Most people assume that guitar players use a plectrum to hit the strings, and you will often see them playing with makeshift picks, such as a coin.
While this is very common, you might be surprised at how many of the world's best guitarists occasionally prefer to strum with their fingers instead.
It's totally possible to be a great guitarist without using a pick at all.
It all boils down to preference and finding your own unique style.
Depending on the style of music you are passionate about playing, finger picking can help you to play really well without the awkwardness of a plectrum.
When you strum on a guitar, you are playing all the strings that a specific chord requires. Strumming without a pick is actually very similar to strumming with one.
To get started, ensure that the nails on both your thumb and index finger are slightly longer than the other nails on your strumming hand.
This will offer maximum effectiveness to not only produce a better quality sound and vibration (especially when playing on a steel string guitar) but also spare you from unnecessary discomfort if a finger accidentally gets caught on one of the strings.
Your nails essentially act as the pick, and this really produces a clear sound, which is often more appealing to the ear than the "clicking" noise of a plectrum.
Using your five fingers as an illustration, here's how to strum without a pick:
The best position your fingers should be in is for your thumb to be placed over your index finger, forming the shape of a cross when viewed from the top. If viewed from the side, your index finger should be sticking out slightly from the top, with your thumb resting above.
A thumb strum will always result in a softer, more muted bass sound.
With your wrist tilted at a slightly downward position, when strumming down, this finger should be pointed into the guitar. The top of your index finger’s nail should lead you into a forward-leaning motion as you guide your hand across the strings.
You are aiming for a light, flowing movement when playing, which is produced by running your nail’s tip down the surface of the strings, but in a manner which also prevents your hand from facing into the guitar strings or falling into the guitar head itself.
You are literally aiming to "feel" the playing. Begin with a slow, deliberate running of your fingers down each of the individual strings. In order to strum upwards, change the angle of your index finger and thumb by turning your hand so that your thumb is facing into the guitar against the strings, and the tip of your thumb runs up the strings in the same way in which your index finger ran down.
You also need to make sure that your hand doesn’t get in the way of this action. By gradually but steadily increasing the speed of this down-turn-up movement, and practicing this repeatedly, you can build this up to a comfortable strum.
In basic finger strumming, the middle finger can be introduced to create a fuller sound. Your index finger could act as the smoothing "guide" and your middle finger, using the fingernail, can strum down and accentuate the power of the strum.
When strumming both in an upwards and downwards direction, make sure that your hand is always relaxed and that your fingers don’t become tangled in the strings, or strum the wrong ones by mistake.
Picking differs to strumming in the sense that you are only picking one string at a time. Or you may even just be picking two or three at a time.
Your ring finger is reserved to pluck the 1st (E) string. There are always exceptions but this should be your default position. Many classical guitarists find the ring finger essential when starting out and continue to carry it forward into their acoustic playing.
Different musicians have different opinions for the little finger. It can either not be used for picking at all, or it can add a twist to a chord by making it not sound conventional and heighten the overall effect of the note.
When it comes playing without a pick it is important to remember that patience is a big factor here and that it may take longer than you think to get this right. It might be easier to begin with only the downwards movement until you are more confident to try the down-turn-up movement. Your fingers can literally do the talking, and your body can adapt to this new fluid movement.
You will be able to master tricky-sounding songs, and this new technique will add a new dimension to your guitar playing.
Now you can play all of the songs you have always wanted to play, without depending on a pick, and they will sound authentic too!
About the Author: Helen Baker
I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.