Flatpicking Guitar Network

For Fans of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine

Holding the pick has to be the most fundamental starting point after taking the pick out of the box and tuning up. (If you store your pick by threading it between the strings, be sure to remove it before tuning up).

I have spent the last few weeks struggling with picks that keep twisting as I am playing, which makes it difficult to play with confidence.

Fortunately (maybe) I came across an instructional video by Scott Fore on blessi.com.  Along with this there is a video of Scott playing Ragtime Annie which is tremendously inspiring.

In the instructional video, Scott shows how to hold the pick.  Most importantly, he says that the pick should strike the string at a 45 degree angle (not at an angle where the front of the pick hits the string! This produces a raspy sound on wound string) but where the pick is square to string but at a 45 degree angle to the top.  This allows the pick to get off the string quickly.  To do this it is necessary to push with the thumb on the downstroke and push with the forefinger on the upstroke.  This seems to me to make perfect sense.  The catch is, that in order for the pick to bend enough, aside from using paper-thin picks, the finger which is not pushing has to be supporting the pick very loosely.  This will obviously require considerable practice.  Holding the pick loosely also improves the cadence greatly and probably prevents a sore wrist. 

I have been trying to hold the pick back toward the first thumb joint.  This seems to give more torque with less effort.  Moving the forefinger down and back puts more meat on the pick and should tend to hold it steady.  I recently realized that if I move the forefinger so it is in the centre of the pick it is better balanced and does not twist any more.  This means that I can only move the pick back until it is uncomfortable to place the forefinger in its center.  It is likely possible to practice moving the pick back and getting your forefinger used to curling even further, but this may not be worthwhile.

I have now gone back to a normal pick but it is between light and medium while I try to get used to holding it loosely.  It seems to be a matter of balance.  This I estimate will take six months as I try to graduate to a full medium pick. 

The above seems to make sense to me.  I wish there was an instructional video which either confirmed this or presented something better.   If you decide to try this, remember that I know less about this than you do!


Views: 2212

Comment by ganon on August 28, 2011 at 6:05pm

Hi David, I think there are basically two approaches (with infinite subvariations): articulators (e.g., Tony Rice, Scott Fore (I think-haven't watched the video)), and swingers (e.g., Doc Watson, Bryan Sutton, Brad Davis). Very close to home (FGM/N), here is a video from Brad Davis:


I'm sure Dan Miller would be happy to sell you a copy of the whole DVD . . .

Best, ganon

Comment by Scott Fore on August 29, 2011 at 1:19pm


You do not want the pick to bend when pushing and pulling it through the string.  The edge of the pick acts like a ramp for the string to slide off of.  I prefer picks with a thickness of 1.4 or 1.5 mm.  A thinner pick that flexes too much will be counter productive to the pushing and pulling effects of the technique.  You should play from a relaxed feel.  If you are squeezing the pick too hard, you will get cramps at the base of the thumb.  Also, when holding the pick the last joint in the thumb should be at the back of the pick to give you more leverage.  Experiment with placement and you will feel when you hit the right spot as the feeling of power in the pick stroke will be evident.  When pulling through the string on the upstroke, you will get the sensation of closing your hand in a grip like the sensation of gripping the handle on your guitar case.  When you get the technique perfected, there will be very little movement and you will be able to play from a relaxed state at any tempo.

If you have any questions, send me an e-mail and I'll try to help.


Scott Fore


Comment by David Rathgeber on August 29, 2011 at 1:52pm

Dear Scott,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to respond on the beginners forum.  This is like having the instructor loking over my shoulder!

I obviously misinterpreted the forty-five degree angle when I watched your video.  I have been playing with lighter picks, 0.66 to 0.88 mm, assuming that I would move to heavier picks later.  These thinner picks do not sound good to me when sliding along the strings, particularly on the wound strings and some of them are obviously not suitable for this since the edges are poorly finished from the casting.  For this reason I assumed the wrong approach.  You have certainly saved me at least weeks and maybe months of work doing it wrong.  Your approach then is the same as that of Brad Davis whose video I also watched on the advice of Ganon and I am now looking forward to practicing with confidence thanks to your advice. 

 Thanks also to FGM for hosting this forum.  I have lots of books and CDs but none of them has even come close to explaining this so clearly. 

And my apologies to those who may have read my last posting.  I warned you that I don't know what I'm doing!

David Rathgeber





Comment by Scott Fore on August 29, 2011 at 2:45pm


I don't think you were using the wrong approach.  The thickness of the pick does make a big difference.  If you are using .88mm picks and they are the teardrop shape I use the back rounded corner and not the pointed end.  I think Brad's approach is slightly different than mine.  If you watch Tony Rice, he seems to use a similar approach.  As I tell my students, everyone's anatomy is different so each person will have to change things slightly to fit their hands.  You should notice a difference in a few weeks and definitely within a month.  If you have more questions, please feel free to ask, and I will offer the best explanation that I can.


Comment by David Rathgeber on September 1, 2011 at 5:00pm

Hi Scott,

Thanks again for the help.

I had some heavier picks which I tried after I got your last comment.  First was a Dunlop Tortex 1.0 mm, a really hard pick!  I found that on the wound strings I had to be very precise with the direction of pick movement or I could hear every turn of the winding, which I would describe as a raspy sound.  I also have a Dunlop 1.14 mm in a softer plastic but with a fairly sharp edge.  With it, I don't have the problem on the wound strings.  I also have a Dunlop Big Stubby 3.0 mm which also has a sharp edge but is not a problem. 

I went out today and got a a couple of Traynor 1.12 mm picks; one has a very smooth edge and the other is poorly finished.  However, they both sound about the same.  I also got a Dunlop Max-Grip 1.5 mm.  It has one sharp edge and one smooth edge, just a result of the mould configuration!  I am assuming that I push with the front edge on the downstroke and with the back edge on the upstroke.  It doesn't make much sense to twist the pick between strokes!

I am going to take some sandpaper and smooth the edges on all of them, not because it's a problem, but just so I can make a reasonable comparison.  I think I can work with any of them.

What I do notice in holding the pick at a 45 degree angle and pushing through the strings is that there is a change in the tone.  The higher harmonics are dulled and the sound has a softer or bassier tone.  I guess this is obvious since there is not now the 'snap' when the pick comes off the string.  Is this now the traditional flatpicking sound, or am I doing something wrong - or am I looking for something that isn't there?

I do like the Dunlop Max-Grip.  It doesn't move around, like the Howling Dog Brain picks I have used for a while, so I am switching to it.

I don't like to be pedantic about this, but I assume I have many years of picking in front of me and I would like to get off the the right start.


Comment by Scott Fore on September 1, 2011 at 7:20pm



I've had the same issue with the Tortex, which is why I don't use that material unless I re-work the pick shape.  You are correct that you push with the front edge of the pick and pull through with the back edge of the pick.  The pick doesn't twist.  The movement is more like the motion of a pendulum and moves in an arc or half-moon motion.


The best tool I've found for re-working a pick is the multi-surface files that women use to file their acrylic nails.  If you hold the pick in your left hand and file the edge that is facing away from you you should get the proper angle.  If this is confusing, let me know.  We could use skype or something and I could show you how to shape picks.


There is a change in the tone when pushing and pulling through the  string compared to the other way of picking.  Finding the right pick shape, material, etc., should help get the tone back.  Also experimenting with the angle, moving closer to the bridge will also help.  Most folks pick about 1" from the back edge of the sound hole to help make the sound crisper.  In terms of the traditional sound, I think most folks use Doc, Tony Rice, Norman Blake, etc. as the model for the sound.  I think the goal of any good technique is to put the player in control and not the pick.  The technique should allow the player to present musical ideas without impediment.  If you can hear the technique or it hampers the music then it needs to be changed.  And, I think that flatpick guitar requires the highest level of technical facility.


You are doing the right thing by experimenting with different pick materials, thicknesses, shapes, etc.  The hand that picks the strings is the most important of the process.  Once you get that correct everything else is easier.


If you have other questions or want to try the skype thing, let me know.



Comment by David Rathgeber on September 7, 2011 at 8:29am

Hi Scott,


I spent the long weekend trying to get things working.  I sanded the edges of all my picks using #600 wet which I have left over from painting my car.  This finishes the edges with no scratches.  However, no matter what pick I use, I can still hear the pick rubbing against the strings after pushing through.  This is true with the nylon picks too, although they are softer.  I tried rounding the ends and also making them very sharp.  The rounded end is the worst because the pick is on the string longer. The exception is the Jim Dunlop Big Stubby 3.0 mm. which is made of polycarbonate (Lexan) and so I am using it now.  I also had to finish its edges.  I have ordered a selection of these picks from 1.0 to 3.0 mm and will pick them up when I am in the US next week. 

I think some of my problem is that either I am playing so slow that the problem is exaggerated, or that I am not striking the strings hard enough.  I don't get much volume out of my guitars, especially the dreadnaughts which require a bit more force.

I will contact you again when I am back home at the end of the month.  I appreciate your offer of a Skype contact which I am sure will help me solve some of my problems.  In the meantime, I am trying to get used to the mechanics of picking and have started the exercise you have recommended on your first DVD.  I have bought all four but haven't had time to look at the others.





Comment by Scott Fore on September 7, 2011 at 10:11am



If you are getting a scratchy sound, I suspect that the picks may not be shaped correctly or your angle of attach may be off.  Picking slowly should not exaggerate the problem.  I usually have my students play slowly - I call it guitar tai chi.  With this technique you should also be able to get the most volume that any guitar can produce without undue stress.  The one thing to remember is that the pick stroke doesn't begin until the pick is resting against the string.  With other techniques the pick strikes the string like a hammer striking a nail.  With this technique you are pushing and pulling through the string and the target is not the string but an imaginary point beyond the string.  It's like the martial artist breaking boards - they are not hitting at the board - they are striking through the board.  Their target is beyond the board, which gives them the power to pass through the board or brick or whatever.  If they just hit the board it would probably not break.



Comment by David Rathgeber on September 8, 2011 at 6:32am



Some progress! Working late into the night I have discovered that the angle of attack is indeed the problem.  I have been resting my wrist on the bridge and pivoting to reach the strings.  This means the attack angle is about 20 to 30 degrees on the 1st and 6th strings.  I notice that you move your wrist up and down the bridge and in fact are pivoting at your elbow.  This must means that those nifty riffs are better played on three adjacent strings at a time with the wrist more or less at the same place to avoid too much back and forth with the hand.


Am I getting closer?



Comment by Scott Fore on September 8, 2011 at 8:47am


Sounds like you are getting  closer.  I do move the hand up and down to keep the hand in position.  When the pick pushes through the string, there is a point when the pick is parallel to the plane of the string.  This means the hand does move up and down and pivots at the elbow to keep the hand in position.  You are not picking from the elbow or wrist like some styles; however, you do have some movement there to keep the pick in line with the string.  The pick angle, when the pick is resting against the string, is approximately 45 degrees to the string.




You need to be a member of Flatpicking Guitar Network to add comments!

Join Flatpicking Guitar Network

Don't Miss These!



Latest Activity

Wendell Greason posted photos
billy jones bluez updated their profile
Apr 12
Louis Ruoti commented on Louis Ruoti's video

Wildwood Flower - Louis Ruoti - Flatpick Solo

"Thank you kindly, John. Much appreciated!"
Apr 1
John David Hanke commented on Louis Ruoti's video

Wildwood Flower - Louis Ruoti - Flatpick Solo

"wonderful version, very nice..."
Apr 1
John David Hanke updated their profile
Apr 1
terry thompson shared Russ Barenberg's blog post on Facebook
Mar 3
terry thompson posted a discussion

Download Digital Academy onto new device

I have the Flatpicking Guitar Digital Academy on one device with videos I have downloaded but I was to view them on another device. How do I do this? Thanks TerrySee More
Mar 3
billy jones bluez posted a video

.♪♫•*¨*•. . Liar . .♪♫•*¨*•. ~ . deep swamp re-mix ~ Billy Jones & Delta Blues Outlaws

.♪♫•*¨*•. . Liar . .♪♫•*¨*•.~ . deep swamp re-mix .Billy Jones & Delta Blues Outlawshttps://youtu.be/b1SL2_Ma5I4https://www.facebook.com/TheBillyJonesBand/vi...
Jan 19
David Helm updated their profile
Nov 21, 2020
Profile IconMichael Murphy, John Hawkins, Kevin Williams and 8 more joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
Jun 10, 2020
Wendell Greason posted a photo
May 29, 2020
TAKA posted a status
"In 2020!!"
May 28, 2020
Profile IconRyan Orr, Bob Gordon, Rick Lewis and 26 more joined Flatpicking Guitar Network
Mar 18, 2020
WR Mesher updated their profile
Jan 22, 2020
Dan Miller posted a blog post
Dec 10, 2019
John Woolley updated their profile
Nov 21, 2019

© 2021   Created by Dan Miller.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service