Playing with a Plectrum vs. Finger-Style Playing
When playing a guitar, there are two different methods of picking: hitting the strings directly with your fingers and playing with a pick, or plectrum. Different picking styles work for different musicians in different genres. There are also many players who alternate the methods for different songs. So which one is best for you?
Each of these methods has its advantages and disadvantages. The good news is both sound amazing when done right. In this article, we will review the two methods and help you discover which method works best for you.
Using a plectrum
The vast majority of guitar players use a plectrum. These are generally small pieces of plastic that come in varying styles and thicknesses. A thicker pick will play louder but also have more of an impact on the strings, requiring replacement more frequently if they are the only type of pick used. Thinner ones create a softer, “slapping” sound.
A pick gives you a more accurate and direct “attack” on the strings than finger picking, and generally allows you to play faster. Harder styles of music, such as Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and punk use picks almost exclusively. Electric guitarists use picks overwhelmingly as compared to acoustic players.
The disadvantage is that you cannot generally play as softly with a pick as you can with your fingers. This is a problem that can be partially solved by using a lighter-gauge pick.
Finger picking is much more prevalent with acoustic guitars. Classical guitar is typically played with the fingers and flamenco uses finger picking exclusively. Country players often use finger picking as well. Indeed, country legend Merle Travis became so renowned for his finger picking that his style became known as “Travis picking,” a method used to this day by many acoustic guitar players.
Finger picking allows you to develop a more personal style in your playing. You can develop a smooth sound or a hard one — it’s all in your fingers. It also saves you the expense of buying picks, even though they aren’t very expensive.
If you decide to try your hand (so to speak) at finger picking, there are several things to consider. In order to play finger style, you need to be more accurate with your playing than if you were playing with a pick, as using a pick allows you a bit more latitude in accuracy. This will require extra training, practice, and patience. Another thing to consider is that if you play electric guitar, the lower action and narrower space between strings will make it more challenging to learn this method. It can be done and can be quite rewarding.
Choosing your method
Observe your preferred players in your genre and how they play. This will help you choose which way to go. There are no hard, fast rules. No genre is exclusively one or the other. In the end, it is strictly a matter of personal taste. You can become an accomplished guitarist using either method, so give both a try.