Section 6 – Strumming with a Pick

Let’s shift our attention to our strumming hand. In order to learn strumming with a pick, lay your fretting hand flat across the fretboard so that the strings are muted and forget about it.

The first thing I want you to is put down your pick.

Start with downstrokes and strum as if you had the pick between your thumb and first finger. I know this sounds strange but it works because you don’t have to worry about dropping the pick on the floor or inside the guitar. We’re focusing solely on the strumming action.

You want to graze the tip of your first finger over strings as if you were painting with it by rotating your arm. Your wrist should be free of tension and you shouldn’t be doing any kind of karate chop movement with your elbow. Again, you want to leverage economy of movement with your strumming action, so no exaggerated swinging gestures please.

Once you get comfortable, try doing a downstroke followed by an upstroke. Remember, the tip of your finger should be grazing lightly over the strings.

Eventually, the pick will replace the tip of your finger.

Practice with a metronome by setting it to 60 bpm and playing alternating downstrokes and upstrokes on each beat. Once you’re comfortable, increase the speed, or lower it if 60 bpm is too fast to begin with.

Once you start to feel that you have this technique under control, grab your pick and try strumming with it. Keep muting the strings with your other hand until you start feeling comfortable with the pick. We’re taking baby steps here as if you try to do everything at once, it’ll take at least three times longer. Most techniques on guitar can be broken down into component parts like this.

When you feel ready, try strumming some chords with the pick. If you feel stuck or overwhelmed at any point, just go back a few steps and keep practicing. The more practice you do on the early steps, the easier it’ll be to put the whole thing together.

Gaining Control
You’ll soon realize that to gain control of strumming with a pick, you need precise technique combined with using both hands to mute the strings. This process takes time but as long as you have a solid basis like this one, you’ll be able to develop it.

Where does my thumb go?
In general, there is no hard and fast rule about where to put your thumb on the back of the neck, but for open chords you’ll probably find it stays in the upper part of the back of the neck where it’s most comfortable for you.

Checkpoint: When you can strum the chords we’ve already learned in time with the metronome using upstrokes and downstrokes, you’re ready for the next section.

If you’d like a more in-depth approach to strumming check out Dan Dresnok’s course Strumming for the Curious Guitarist.