strings! :-)


09 Apr 02 - 09:45 AM (#686101)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Amos

Purely fingers in my end of the forest, but learning both is a fine idea. Broadens the mind, so to speak....


09 Apr 02 - 09:48 AM (#686102)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: SharonA

I use a rather large, medium weight pick when strong strumming is called for, as Grab says, but I usually use fingers. As for fingerpicking, I use my nails; I never could get used to either plastic or metal fingerpicks. I'm learning to do some flatpicking.

It's all a matter of using different styles to bring different sounds out of your guitar!

09 Apr 02 - 10:47 AM (#686147)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: GUEST,jonesey

Whatever it takes to get the sound out for a particular song or instrumental is right. Shame on your teachers for being so opinionated. I've used both in any and all circumstances. Feel that fingerpicks, though unwieldy at the beginning give one more dynamic range onstage. The countless hours I spent forcing myself to re-learn w/fingerpicks things I already knew were well worth it. I 'have' recorded using them, but feel they can be noisy in those situations. Started out using the Nationals, but found out the Dunlops were much more comfortable. Still prefer the National mediums for the thumb, however. Just can't seem to find them, anymore. How I learned to use fingerpicks was to get the thinnest made (.013 in the Dunlops) and as I got used to them, gradually go to a heavier guage. In my case I maxed out at .020. Another thing is that I always keep three sets going at the same time. It takes awhile to wear the edge off of them. Have tried the plastic ones, but they always seemed a little thick to me and would wear out too quickly on metal strings. Have settled on medium flatpicks as they seem the most versatile. I do a combination of strumming and single note bass runs while singing and the 'flex' in the mediums seems best suited to how I play. Have tried heavier guage flatpicks, but I always felt like I was 'trudging along' instead of driving the rhythm of the song. lol Same with strings. I've settled on mediums as they seem to have the right tension.

09 Apr 02 - 11:19 AM (#686173)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: 53

I started playing with a pick 37 years ago and now I am just starting to pick with my fingers, and I wish that I had learned both styles when I first started to play. Bob

09 Apr 02 - 12:35 PM (#686264)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Grab

Re pick type, I've got one of those "flexible" picks, which is a thickish pick with a thin section across in the middle. It allows the tip to flex whilst you're still holding onto the rest of it, without giving the lighter sound of a thin plectrum. Can't remember what they're called, but they're damn useful - any other heavier-gauge pleckie, the strumming/picking jars it loose out of my fingers and I end up dropping it!


09 Apr 02 - 12:45 PM (#686272)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Ned Ludd

I often use an imaginary pick ( Holding the thumb and forefinger as if I have one. This developed due to my forgetting picks.) When busking or playing hard however, your nails wear thin and can get painful.

09 Apr 02 - 03:16 PM (#686418)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Phil Cooper

I started with a flat pick, kept in the box inside the guitar case. I would take the guitar out of the case and start playing, and be too lazy to get the pick out. Thus, I am primarily a finger picker. To quote Duck Baker, I can flat pick well enough to fool someone who doesn't know good flat picking.

09 Apr 02 - 03:55 PM (#686455)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: GUEST,Les B.

Jonsey pretty well nailed it. I would add that you need to be able to pick with bare fingers, with fingerpicks, and with a flatpick depending on what & where you're playing.

I started out years ago playing a nylon-stringed classical guitar with bare fingers. When I fell in with a group of people who jammed in bars I got tired of being told "You look like you know what you're doing, but we can't HEAR you!" (by both fellow musicians and audience).

So I started trying to play with fingerpicks - same result - can't HEAR you. At the same time I started playing banjo with fingerpicks - that worked.

I then got a steel-stringed guitar and started learning to play with a pick. I can't begin to tell you the times I dropped the pick in the sound hole, or flipped it out into the lap of someone listening to us. Eventually it came, and I was heard.

I tried using the fingerpicks from the banjo on the steel-string guitar - could be heard in quiet settings, but not a noisy bar jam. Gave up on fingerpicking in those places.

Recently I acquired a resonator guitar (a silver monstrosity with a car hubcap where the soundhole should be) - and guess what, I can fingerpick that in a noisy situation and be heard. So you need to learn all three styles - actually four, if you use flatpick and fingers together (which I'm working on). They all have their place.

10 Apr 02 - 05:09 AM (#686859)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Dave Bryant

When I'm playing the guitar I use a thumb-pick and bare fingers.

However when I get in bed, Linda makes me take the thumb-pick off because it makes her sore !

01 Nov 04 - 10:36 PM (#1313782)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: chris nightbird childs

Well, on the subject of picks... I've never been able to get comfortable with the fingerpicks either (I keep 'em around, just in case I feel like torturing myself), and I used to use a flatpick exclusively, but developed a nasty habit of dropping them during gigs. So, I started picking with fingers... only since I couldn't quite grasp the conventional method, I began using JUST my index finger (I grow that nail out a lil bit). So now if I drop it during performance I have a nice strong nail to strum or pick the old 12 with!

01 Nov 04 - 11:37 PM (#1313821)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?

It seems reasonable to try them all. There ain't no right way to do it. The only thing that matters is the sound. Each technique has its own flavor.

I tend to like a fairly dark tone out of my guitars and favor the thickest picks I can find. They're harder to handle but give the sweetest sound. I use Acri fingerpicks, extra heavy flatpicks and plain old fingers too at times.

02 Nov 04 - 08:15 AM (#1314022)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: breezy

start with the plectrum and you move on to finger picking because you want to develope your picking hand and play melody and hrhyhthmh simultaneously

Its up to you and what you want to get out of the instrument

02 Nov 04 - 08:58 AM (#1314042)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Wilfried Schaum

When playing Renaissance and Baroque lute music on my best guitar I picked with all fingers; when accompanying about 30 loudmouthed scouts around the campfire I had to use a plectron to made my strumming heard. It always depends ...

02 Nov 04 - 10:16 AM (#1314115)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: GUEST,Joe

I had 20 years of flat-picking before being introduced to fingerstyle guitar; what a waste - at least 12 year's worth of standing still in the advancement department!

I am eternally grateful to the guy who showed me TIMRIMI to get me started. The last 15 years of playing have been a revelation to me.
Still use the pick occasionally though - especially when extra volume is needed. Would love to be able to use fingerpicks - just can't hack it. Would love also to be able to do the combination plectrum/fingerstye trick but can't seem to master that either.

Good luck to anyone who can master the lot - shame on anyone who says "there's only one way" (almost like a touch of religious bigotry).

02 Nov 04 - 10:25 AM (#1314119)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Midchuck

I have mostly played with a flatpick for the last 35 years or so.

I started out fingerpicking, and accompanying singing Maybelle Carter style - plucking bass notes with a thumbpick and strumming with the index finger. My joke is that I switched to a flatpick after a couple of times jamming in bars and drinking beer when I went to the men's room and forgot to take the thumbpick off...not the only reason, but it was a factor.


02 Nov 04 - 11:13 AM (#1314157)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: Chris Green

Both! Depends entirely on the song!

02 Nov 04 - 12:51 PM (#1314270)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: PoppaGator

I use fingerpicks almost exclusively (plastic thumbpick, metal fingerpicks), but wouldn't necessarily advise anyone else to do the same. I'll pick barefingered occasionally at home, especially when I need to be fairly quiet (late at night, etc.), but wouldn't perform without wearing my picks.

I've been using them for so long that I have more dynamic range and more confidence with them than without. Also, I eventually learned not to have them pop off my fingertips and disappear into my soundhold (well, hardly ever); when starting out, that happened *all the time* and drove me nuts.

I tried (briefly) the thumbpick-and-bare-fingers technique, but couldn't get the sound to balance -- bass notes played with the thumbpick would come out too much louder than the bare-finger-picked treble notes. I'm sure this can be overcome, since plenty of players use this style, and the similar flatpick-plus-bare-fingers approach, but it's not for me.

Also: what works for electric (and even acoustic-electric) intruments won't necessarily work in a completely acoustic context. Amplification allows the player to use the inherently quieter barefingered approach without sacrificing volume. Just because Mark Knopfler, Snooks Eaglin, et. al., can produce highly dynamic music playing their electric axes barefingered doesn't mean that you (or I, or anyone) can get similarly good results barefingering an acoustic guitar.

For anyone learning the guitar, I'd say try every technique -- flatpick, fingerpicks, barefingered fingerpicking, pick-plus-two-bare-fingers, whatever else, etc. -- and then decide whether to choose one approach or to go for versatility.

03 Nov 04 - 03:34 AM (#1314894)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: GUEST, Hamish

Agree with the above which I summarise as "ears"!

03 Nov 04 - 07:56 AM (#1315053)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: GUEST,Seaking

I use a thumbpick and keep my fingernails longer on my right hand for picking. I can then pick or strum with one or more fingers depending on how heavy the strum needs to be. If a heavier picked type feel is needed I use the thumbpick as a form of plectrum. I've tried fingerpicks but totally lost all the feel of the strings so never bothered since and just keep a tube of superglue handy for when the nail breaks !

But as mentioned above it all depends on the song, the tune and your own style and preference so give them all a go.

03 Nov 04 - 10:37 AM (#1315232)
Subject: RE: Fingers or Plectrum?
From: breezy

Hamish uses his ears!!

He holds the pleckie and uses his fingers, but mainly pleckie, he has a good chord hand and apart from that doesnt wish to scratch his instrument which is beautiful, what wood is it Hame?

Staines, middlesesx, 3 tuns next monday 8th Nov for Breezy's gig????

there'll be Geo Papa, Hil , christine, the ref