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A guitarist with an impressive picking hand is something to behold.
Whether you idolize down-picking masters like James Hetfield of Metallica, the blazing speed of Steve Vai, or the incredible sweep-picking of Yngwie Malmsteen or Frank Gambale, players with great picking hands demand attention.
Developing a strong, fast, and articulate picking hand is essential for your performance.
Sometimes we get lost in developing the hand that is on the fretboard, and we end up neglecting the picking hand, which can delay progress.
One of the biggest hurdles many guitarists run into with their picking hand is the pick getting stuck on the strings, which can result in slow picking speeds and missed notes.
What technique issues causes the pick to get stuck on the strings?
The pick getting caught on the string is most often a result of how you are gripping the pick, the angle of attack, and how much of the pick is hitting the strings. Further, holding your wrist too stiff can also result in the pick getting struck on the strings.
Let’s take a deeper look at these six causes for picks getting stuck on the strings and some simple solutions to help correct this problem.
1. Pick Grip
The first thing to look at if you find your pick frequently getting stuck on the strings is how you are gripping the pick. Both gripping the pick too loosely and too tightly can cause the pick to get stuck on the strings.
If you are not holding your pick with a firm-enough grip, the pick will tend to get stuck as you move across the strings, which could result in you dropping your pick altogether.
This typically happens on the upstroke but can also occur on the downstroke, especially if you are trying to play fast or aggressively.
The simple fix here is to have a firmer grip on your pick.
However, if you are gripping the pick too hard, this can also lead to the pick getting stuck on the strings, along with other issues such as slow picking speeds and lack of control.
If you are struggling with pick grip issues or are just starting out playing, check out the video below, which features some tips on how to hold your pick and several picking exercises to help you solve some of your picking problems.
There is a sweet spot where you have a firm grip on the pick, but it is not overbearing to the point where it starts slowing you down again.
Gripping the pick too tightly can also contribute to the next issue on our list: your playing wrist, arm, and shoulder being too stiff.
2. Wrist Stiffness
Being too tense or stiff with your wrist/arm can make your pick stick on the strings.
Like many other endeavors, creating too much tension and trying to force picking can often get your pick stuck on the strings.
Keeping your wrist too stiff may create too much resistance against the string when picking, especially on the upstroke, which can cause the pick to stick instead of gliding across the strings.
The easy fix is to relax your wrist, arm, and shoulder. It might seem counterintuitive at first, especially when trying to play fast, but staying relaxed will help you not only play faster but also reduce the likelihood of your pick getting stuck on the strings.
Keeping your wrist relaxed will result in a smoother picking motion, and once you are used to it will also aid in picking control- both of which will reduce the chance of your pick getting stuck on the strings.
3. Wrist Motion
Similar to wrist stiffness is wrist motion. While different options are successful, I’ve found that moving in a bit of side-to-side/diagonal motion instead of a strictly up-and-down motion has improved my performance and decreased my luck getting stuck on the strings.
This diagonal motion can also aid in picking speed and help you to relax and loosen up your wrist while you play.
Wrist motion directly relates to the angle of attack that you are picking with. Without a fluid wrist motion, it can be difficult to develop a proper angle of attack for your picking.
4. Angle of Attack
The angle of attack, or how you approach the strings during picking, is another major issue contributing to your pick getting stuck on the strings and slow playing speed.
Simply rotating your picking hand forward slightly can drastically reduce the likelihood of your pick getting stuck on the strings, especially when you are alternate picking.
The video below shows two great methods to immediately improve the problem of getting stuck on the strings while playing.
Paying attention to the angle you are approaching the strings can save you a lot of heartache and will help to improve your speed and precision as you play.
I’ve recently started to think about the guitar like a violin. On a violin, you have to adjust the angle of the bow as you move from the different strings. All of the strings are in-line on a guitar, but you still have to adjust your playing angle from time to time to play the various licks you are working on efficiently.
5. Pick Depth
How much of the pick hits the strings goes hand in hand with the angle of your picking. These two factors and how you hold the pick are the biggest issues as to why the pick sticks to the strings when you hit them.
Early on as a player, one of my biggest mistakes was how much of the pick I let hit the strings. I’ve never had a formal teacher, so I spent the first few years of my playing not paying attention to how much of the pick was hitting the strings.
This simple issue seriously delayed my speed progression, and I know I’m still behind where I could have been by now.
Allowing too much of the pick to hit the strings will often cause the pick to get stuck on the strings, especially on the upstroke. The pick is much more likely to get stuck on the strings during the upstroke motion, either while utilizing alternate picking or simply going back up the strings.
Thus, it is paramount to use as little of the pick as possible while picking.
It is tough to play fast and nearly impossible to sweep pick effectively if too much of the pick hits the strings.
I try to hit the strings with the very edge of the pick. Recently, I’ve even started experimenting by using the sides of the pick more so than the point, and I’ve found this to be beneficial for my style of playing. Only the very tip of the pick should be hitting the strings as you play. There are some exceptions, of course, but the majority of your playing should be done in this manner.
Sometimes for genres such as rock and metal, players think they need to use more of the pick to get louder and more aggressive-sounding tones, but this simply isn’t true. You can get a big sound without using a big portion of your pick.
6. Pick Type
I have experimented with many different thicknesses of picks and have found that how thick a pick is can impact whether the pick gets stuck on the strings or not.
I play many different genres of music, but I tend to gravitate toward rock and metal music. A prominent feature of metal music is fast playing and hammering on the low strings.
Due to this, I assumed I needed to find the thickest picks available to accomplish the sound and aggression on the strings I was seeking. However, it turns out this isn’t true, and I can achieve my desired playing with thinner picks.
I tend to use picks ranging in thickness from .70mm up to .96mm, but I have begun to experiment with picks thinner than .70mm, and I am finding that I have better control and am less likely to get stuck on the strings with thinner picks.
In a recent Rig Rundown episode, Foo Fighters’ guitarist Chris Shiflett speaks on how he has moved to both thinner picks and lighter strings over the years. You can skip to the four-minute mark on the video below to hear him talk about it.
If you are having trouble with your pick getting stuck on the strings, consider experimenting with different pick thicknesses. Packs of picks are cheap, so it won’t break the bank as you play around and find out which pick thickness works best for you. If you’re really creative, you can even try some of the more interesting guitar pick alternatives like a thin credit card though I wouldn’t recommend that for most people.
Many reasons can cause picks to get stuck on the strings while playing, but following the simple solutions listed above will help you avoid this. It’s already hard enough to keep track of picks so the last thing you want is problems when you play.
I hope you have found this article helpful, and best of luck working on your technique to eliminate the common problem of the pick getting stuck on the guitar strings.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.