If you’ve played guitar for awhile, you’ve probably played with both a pick and your fingers at some point. If you’re more of a pick player, it’s more likely that you’ve played with your fingers at some point than it is a finger picker would use a pick. After all, it’s not unusual to find yourself without a pick and just make do.

This article isn’t meant to be a tutorial or talk about the “proper” way to play with a pick or your fingers. It’s aimed at the casual guitarist who just wants to play. Perhaps for beginner guitarists it’s not going to be the best advice out there, but it’s a bit of opinion on the tools you can use to get strumming.

To that end, I’m speaking very generally here. This opinion piece is really for the casual guitarist. Sure, we all want to improve, but I’m mostly talking about how to get the most joy out of your guitar with the least amount of effort. Ultimately, you do you.

Why I Prefer To Use My Fingers To Play Guitar

I’ll start this by saying that I prefer to use my fingers when playing. I’m primarily an acoustic player, but I like to use my fingers on the electric as well. That being said, I started learning to play guitar with a pick. After getting comfortable with the pick I started learning more complex finger-style pieces (mostly blues). Since then I mostly play a lazy finger style if I’m just having a strum or a more formal finger style if I’m trying to learn something more difficult.

Playing Guitar With Your Fingers Gives A Lot To Work With

The biggest reason I like using my fingers to play guitar is that is gives me extra digits to work with. If I just want to strum I can do that, but if I want to take advantage of all the sounds the guitar has to offer, I can do that too. I primarily like playing blues and folk music, and using my fingers allows me to easily thumb out a base line while also playing chords on the top strings. You’re basically getting a second instrument for free.

Playing Guitar With Your Fingers Doesn’t Attach You To A Pick

Getting used to (and competent) playing guitar with your fingers means you’ll never be caught out. This means you’ll always be ready to play, even if someone randomly hands you a guitar and says “play something.”

There will always be times where you don’t have a pick, so why not make those times all the time? Plus, then you’ve built up the calluses on your fingers (not just your fretting fingers) so that you can finger pick for longer and more easily in situations that call for it.

Why I Should Get More Comfortable With A Pick

The problem I’m finding these days is that I just don’t use a pick anymore, so my skills with pick related techniques are pretty stagnant. I’m not going to say I’ve lost them, but I really should use a pick every now and then. I saw that because there are some great advantages to using a guitar pick rather than just using your fingers.

Playing With A Guitar Pick Allows You To Play Faster Lead Lines More Easily

Let’s face it, we’re not all Mark Knopfler. We can’t all play fast rock style lead lines just with our fingers. A lot of the time, a pick makes it easier to play up and down scales quickly. Picks are inherently more accurate, or at it’s easier to be more accurate with a pick. Unless you’re very very good at the guitar. And we’re simply not all like that!

There’s Fewer Variables When Playing Guitar With A Pick

When you’re first learning guitar, playing with a pick really cuts down on things to think about. Even if you’re just strumming with your fingers, there’s more going on than just strumming with a pick. I’m glad I started with a pick, as I think I would have been confused had I been expected to start with fingers.

What Types Of Music Are Good For Finger Picking?

As I mentioned, blues and folk are great finger picking genres. When I’m talking blues though, I’m mostly talking about acoustic blues without the aid of a band. Since you have all your fingers able to do something, it’s great to use your fingers to play guitar when you don’t have anyone to back you up. That way you can put in various elements to your music and make things sound fuller.

With that, it’s less common to play an electric guitar with a pick, but it is done. So music that lends itself more to an acoustic guitar is more likely to be good for the fingers.

What Types Of Music Are Good For Playing With A Guitar Pick? 

I’m immediately going to say that a lot of rock and modern pop really lend themselves to picks. Really any kind of modern/popular music where you know you’re going to have the backing of other instruments to do the work.

As I mentioned, picks are great for lead lines, so if you’re just playing lead with the backing of a bass and maybe even a rhythm guitar, you don’t need to have all five fingers doing something. Do one things with your pick and do it well. 

Should You Start Learning Guitar With Fingers Or A Pick?

Ultimately, although I’m really a fan of finger picking, I’d say to start learning with a pick. When I started this article I was thinking “tell them to learn however they bloody want,” but after thinking about the benefits of a pick, I’d say learn with one.

However, once you’re comfortable with everything, experiment with your fingers. It’s never too early. Before you do that though, make sure you’re comfortable with your chords. It’s just one less thing to think about it.

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