By Maurice Richard
As I teach more and more people I am surprised at how many have started to learn and do not use a pick.
I get why though. Using your thumb instead makes it a bit easier because you do not have to hold and learn to deal with one more thing.
Learning guitar is not easy for most of us so eliminating the pick seems like a good compromise to get you going at the start.
However, what you may not realize is this will actually hurt you more than help you in the longer term.
Here are 3 reasons why you should learn to play guitar with a pick from the start and give yourself a better chance over the long term.
1. Using Your Thumb Masks Poor Technique
The number one reason people tell me they do not use a pick to play guitar is because they think it sounds bad or harsh.
They would be correct because you can hear everything with a pick. You can tell when you are missing notes, or playing chords wrong or whatever. The pick highlights it all and really brings it out!
Using your thumb may sound better but only because it is masking all sorts of problems in your playing.
This is a really bad idea when you are first learning to play guitar because you are laying the foundation for how far you can take your guitar playing.
Wouldn’t you rather learn to play correctly than constantly having to use your thumb to cover all the mistakes so you know you really have it right?
In the short term you get a better sound but if you keep it up long term you will develop really poor technique and habits that will eventually get you stuck and frustrated.
The people that I have taught who had used their thumbs for years came to me because they wanted to take their playing to the next level. They were stuck.
2. Allows You To Play With Others At The Campfire
I have yet to meet someone who wants to play guitar alone in their basement just for themselves, all the time.
People who tell me that tend to not have much confidence in their ability to learn to pay guitar well enough to have the confidence to play in front of other.
But deep down, they really want to do that. They would love to play with their friends at a party or even lead a campfire sing-a-long. That’s why it is important to start learning with a pick right from the start.
If you don’t use a pick and become confident in your playing and then decide to play for or with others, you will quickly learn your thumb will not get you far because no one will hear you.
So, you break out the pick to play for the first time and everything breaks down. It feels like you are a beginner again. Things you could play well before sound awful and your confidence disappears.
True story. I have seen this happen. You do not want to be that person. Start with a pick today and you will be ready for the campfire sooner!
3. Gives You Access To More Advanced Techniques
Most people I teach acoustic guitar to want to be able to do more advanced things like play runs, riffs, and add cool accents to their playing to make it sound more professional.
None of that is going to happen if you are using your thumb to play so if any of that interests you it’s time to get your pick out and learn today.
The ability to create dynamics in your playing will also be lost. Your thumb can create a small amount of dynamic range but a pick is what you need to really make it work.
Another technique many guitar players want to be able to use in their playing is the ability to play chords a note at a time, called arpeggiation. Without a pick this is not going to be possible.
Use A Pick And Set Yourself Up For Success
You can continue to play with your thumb and not worry about a pick.
That’s your decision but it will limit you later on and make it much harder to learn new and more advanced techniques.
If you want to try to learn to use a pick do not do it half-heartedly. You want to go all-in and be determined to make it work or else you will quit.
If you can already play and have been using your thumb for a long time you will have to be patient. The sound will be harsh and you will find many mistakes in your chords.
This is normal. Don’t stop, keep going, and in no time, you will start to see and hear your playing improve and find a new confidence you can never get when using your thumb.
You are leaving a lot of options on the table when you decide to play with your thumb. Stop limiting yourself!! Get that pick out and play!
About The Author:
Maurice Richard is a professional guitar teacher that operates out of the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has been a member of an elite guitar teaching mentorship program since 2007 and has taught many people how to learn to play guitar. Go to his website now to learn other important facts that will help you to play guitar better.