Fingerstyle vs pick – which method is better?

Perhaps you’re learning to play the guitar and are still trying to figure out what picking method is best to learn. In this post, I highlight some advantages and disadvantages between a fingerstyle picking method versus using a pick to help you choose the right method for you.

In short, choosing between using a fingerstyle method versus using your fingers depends on what style of music you want to play and what kind of guitar you have to best accommodate the picking method.

Let’s go through some of the differences between these two methods to see which one you might want to focus on.

1. The picking method depends on the style of music you want to play

The easiest way to know the best picking method is to find out what style of music you want to learn. For example, if a song only has chords then using a pick will give you a nice and even strumming sound with more brightness than using your fingers. Also if you’re only playing single notes, then a pick can work great as well. Using a pick is ideal for styles like rock, blues, and country.

However, if you’re playing music that involves a melody and chords together then using your fingers might be a better option. You can also play single notes and the sound your fingers produce can be much warmer in comparison to using a pick. Finger picking is ideal for styles like classical and bossa nova.

Here are some other resources you might want to check out:

2. Picking for electric and acoustic guitars

Depending on the guitar your playing, you have different kind of strings that lend themselves better to using a pick or fingers. If you’re playing an electric or steel string acoustic, I recommend using a pick. It might feel harsh if you’re using your fingers on an electric guitar, especially if you’re just starting out. 

If your playing a nylon string acoustic (they usually include some or all clear strings if you’re not sure what kind of acoustic you have) then I would lean towards using your fingers.

There are always exceptions to how the instrument can be played. It may take you some time to discover what you like best, what feels better for you, or even use both methods if you look to play different styles.

Using a pick pros and cons

Using a pick advantages

  • Easy to learn and start applying right away.
  • Gives you a clear, bright, and even sound to your playing.
  • Using a pick is ideal for playing faster single notes.
  • Minimal stress on your fingers since they don’t have to touch the strings.

Using a pick disadvantages

  • Can feel limiting when you want to play more than one note at time or playing melody and chords together.

Fingerstyle pros and cons

Fingerstyle method advantages

  • Gives you the flexibility to play melody and chords at the same time.
  • No pick, no problem. You never have to rely on having a pick with you to play.
  • Gives you a smooth, warm sound when picking strings.
  • Ideal for playing picking patterns.

Fingerstyle method disadvantages

  • Requires more time to build technique and dexterity.
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Hybrid picking methods

It’s worth pointing out that there are different methods to bridge the gap between these two methods. 

One way is to hold the pick as you normally would but then use your remaining 3 fingers to pick the strings. This a technique can take more time to learn and get used to. Although it’s a less conventional method, some players use it very effectively. 

Here are some images of what this hybrid picking method looks like below:

Using a thumb pick

Another possible and less common option is to use a thumb pick, which is a kind of pick that is wrapped around your thumb. This is used in finger-style playing which you would hear in players like Chet Atkins and Tommy Emmanuel.

Wrapping up

In this post, we’ve covered the pros and cons of using a fingerstyle method or using a pick. Ultimately, it doesn’t have to be one of the other if you want to diversify your styles of playing. 

If you do have a specific style you want to learn yet, then go for the picking method that is most suitable or comfortable for you. It’s never too late to learn or brush up on an unfamiliar picking method so you can start to incorporate it into your playing. 

You may also want to check out 7 ways to get better at fingerpicking to develop this technique.

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All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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