Learning to strum without a pick - should it be this hard?

Hi guys,

It’s been a long time since I was last here, hadn’t had much time and energy to practice and play guitar and was also kind of disappointed with myself that I didn’t play as much as I used to anymore.

So I started playing more regularly again and I started to explore strumming without a pick. It kind of started when I wanted to learn the song A team by Ed Sheeran and I also watched Justin’s tutorial on how to strum without a pick where he discusses a few methods. Also, I really want to master the song Let’s go home together by Ella Henderson & Tom Grennan and that also uses this strumming technique.

I always thought that strumming without a pick would be fairly easy but I find it really hard! And because I find it so hard I was wondering if you have similar experiences because if you don’t, I must be doing something wrong.

I mostly try strumming with my thumb and first finger, as if I’m holding a pick as Justin suggested. And while of course I can’t expect myself to sound like Ed or Justin, I also didn’t expect I would sound as shitty as I do. When I strum I often don’t hit all the strings, this happens on downstrums as well as up strums. Also I often get sort of ‘ stuck’ in the strings. I know Justin warned about this and I try to focus on what he suggests but it feels so terribly unnatural. Don’t know if this is relevant information but I keep my fingernails as short as I possibly can because I simply cannot function with long nails :wink:

Anyway, look forward to hearing your thoughts!



I guess you are catching your thumb?

Try using your 1st finger only and raking the nail across the strings for a down, and thumb only for up using the side of your thumb/nail.

Not using a pick is really fun but if you are pretending to hold a pick you have to be careful not to catch your finger/thumb in the string, not how I do it

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Welcome back Inge.

I like to keep my nails just a bit longer than normal but trim them before the point they start catching again.

I guess my top tip would be to point out that you are not likely to get the volume you may be used to with the pick. So a light touch is in order to stop you getting hung up in the strings.

You’ll can always amplify somehow if you want the volume back.

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Honestly you can smash out the volume if you want without a pick


I no longer use a pick at all. I use @RobDickinson technique here, based in the “like holding a pick” method but then relaxed loose enough that my down strum is the back of the index finger only and my thumb stays out of it. Similar with the up strum, which is a little harder, but only the back of the thumbnail and the relaxed index finger stays out of the way.

I went through the “strumming dynamics” course on volume dynamics and found I can strum the living daylights out of my guitar, louder than I can with a pick (since there is nothing to knock out of my fingers). I found it hard to strum lightly and retain consistency.

My recommendation is to slow way, way down for some practice and work on gliding your fingers smoothly and consistently over the strings. Work up from there.


I’ve also struggled over the years in strumming without a pick. The other lesson worth looking at is this one…

Since taking on that approach, the strumming without a pick has started to work well for me. This technique, I think, is different to the tutorial on how to strum without a pick, but it helped with that as well.


Strumming or fingerpicking you can be a lot more physical and connected to the guitar than with a pick. I think people baby them a lot or lack the confidence to dig in etc.


Inge, maybe post a video of what you’re struggling with? Because there might be something obvious.

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Regarding not hitting all the strings when you strum up, Justin discusses that in a video in which he says he doesn’t either. It’s in this video starting at 3:24 https://www.justinguitar.com/guitar-lessons/all-about-up-strums-b1-306

In the “How to Strum Without A Pick” video, which I think is the one you’re referring to that you watched, Justin mentions that the thumb/finger angling can be a factor in whether a person gets hooked on the string when strumming so your angling might be something to experiment with, if you haven’t. I also have very short nails. When I strum without a pick, I usually use the fleshy part of my thumb, as Justin describes in the “How To Strum Without A Pick” video. I’ve tried the thumb and first finger (as if holding a pick) method you mentioned that Justin also discusses in that video and I had more issues with that method than I did using only the fleshy part of the thumb, though each person is different.


Welcome back, @Inge_guitar29

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Hoi Inge,
Long time no see… after your flashy start …short return and hopefully now a longer stay in guitar country :smile: … I myself do all sorts of strumming without a plectrum, but I think most of it as Joshua describes it, I love playing rhythm guitar without plectrum, but every day I also practice with a plectrum…
Have fun and, with practice a lot and then “suddenly” it`s right…the end :sunglasses:


I always thought that strumming with a pick would be fairly easy but I find it really hard! :roll_eyes: :rofl:


I’m going to try the tips I got first, but if that doesn’t work, I will definitely post a video :slight_smile:

Hi Rogier! Haha I hope I will stay longer as well! Will definitely practice :smiley:
What have you been playing lately?

Greetings! Inge


As a Spanish, it happened several times to me that there was a classic guitar in a party or similar and somebody said: “hey, you play the guitar, don’t you? Play something for us” and when I asked for a pick they took me as a freak :joy:

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Hi Inge

I’ll hold you to it :wink:

hotel california (again … memory problems apparently I can’t remember the order anymore of the picked notes and the the good onew and now I have to do it again (with extra notes per chord and I apparently find that very difficult ) because the Justin lesson is off the air due to the Eagels police but the tabs are still available but are more difficult then the lesson I did in that video ),blues lick in riff stuff,under the bridge,beast of burden Rolling stones (very difficult 2nd grip where the hammer finds place(for my index finger ),NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT,Jolyne,You got itRoy orbisson(surprisingly easy for me) and many more blues things and 6 other tabs are open,and some blues stuff, and aa lot of intro`s of songs…you see…way too much :roll_eyes:

There will come a time in 2 years or sooner when everything will coincide…and play like a semi pro :sunglasses: … or not :smile:

Do you have any more tricky questions? :sweat_smile:


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Haha I don’t at the moment, but I’m sure they will come up! Way too much maybe, but I get it because it is all so much fun and you want to learn everything at the same time. I still struggle to play any song all of the way through, I really need to focus more on that.


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I strum with my thumb on the fleshy part on the left side of my thumb near the tip and close to the top left edge of my thumbnail. This provides a smooth strum (up and down feel the same), but somewhat muted due to use of skin contacting the strings. I can also slightly turn my thumb counterclockwise, and use a wider angle between the strings and my arm, to catch the top left edge of the thumbnail for a brighter sound.

I’ve also learned to strum entirely with the top middle of the fingernail on my thumb, index or middle finger (mostly thumbnail for upstrums, and index/middle fingernail for downstrums which provides a brighter sound, but requires more hand movement to get ones’ fingers back into position for finger style picking.

If I can do it, you can too!! And remember the “rule” (quotes because what rule in music hasn’t been broken?) that if it works for you, it works even if it’s not the recommended method traditionally used. You might also checkout some flamenco techniques.

While you find it hard to strum without a pick, I find it hard, after years of just thumb-and-index strumming (picking) to strum/pick with a pick :smiley:

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Strumming without a pick is a skill I developed from continually misplacing picks and never being able to find them when I want to start playing.