There are a lot of ways to use the pick to control or influence the sound.


  • Hard and aggressive makes it loud
  • Light and soft makes it quiet


  • Heavy picks emphasize the attack
  • Thin picks soften the attack at the expense of making more pick noise, particularly into microphones


  • Picking flat creates a clean attack
  • Picking with the edge of the pick softens the attack
  • Pointy picks emphasize the attack
  • Rounded picks can soften the attack
  • The back corners of the pick are more rounded


  • Picking close to the bridge makes it brighter and cutting, often used for lead work and solos.
  • Picking closer to the neck makes it darker and more mellow, often used for rhythm parts.
    It’s like having a tone control in your right hand.


Picking the strings of a chord gives it an arpeggiated sound. Try this basic pattern.


Any pattern can begin to sound predictable and even monotonous after a while, so it’s good to vary the pattern. Try this pattern.


Once you’ve got both patterns under your fingers, try mixing the two.

Two Part Playing

You can also use your pick for the bass note and your fingers for the other notes, allowing you to play rhythm and melody lines at the same time.

Some of the early recording pickers who used this technique to great effect were:

– Maybelle Carter who used a thumb-pick to play the melody on the bass strings, and her other fingers brushed a rhythm over top on the treble strings.

– Merle Travis used a thumb-pick for a steady alternating bass line, and his other fingers for a syncopated rhythm and melody line on the treble strings, giving it sort of a rag-time feel.

Countless variations on these styles are well represented in many genres of music, beginning with folk and country and finding their way into nearly every genre today. Maybelle Carter and Merle Travis both used thumb-picks, although the effect can also be achieved with a flat pick, or bare thumb, what ever suites your style.

Here are just a couple examples of how you can arrange the parts.

The melody line might be fairly simple on the bass strings, with the other fingers add rhythm and ornamentation.


With the bass line playing sort of an Oom-pah on 1 and 3, the melody might be in eighth notes over the top.


With this constant bass line, the bass notes can bleed into each other and generally add a lot of mud, so the bass strings are usually gently palm muted to reduce ringing and give more separation.

What other picking styles do you use?

Join the discussion to tell us more.

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