Pick Angle

Weekly Newsletter #77

January 27, 2023

How much do you think about the angle of your pick? 

Probably not a lot. 

An yet, it’s an essential part of your tone and personal style of playing. 

The position the pick is in when it makes contact with the string is of the utmost importance. It will determine nearly everything about the pick stroke: volume, attack, velocity, rebound and tone. 

Essentially you’re forcing one object to push past another object in its way. 

In order to achieve the desired outcome you must first decide on what exactly that outcome will be. 

Are you looking for rapid alternate picking at a low volume, such as a tremolo effect? 

Are you trying to create loud powerful single tones? 

Perhaps you want want a shuffle or swing feel in single notes. 

There are numerous ways to attack the string and your desired tone and rhythm will play an important role in deciding on the position of the pick as it makes contact with the string. 

Flat Pick Position 

It’s important to understand that the angle of the pick at impact determines how easily the pick moves through the string. 

Pushing a very flat pick (parallel to the string) through will be met with a lot of resistance. As the pick contacts the string, energy will be built up as it attempts to force its way through. 

Having so much resistance allows a large build up of this energy. 

When the energy becomes greater than the resistance of the string the pick will break through. 

This creates a very loud and powerful pick stroke. However, it is also very unwieldy. 

Because so much force is built up and then bursts through the string it is very difficult to control the rebound of the pick. 

This means that returning to the string or moving accurately to the next string will be more difficult because you won’t know exactly how far your pick will travel past the string. 

It could be 1mm, 5mm even up to several inches. 

The tension of each string will also have an effect on the amount of resistance that string provides. 

The 1st string, for example, has more tension than the 3rd string. It therefore will require a bit more energy for the pick to pass through. 

Angled Pick Position 

In this position the pick attacks the string using more of the “slicing” approach. 

The downward angle allows it to move through the string by sliding along the edge of the pick. 

Many picks have pre-shaped bevels along the edges to help facilitate this. 

Others with no bevels can actually be formed into a beveled shape simply by playing this way. 

You actually carve away at the plastic pick by scraping through the string at an angle, thus creating the “perfect” bevel for your particular picking angle. 

Take a look at the type of pick you use. Does a brand new one have a bevel? If not, look at a worn and used one, does that one have a bevel? 

If it does, that’s proof that you attack the string using that particular bevel angle. 

Notice how there is a bevel on both sides of the pick? One for down strokes and one for up strokes. 

The angled approach to pick position is by far the most common, however it can be taken to extreme degrees. 

If you were to bend your thumb knuckle as far as it can go while holding the pick and then make contact with the string, you’d notice that the pick is nearly perpendicular to the string. 

Some niche players may use this technique, but it isn't advisable for most musical situations. 

The angle of the pick has a tonal effect as well. 

Because you are slicing through the string instead of using brute force, you necessarily end up with a quieter note than using the flat position. 

The steeper the angle, the quieter the note will be. 

That perpendicular position will produce an extremely quiet note while a flatter angle will produce a louder one. 

Additionally, in a more angled position, the pick will actually scrape against the winding on the string producing a scratchy sound. 

Some players find this desirable, while others don’t. 

Finding the angle of the pick that is exactly right for your everyday sort of playing is essential in determining the best way you can maximize your picking strategy. 

Angled positions are necessarily faster because they don’t have to contend with so much resistance, while flatter positions are louder but usually not as fast. 

Being able to switch back and forth, through all the various angles is absolutely ideal though. 

Having a wide range of angles to comfortably choose from allows you to switch depending on the desired tone, volume and speed you’re looking for at that moment. 

The amount you bend the knuckle in your thumb controls the pick angle. 

Learning to control the angle by bending your thumb knuckle will allow you maximum control over the pick. 

This must be taken into account not only for down strokes, but up strokes as well. 

Watch your hand carefully as you play. Try to determine how you instinctively attack the string during up strokes and down strokes. 

Learning how you naturally pick is the first step to optimizing your picking strategy. 

Beware that that amount you bend your thumb knuckle is directly contributing to muscle energy expenditure. 

If you hold your pick at a steep angle with a large bend in the knuckle you’re necessarily using a lot of muscle energy to maintain that position. 

Over time, the laws of aerobic/anaerobic respiration will take effect and you’ll likely suffer some loss of technical ability. 

I advise you to find an angle closer to the natural bend in your thumb knuckle (when it’s relaxed) and use that for the majority of your alternate picking, switching to steeper or flatter angles as needed. 

By building your picking technique around a more natural and relaxed thumb knuckle, and therefore an intermediate pick angle, you are promoting the positive aspects of relaxation and efficiency in your playing. 

-Max Rich