How To Strum Without A Pick

Learn to strum a guitar without a pick and actually sound good!


View the full lesson at How To Strum Without A Pick | JustinGuitar

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I’ve been playing for a while and have picked up the habit of positioning my hand like a pick but playing down with my first finger and up with my thumb. Seems to work for me so far…

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Any recommendations for lessons on the folky finger style Justin plays towards the end of the video where he hits the bass note and strums/picks the melody at the same time?

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Yes, here: How To: Thumb & Finger Strums | JustinGuitar.com

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I am practicing one minute chord changes and have found that I can make significantly more changes using my thumb as opposed to using a pick. It seems more natural. Is this common to be faster this way and is it ok to practice like that?

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Welcome Jerry!

I have thoughts on this. I have essentially abandoned the pick, primarily be cause I have discovered that I want to play finger-style and classical guitar.

However, others will choose to play with plectrum (pick) or hybrid (pick and fingers), which does suit itself well to electric guitar as well as steel string acoustics.

Early on, the pick is a pain, so it feels more natural and easier to use your thumb to “pick”.

But, in the absence of fingerpicking, the pick is really much more versatile, faster and more dynamic. The thumb will have a softer sound, and will be limited to down strums.

So unless you have chosen a path as I have, I think you would shortchange yourself by not making every effort to learn to use the pick.

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I am all the way into module 8 and I just now decided to start trying to strum without a pick. It has been quite challenging for me so far. I can’t imagine it being more easy than with a pick, as several of you have stated above. I’m strumming with my thumb and I feel like the sound when I strum is just so soft and “dull” and the upstrums have been especially challenging, as I feel like I’m only picking up the bottom string no matter what angle I place my hand/thumb. Hopefully I can eventually get used to it.

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I downstrum with the back of my index fingernail and up with the back of my thumbnail. I get the brighter tone I want that way.

Hold your index and thumb together, or close to each other, in a loose and relaxed way. That works for me. Then you can reverse and use the pads for softer warmer sounds, or use the backs of all the fingernails together for a multi-string jangle.

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Could someone please confirm which strings Justin is strumming with his finger during the “plays bass with thumb” chapter? Aka 2nd to last.

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He is mostly strumming the 4 thinnest strings with his finger in that section (it helps to pause the video at the moment he strums and look up the guitar neck for the strings that go blurry as they are strum.) The main idea to keep in mind there is to have a contrast between the mellow sound of the base note played by the thumb and the brighter sound of the higher strings played by the fingernail. Think of the snare drum analogy Justin mentions in the chapter.

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I am self- taught classical and fingerstyle player. I’m not all that great but can play a few nice songs. However, I can’t strum the guitar to save my life. I don’t like using the pick because I need to be able to feel the strings and don’t believe I get that with the pick. I’ve watched a lot of different videos to try and learn but I just keep coming right back to my fingers.

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@Laurlei I am also self taught classical and fingerstyle and only had a classical guitar for many years. What made me try to learn to use a pick was playing for groups of people with a steel string acoustic. You can get more volume with a pick and a brighter sound that can be heard above the singing. If you don’t need to do that then perhaps there is no need for you to learn to use a pick.

My suggestion is to get a Jim Dunlop variety pack of acoustic guitar picks with an assortment of thin to medium nylon and tortex picks. You may need a thinner pick that bends so you can feel the strings as you strum or you may have a pick that is too thin to feel the strings. Try different thickness and styles and see if one provides the best feel for you.

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Hi Laurlei, @Laurlei
Welcome here and I wish you a lot of fun, :sunglasses: I would indeed buy a varia package of picks or at least 4 different thicknesses up to max 1mm for single notes and for rhythm guitar definitely a lot thinner … and give it a fair amount of time, plan a few minutes or more a day on the pick, it can really bring some benefits with different styles in different way`s…I’ve been trying it for almost 3 years and with rhythm guitar it doesn’t feel and sound half as good as rhythm guitar without a pick :grimacing:…but by practicing more often with a plectrum, it becomes much smoother without a plectrum for me every time a little bit more (but of course that is also due to practicing in general, but the plectrum demands much more attention for me) … but of course there are plenty who play well enough or perfectly without a plectrum …

My tip: Practice a decent (?) amount time with and if it’s not for you stay happy and stick them on the wall… :smile:

Greetings,Rogier

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Hi Steve, Yeah I have a good variety pack and am trying them out. It’s just a learning curve and I will get used to it. I have two guitars, one classical and one steel string. I love them both. Like you I want to widen my abilities to play other things. I don’t have any friends to play with, kind of drawback, but it is what it is. I still enjoy playing no matter what.

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Hi Roger, Yeah there is no way I’m giving up on this. One thing I have going for me is that I don’t have to worry about my fingers getting sore or not knowing the chords and can concentrate on my timing and such.

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I think I’ll have to keep practicing these various techniques (and stop nailbiting because it damages my fingers.

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I find it more difficult to strum without a pick.

AHHHH I lost my yellow tortex pick.