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Use Plastic Finger Picks

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On this page I would like to start out by discussing metal picks! Basically I feel plastic picks are better suited for acoustic guitar then metal picks.  There are a number of reasons for this. Basicly I believe that metal picks are better suited for banjo & steel guitar.  I know people use metal picks with acoustic guitar.  One of my favorite artists, Jim Croce used metal finger picks.  So obviously it is just my opinion!  On the up side; metal picks are easier to find in music stores.  Even now! They are also easier to fit to your fingers then plastic picks.  Also when you’re playing the guitar, metal picks feel less bulky then plastic picks.  So these these may be reasons why someone might use them.  However the down side is the SOUND that metal picks produce.  Metal picks in my “opinion” produce a “harsh” and “tinny” sound. There are times when using a mic that there is a subtle but noticeable clicking sound each time the pick contacts the string.  This is especially noticeable in a studio when using a condenser microphone. However, in live performance it problem isn’t so noticeable. Also there is a tendency to produce an annoying “scraping” sound as the edge of the metal pick moves across the wound strings on an acoustic guitar.  This can be really annoying when some one has bad picking habits. These are problems that are especially noticeable when recording in studio conditions.  For me personally … I say “no thank you” to those problems! I use plastic finger picks. 

Here is one of my most favorite songs done by Jim Croce…. Lover’s Cross. He is using metal picks but the sound of the guitars in this live performance is NOT offencive to me at all. However, this same song done in the studio using Ovation Guitars and steel picks sounds completely different. To me the quality of the sound takes away from the beautiful guitar work. Again this is just my opinion! In this clip you will also see him take off his picks at the end of this clip to prepare for and introduce another song using a flat pick. Note, the flat pick is plastic! So why not use PLASTIC finger picks as well? To me they sound better.

Plastic picks help eliminate these problems and they still produce a good quality sound.  Think about it…. why is it that flat picks are usually made with plastic and NOT METAL.  If you saw someone using a metal flat pick on their guitar you would likely concluded that they couldn’t find a plastic pick.  A plastic pick delivers a warm, clear, crisp sound.  It’s a superior sound that is more mellow then you will ever get with a metal pick and yet they still deliver plenty of volume. If you get a better sound with plastic picks, and it’s just a matter of finding and learning to use plastic picks … then WHY NOT use them?  For me, I don’t mind putting up with the inherent disadvantages of the plastic picks in order to get a better quality sound.  I also feel that SOUND QUALITY is more important then convenience.

Recently I have been listening to a CD of a very accomplished finger style guitarist who calls himself Arkansas Red. His real name is Michael and he is one of the best finger style guitarist I’ve had the pleasure of knowing personally. However, he uses metal picks and not plastic. He also plays the banjo and this no-doubt contributes to why he uses metal picks on his guitar.  People say that plastic picks feel “bulky” compared to metal picks.  I agree with them because it is true!  Plastic picks have a thicker guage pick band compared to metal picks.  However, the “feeling of bulky” is especially true if you’re used to wearing the metal picks when playing the banjo and then you put on the plastic finger picks to play the guitar.  There is a noticeable difference of feel between the two.  But it is something you can get used to.  So to me, that’s not a good enough reason to use metal picks. 

Anyway, the stuff Mike does on his CD is fantastic and I love it! BUT it is obvious to me that he used metal picks when recording.  Throughout his music there is that “harsh tinny” sound that is distracting to me. That “cutting” “scraping” and “tapping”of the metal against metal… is annoying and takes away from the enjoyment of listening to the his wonderful music.  If he had simply learned to use plastic picks on his acoustic guitar then the quality of his CD would have been much better in my opinion.

Plastic picks just have a way of mellowing out the sound of an acoustic guitar.  Yet they still give you a very clear, clean, crisp delivery with plenty of volume. So as far as I’m concerned the sound quality you get with plastic picks is worth the other “problems” that come with them.  As I explained earlier, this is why I teach my students right from the start to learn finger picking using plastic finger picks rather than metal picks.  I do this so as to avoid the problems inherent with the metal picks.  Still they will get the clean, crisp clarity and precision with plastic picks this so desireable.

Download  free audio clip about finger picking using plastic finger picks.

So when you begin to learn finger picking guitar, I believe it is BEST (not the easiest) to learn using plastic finger picks right from the start.  This is what I have been recommending to my students for years. Let me explain more about why I do this!  Sometimes guitarists who already play finger style have come to me with comments about the superior clean sound quality, clarity, speed and consistency that I am able to get with plastic finger picks.  They compare that to what they may be doing without them.  So they say that they would like to learn to use finger picks too.  I get that!  (Please understand this has happened to me many times)  So I’ll offer to help them.  I may even go so far as to shape some of my special custom finger picks for them.  Then, for whatever reason they quit using them.  They don’t stay with it. Why is that?  Good question!!!    

Well, I decided to find out so I started asking them that very question.  So let me tell you what I found! The ones I talked to that had stopped using the plastic picks told me the reason was, “they slow me down”, “they get in the way”, “they make me feel clumsy” or something else along those lines..  One guy told me “They’re too frustrating”! So they stopped using the plastic picks! (There is more about this under the section Pros and Cons of Nails and Plastic Finger Picks)  However, I have found through experience that when a student learns finger style guitar while using plastic finger picks right from the start, he (or she) is more likely to succeed in using the plastic picks permanently.  I don’t know for sure why this is true but experience tells me that it is!  I believe it may be that when just beginning, it’s ALL NEW to the student.  All of it is “frustrating”.  The using of plastic picks is just part of the new frustrating learning process.  So if the student is REALY motivated to learn, and has enough determination to do so, he sticks with it.  Since there are so many advantages to using plastic picks it’s a shame that so many never actually persevere long enough to actually learn to use them.  So this is why I teach my students to get over that “using plastic finger picks hurdle” right from the start.

When you learn how to finger pick your guitar using plastic finger picks, you will be entering that new world of guitar playing.  You will be adding a lot of that “dimension” and “appeal” to your guitar playing that I’ve been talking about.  When listening to finger picking that moves along rapidly, it comes at you very quickly! So quickly that it makes it difficult for the mind of the listener to consciously decipher what is being heard.  It’s like “what was that!” Still, despite the speed, the mind is able to comprehend that this is beautiful music!  This is music that is orderly, rhythmic, clear and very clean – More than any other style of guitar playing, finger style guitar, when done with plastic finger picks is clean and captivating.  When you learn finger picking guitar, using plastic finger picks, you will be able to do arrangements that really stand out as different.  You will do arrangements that will grab the attention of people and truly impress them! This is true for these two very simple reasons.

1. – Few people play finger style guitar using plastic finger picks and even fewer do it well.

– The very nature of finger picking with plastic finger picks stands out and demands your attention because it is irresistibly pleasing to the ear

Consider for example the song, Bob Dylan’s Dream.   It has been performed by many artists.  It is truly a classic song and also one of my favorites. I included it on my first CD, Relax and Reminisce.  It’s track #13. Listen to my finger picking version, with its finger picking guitar work that moves right along.  See if you do not agree that it can make a difference in a song. All 14 songs in this album have finger picking guitar work somewhere in each arrangement and all the finger picking was done using plastic finger picks.  In some songs the finger picking was used as a back up for strumming.  In others songs finger picking guitar is the main stay of the arrangement.

I thank you for helping me when you purchase my CDs.  You see….. I need encouragement too!  Please  purchase CD  by clicking here or on it’s title.  It’s one ways you can SHOW your appreciation for what I’m offering you free of charge!  I explain later the benefits that come simply by listening to others play finger style guitar.  Especially will you benefit from this particular CD because the different songs on the album Relax And Reminisce incorporate the picking patterns that you will be learning to play and are taught right here free of charge on this website.  If you master just a few of the basic “Travis” style patterns taught here you can learn to finger pick most of the songs on this CD.  Also most of the songs on this CD are cover songs and familiar to many people.  By using this CD along with the lyrics and chords page of this site you can learn to play them in a similar way that I do. 

Back to the point I was making here!  There is a huge difference between finger picking guitar using finger picks, compared to just using bare fingers and nails or relying solely on a flat pick.  I’ll discuss using bare fingers and nails in the next page.  Now though, lets talk about the flat pick.  Let me just say this.  There is simply no way in the world that even the best guitarist can play with a flat pick what can be done with finger picks.  It just cannot be done!!!  Using a flat pick can produce some awesome sounds and any good guitarist should know how to use one well.  However, the fact is – those who finger pick using plastic finger picks can duplicate almost anything done with a flat pick BUT they can also do much more than those limited to just a flat pick AND what they do can do it much faster and much cleaner.  Why?  Because they have more picks on their hand!  They have four finger picks as compared to one flat pick (this is the way I teach my students – one thumb pick, and three clear plastic finger picks).

You can do the math – one flat pick just doesn’t add up to four finger picks!

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