Guitar Technique: Fingers or Pick for Strumming?

As a guitar player, you may be aware of the wide opportunities and alternatives that this amazing instrument provides. 

That is not only regarding equipment such as amps, guitars themselves, pedal effects, or every gear to shape sound but also connected to different playing styles.

We can find a lot of guitar playing techniques, some of them are relegated to the use of a pick, for instance, sweep, alternate or down picking, and some others related to fingerstyle. 

But what happens when we only focus on strumming? Should you go for a pick or you could use your fingers instead?

Strumming with a pick or with your fingers are both viable choices on the guitar. A pick will give you a more aggressive and uniform sound while using your fingers will allow you to imprint some nuance to your playing, and even to use some specific techniques such as “rasguidos”.

In this article, I will try to clarify every doubt that may come up, from which technique is easier to the advantages and disadvantages presented in the two of them. 

In the end, you will know everything required about strumming a guitar with a pick and your fingers.

What is the correct way for strumming a guitar?

As music is an art and pretty subjective I wouldn’t say that playing one way or another will be right or wrong. 

Actually, there are no correct ways in music, strumming with your fingers or using a pick will be up to the players’ preferences therefore they should do what feels more natural and sounds better to them.

Needless to say, choosing one of the strumming available options will of course affect the outcome. 

You may notice differences regarding not only the sound but also the playability and comfort.

Pros and cons of strumming with your fingers

Strumming with your fingers is the most immediate way to approach the guitar, this method is the most used by first learners. 

That is because it is the most basic and relatively simple way to do it, you use your fingers from your right hand (or dominant hand) to strike the strings and make them vibrate.

Like with everything in life, this technique has many points in favor but also presents some drawbacks. 

For each of them, I will leave you lists for you to understand this method better. 

Pros of strumming with your fingers

  • Better finger control: The main important benefit of strumming with your finger is that you will have individual control of each of them. That is great for techniques such as Spanish rasguidos and split strumming. 
  • Warmer tone: In addition, this way of strumming provides a more mellow, warm sound which is great for playing soft songs such as ballads or acoustic pieces. You just give strokes to the strings with your finger or even you can let grow your nails.
  • Faster to learn: We previously mentioned that is a simple, easy technique to learn and that would be one more advantage. As you are using your own body, it will be easier to play and perform.

Cons of strumming with your fingers

  • Softer outcome: Although by using your fingertips you can accomplish a softer sound, it won’t be so loud. That would be, in a way, harmful to your playing because could result in a shortened dynamic range and it will be hard for you to play louder songs.
  • Inconsistent sound: In the beginning, everything takes time and this method is not the exception. After some time playing, you will improve but your sound will be initially poor and inconsistent.
  • Calluses will be needed: You may think that calluses are only required for your fretting hand, let me tell you that you will need to develop them also in your strumming hand. Calluses are harmless, but forming them takes some time, during that period your fingers may suffer a bit of pain.

Pros and cons of strumming with a pick

To strum and make your guitar strings vibrate you can also use a pick or plectrum, a tiny flat object used to pluck them. Is mainly used in genres such as rock and metal plus mostly applied to the electric guitar rather than the acoustic.

As mentioned earlier, every approach provides different sounds and tones but that doesn’t mean that one is better than the other. Therefore, I will give you a list of pros and cons of strumming with a pick.

Pros of strumming with a pick

  • Louder sound: First of all, a pick gives you a more aggressive and louder sound. Plectrums are made of rigid materials than your fingers which makes the strings sound higher in volume and more violent.
  • More consistent tone: Moreover, your playing will be way more consistent. Contrarily to what happens with your fingers, using a pick will give a consistent vibration to each string, resulting in a more harmonious tone.
  • Wide variety of playing techniques: Besides, by using a pick you will be able to employ more strumming techniques such as down picking or alternate picking. Although both of them are more usual on electric guitars, they are not relegated only to those instruments and can also be used on acoustics.

Cons of strumming with a pick

  • It takes time to get used to it: On the other side, using a pick can be challenging for beginners. Even though it won’t take a long time, they could struggle some months to completely domine the way of strumming with it.
  • Holding the pick: What is more, as the plectrum is an extension of the body, it could be difficult to handle it. You have to manage how to hold the pick properly, otherwise, it will slip between your fingers and could end up inside your guitar’s body, we all guitar players know how hard is to take it back.
  • Try not to lose them: Since they come in a lot of shapes and materials, is quite a tough task to choose the right one for each player. What is even worse, these little pieces can be lost easily, it may sound hilarious but on some occasions, they completely vanish!

Remember you can always do both

Although those strumming ways are unalike, you don’t have to stick to one of them. What I mean to say is that you can switch from one method to the other and that will give you extra tools to build up and shape your music.

A good example would be the hybrid picking approach, which consists of plucking some strings with a pick and some with your fingers. 

This is good to alternate between different sounds and add a colorful hue to your paying.

Needless to say, you can also cope with using a pick and your fingers. Perhaps, you prefer to use a pick for some song and strum some others using your bare fingers.

Would strumming with your fingers or a pick depend on the type of guitar?

It is commonly said that the decision of strumming with your fingers or a pick will usually depend on the kind of guitar you are going to play but it is not always that way. 

Actually, you can strum any kind of guitar with both a pick or your fingers.

On one side, some guitar players claim that there are more pure or traditional ways of playing, for example, the classical guitar which is supposed to be played exclusively with the fingers. 

However, there’s nothing preventing you from attacking this type of guitar with a pick.

On the other side, although electric guitars are thought to be played by using a pick, they can also be played with your fingers. 

You will be surprised about how great these pieces sound when played with both a pick and your fingers.

Which is easier: strumming with a pick or with your fingers?

Before everything we discussed through the article, we have one more question to answer, which of the two methods is easier? 

Maybe for absolute beginners, strumming with their fingers is the easiest way.

That is because, oppositely to using a pick, they are not adding any extension to their bodies so they can simply play straightaway. 

Nevertheless, it may also occur that after a few months down the line when players get used to the pick they prefer it.

Needless to say, there is not a single answer to this question and it will always depend on the player’s preferences. 

They would choose one technique or the other based on not only what they feel is more natural but also what suits and shapes their style better.