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How to Correctly Hold Your Mandolin Pick

How to Hold a Mandolin Pick

If you’re learning how to play mandolin, one of the first things you’ll need to get a handle on (no pun intended) is how to hold your pick. The key to getting a good sound out of your mandolin is establishing a reliable yet malleable pick grip that will produce clear and consistent tone shaping. Let’s take a look at how to choose a mandolin pick that’s right for you.

Choosing the Right Pick

The No. 1 rule when choosing a mandolin pick is to buy a hard one, at least a thickness of 0.75 mm. This ensures that you’ll have enough stability to play single note lines as well as chords, and that the pick will withstand the beating of playing on doubled strings.

The highest-quality tortoiseshell mandolin picks can cost as much as $40 to $50, but beginners do well with celluloid picks, which can be purchased for a fraction of the price.

Hold and Technique

If you’re an absolute beginner, you might have some questions. For starters, how many strings does a mandolin have, and how does this affect picking technique? Because the mandolin has four sets of doubled strings (mandolin tuning is the same as violin) there is a great deal of tension on the strings as well as on the neck of the mandolin. As such, it’s necessary to use a good deal of force with the pick to ensure that both strings are being sounded.

Curl your index finger so that the tip of your finger is pointing toward your palm and lay the pick flat against your finger with the tip pointing downward (perpendicular to your finger). Next, gently squeeze the pick against your index finger by pressing your thumb across the pick from the other side. The bottom of your index finger and your thumb should align so that you are gripping the pick with a line that runs parallel to the floor. Aligning the thumb and index finger ensures maximum stability, which is required to drive through each string pair.

As for picking technique, you’ll want to master the downstroke first. For example, alternate between the open G string (closest to the ceiling) and G string, 2nd fret, playing downstrokes on beats 1 to 4. Repeat this with each of the three remaining strings, making sure to drive the pick through both strings in each pair. Once you’ve mastered the downstroke, repeat the same process with the upstroke, and then alternate between the two.

Applying Pressure

As you become more comfortable with basic four-beat downstrokes and upstrokes, you’ll want to incorporate strumming as well. Although you’ll be using the same grip described above, you’ll need to subtly reduce the amount of pressure with which you’re stabilizing the pick.

If you try to strum a chord with the same firm grip that you use for single notes, you’ll find that the pick gets caught in the doubled strings, producing a choppy sound. Relaxing the tension between the thumb and index finger will allow the pick to remain stabilized while providing enough movement to glide smoothly across the strings.

Finding Your Comfort Zone

Keep in mind that while it’s helpful to follow the previous guidelines when you’re first learning how to hold the mandolin pick, you’ll ultimately have to find the grip that works for you. Because every player’s hands and finger lengths are a bit different, you’ll have to experiment with varying amounts of pressure and angles until you find a balance for both single note lines and chord strumming.

Don’t forget to check out this link for tips on mandolin tuning and other cool lessons with expert mandolinist Mike Marshall!




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