Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Impacts of Grip and Picking Direction on Flatpicking Speed

Hello, I’m completely new here - testing out the trial subscription. I have two questions that may seem very simple but I feel like I need to really get them answered if I’m going to ultimately be able to play the way I want to play, so I need to understand/learn the fundamentals. (I have never had any lessons before.)

  1. I’ve played guitar for a good while, but I’m new to “flat picking.” Turns out that my grip on the pick is “wrong,” or different. I’m experimenting with changing my grip to more closely resemble that shown in Ben’s video, but it’s a pretty big change for me. I can kind of get there, but not all the way. Is this kind of like changing your golf grip - it may feel bad at first, but you can’t play really well without the proper grip so you must correct the grip immediately? Does that right finger need to be bent so far around? How does the “correct” grip allow you to play faster/easier than using my old/lifelong grip? For example - I worked on the lesson on Black Mountain Rag starting on Sunday. I can play it at 180 bpm right now, but there are some spots that are showing up that seem to hold me back. The same thing (even worse) is happening with Blackberry Blossom at the same speed limit of 180 bpm - when I move down to the A and D strings on Blackberry Blossom I get in trouble trying to go faster. This also leads me to my second question,

  2. Is it an absolute rule that you must pick up/down every single beat? Or can you pick down-down, if for example you’re going from the A string (2nd string from the top) down to the D string (3rd strong from the top)? This seems more efficient, but does it complicate things by breaking the up/down pattern so that you can’t go faster after a certain point? Maybe there’s a video about this that I haven’t found? This may be where I’m getting into trouble in addition to, or maybe instead of, the way I’m holding my pick?

Setup: 20 year old Taylor 714, Elixir light strings, now experimenting with various pick shapes and widths about 1-1.2mm thick which I like (was using .76 or something), I don’t anchor my pinky but I do generally have the pinky in some sort of light contact with the sound board for a reference.

Here is how I’ve just always held the pick using my thumb and index and middle fingers,

and here is how I’m starting to hold it - is this close enough to the “proper” grip?

Thanks!

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I hold my flatpick more centered over the thumb-joint and more centered over the first knuckle of the “i” finger. Essentially, while holding my flatpick, the forefinger and thumb point in opposite directions. BB Clark has an outstanding Video on hold to hold the flatpick correctly. Maybe you’ve already seen it?

Essentials of Flatpicking:
https://banjobenclark.com/lessons/pick-hand-fundamentals-guitar-beginner?from_track=beginner-guitar-checklist

Happy Picking!

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Welcome to BBC Richard @rbratten! Your new grip looks a lot better, about how I do it (but that doesn’t mean I do it right :wink:)As for picking, I sometimes go down-down as you do, but again I might be doing it wrong.

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Welcome to the forum, @rbratten! I’d highly recommend changing the grip as @Deere_Crossing recommended, as the first grip in the photo will definitely affect your speed/hand position. I’d also recommend trying a large triangle shape pick such as the Dunlop Primetones rather than the teardrops, as those have helped me a lot. My personal favorites are the Bluechip TADs but those are of course pricey if you’re not sure you want to switch to the larger picks.

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I don’t play golf (and hope I never do… I sure don’t need something else to frustrate me while I’m trying get good at it), but yeah, that comparison sounds about right!

You’re second grip definitely looks better and I would keep working with that patiently… eventually it will feel right and natural.

Speed is much more than just the grip though. Staying relaxed (not having arm tension) is a huge factor and that can only be accomplished with concentration and working up to faster speeds. It’s very normal to tense up while you’re trying to play a fast song or lick. You have to think about it and tell yourself to relax when this occurs.

You mentioned your pinky. I find that I can play faster when I bring up my pinky into somewhat of a fist. I’m lightly dragging the bridge pins with the bottom of my wrist as an anchor instead of using my pinky as an anchor. Only superpickers can float and not anchor to anything. Actually, even some superpickers anchor somewhere! I also find that my pinky creates unwanted noise added to what I’m playing. I do however, drag my pinky when I play slower pieces.

Pick angle is also important. Your pick should be heading to the lower corner of the bridge (at least for most players). Playing perpendicular to the strings or angling toward the last fret on your fingerboard is just not the norm.

As far as D-U D-U goes, there are some licks or patterns that you do absolutely have to follow that pattern or it just won’t work. And that usually only applies to 16th notes. If it’s a slower song, you could use all downstrokes or mix it up however you want, but we’re talking about speed here. Steve Kaufman is very strict about D-U D-U, even with crosspicking or triplets, Then there’s George Shuffler and James Alan Shelton (one of my all time favorites) who consistently used the D-D-U method when crosspicking or playing triplets. It’s tricky, but you’re right… it is more efficient.

Tony Rice was asked a long time ago: “Should I play fast if I can’t get it right or play it cleanly”? His answer was something to the effect of: “Yes, you should play fast. The only way to get good at playing fast is to play fast”. Makes sense to me!

Good luck and hopefully someone that actually can play fast will give you a better answer!

J.W

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Second grip looks better, maybe just do a little further in that direction. I also second the recommendation for a large triangle pick, I find them much easier to hold on to.

I advocate strict alternate picking (all down beats get down strokes, all up beats get up strokes) because it is faster, easier, and less confusing. So called “economy” picking might be faster in theory, but I find that you have to slow down to be able to do it properly unless you’re just super talented.

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Lots of great advice here, @rbratten! I’m honored to have you on board, too!

Yes, your 2nd pic of the pick looks much better. I highly recommend you establish the strict D-U pattern before breaking the rule. If not I believe your tone/drive/speed will very likely suffer in the future. There have already been some great links but try a lesson like this and really concentrate on it: https://banjobenclark.com/lessons/buffalo-gals-build-a-break-guitar-beginner

You can do it, and keep us posted of your progress!

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Wow, lots of quick, good replies, advice, and great links from members and Banjo Ben himself. I just went from a trial member to a Gold Pick member! Thanks everyone, I will definitely continue to work on the grip and see if I can’t get it moved around just a little bit more, and I will work on strict D-U-D-U until I get to a point where it’s fully ingrained before making any exceptions. Thanks again!

Rich

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Welcome to the forum @rbratten Great to have you. I think you’'ll soon realize you’ve found a home here. lots of great folks, great advice, and most of all… a big 'ol tater sack of fun!! I don’t really know anything about music, so I am just an encourager, lol… but I am lernin!! Is encourager even a word??

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I agree with all our friends comments above. You’ll discover your most effective pick hold looks a lot less like two-fingers and a lot more like a fist. If you think about the shape of the pick, it’s wide in your fingers so you have the most leverage when plucking through the strings. That fist shape will always be stronger than your thumb and forefinger pinch. Your pick ain’t a cup of tea. Use up that wide part of the pick so you are playing the guitar and not the other way around.

Also, don’t equate pick grip with speed. Grip will not translate to speed. Practice and efficiency will translate to speed. Pick grip is just one of the small steps along the way to beginning the conversation about faster picking.

Great to have you joining as Gold Pick member. Many of us will attest it is the best money we’ve spent in a long time! Welcome!

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Hey Richard. I’m a little late to the party, but I’ll toss in my 2 cents.

I’m currently in the process of changing my pick grip after 30+ years of holding it like your 2nd picture. It has been a frustrating couple of months, but it’s finally starting to feel more natural, and I can tell you I’m picking better and faster… especially on mandolin.

If you study Ben’s pick grip, you’ll see his index finger rolls back around to form almost a parallel with his thumb. It seems to me that this grip allows the pick to move off the strings more quickly than holding my index finger perpendicular to my thumb.

I’m still working on it, but I’m finally starting to see positive results. Keep at it!

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I thought I’d follow up as I’ve finally had a “Eureka” moment… I’ve been working on my grip on the pick, experimenting, and struggling a LOT. Not getting comfortable with anything. Then last night I was going though some videos and I watched Jake’s video on picks. I saw an interesting angle that I hadn’t gotten before and it showed Jake’s thumb and pick from a more straight down angle on the thumb. I noticed his thumbnail was mostly PAST the pick, so the pick was closer to the thumb joint than to the thumbnail. This is exactly what Deere_Crossing described in his post above - he holds the pick more centered over the thumb-joint and the first knuckle of the index finger. I tried that, and voila - after 10 days of struggling, I was instantly more comfortable and effective. Deere_Crossing, I should have paid closer attention to your description the first time! The picture shows where I’m at now. Moving it up the thumb allows me to be able to get the index finger more parallel to the thumb. I will continue to fiddle with this and may move still further up the thumb, but I can tell already that this is much closer to where I want to be. I can feel the first knuckles of my other fingers occasionally brushing the strings, but it’s not a problem and I imagine I’ll get that figured out too. Getting ready for Camp! Thanks everyone!

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I had to make that same discovery for myself, too. It’s like it just clicks in place. Happy to hear your progress. See you in a few weeks!

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Same! It makes a huge difference

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Yes. That! A picture’s worth a thousand words. Well done.

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@Rich,

That is fantastic news!

As for me, my thumb jets forward as in your latest picture but my index finger seems to sort of point down toward the pick tip. I seems to give me a bit more control as it rather feels like I am pointing at the strings I wish to strike.

I am not sure if this is a good practice for me yet but my picking hand is much faster than my left hand anyway.

I am glad you found your way… and I may try to do as you had shown… Curling the finger more.

My sloppiness is in the rhythmical strumming. :pensive:

I am really happy for you and even as U cannot attend camp… I share your excitement.

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yes! That!

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