How hard do I pick?

Sascha Franck

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... and also: How hard do you?

Now, that title sounds weird, doesn't it?
But in fact, I really don't know.

Fwiw, I am no n00b by any means, studied that stuff, teached for ages, make my living by playing, yada yada. Just so you know this is not some weird random, rethoric, tricky or whatever question.

I simply have *no* idea about how hard I pick in comparison to others.
What I did however notice is that I seem to have more issues with breaking strings than others (which is why I have Graphtech saddles on most of my live axes). I did however always relate that to playing lots of kinda funky stuff, which, at least in my guitarverse, seem to require hard picking.
Further, I recently noticed that I can play some things a little faster (and more accurate) when picking lighter.
Then, I just learned that Paul Gilbert (defenitely someone featuring a somewhat "decent" picking technique, ahem...) would use a very light pick and apparently also not pick too hard.

But then: What actually is not too hard? Where does it start and stop? Is there a happy (or even ideal) medium? From all I remember, not even picking nerds such as Troy Grady have ever measured picking strength scientifically. So how do I find out about a) the best picking strength and b) where I stand in comparison?

Anyone with any ideas on how to best explore this subject?
 
I try not to think too deep into it, although I can confirm that overall I pick lighter than I did 25 yrs ago. I broke way more strings back then too. Some of that was due to gear quality but no doubt the way I attacked the strings caused a lot of it. I played mostly clean back then with a lot of funky rhythms, and it was a 3 pc band. Now my picking style is closer to something like EJ or Yngwie maybe, but I like to hybrid pick a lot too. I'm mostly a legato style player so I try to think efficiently when I pick. I use 2.0mm picks fwiw.

My advise is not to dwell too much on how you compare with others but rather what is comfortable and works for you. And pick attack is such a personal thing too. It's helping add emotion to the notes.
 
but I like to hybrid pick a lot too

That's something I do all the time as well, by now it has gotten second nature. And it's, well, part of the problem.

To get the finger level up to pick level, I seem to need a tad of nail support (really just supporting the tip, the nail "looking" above the tip only strikes the string ever so lightly). But investigation has it that quite some of those country wizards don't seem to use nails, yet their finger level is all the way up to pick level and it all looks pretty effortless - which makes me think that they might pick quite a bit lighter than me.

I'm mostly a legato style player so I try to think efficiently when I pick.

Yet another thing. I actually like to pick many notes (more ways to articulate them) but wouldn't mind throwing in some legato stuff more often. Just that - pretty much as with pick vs. fingers - legato played hammers and pulls aren't up to pick level (unless I use plenty of overdrive, which I usually don't). So, maybe just another indication for too hard picking.

I use 2.0mm picks fwiw.

For me it's Dunlop Jazz III, the carbon max grip ones. Perhaps a tough choice in combination with hard picking - at least when it comes to string life.

My advise is not to dwell too much on how you compare with others but rather what is comfortable and works for you.

Well, yes and no. Because that's what I've been doing all my life and now I seem to stumble upon something that I never carefully thought through - and apparently very little other folks have, either. I mean, Troy Grady is dissecting like even the most minute aspects, and yet he hasn't come up with something analysing picking strength on an academical level.

And pick attack is such a personal thing too. It's helping add emotion to the notes.

Sure is. And I always looked at it pretty much as a personal thing, too.

Yet, logic says two things:

- If you pick too hard, there's only one direction to move to, which is softer. Trying accents would take you into string breaking territory.
Now, I'm not picking *that* hard for sure, there's always headroom for accents (and I'm making use of it). Yet, on a scale of 1-10, I might now be picking averagely at 7, but it might be more efficient at 5.

- For pretty much everything we do physically, it's usually best to do things as efficiently as possible. Less movements, less excess energy. On the guitar, take fretting for example. One of the most common mistakes beginners fall for, is pressing *way* harder than needed. Which is taking away lots of efficiency. And when it comes to picking, it's at least a good idea to minimize movements (ok, there's some styles when that might not work, just think Cory Wong). So why would I not just try to treat picking strength the same and maximize efficiency?

Whatever, so far my takeaway is that I *might* be happier overall when picking at least somewhat lighter. There's just too many things pointing at me having picked at least somewhat too hard.
Obviously, that's not too great of a realization after - uhm what? - around 40 years of playing. And maybe a very tough to break habit.
Whatever, I have already pinned a note at my main playing place, saying "pick lighter!"
I think I will just give that a go for a while - ideally remembering it on gigs, too.

Still, I'd really be interested in knowing more about the subject, which seems to be very little discussed, at least when it comes to any meaningful numbers. And for me personally, it might in fact be more important than the way I slant my pick or whatever.
 
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Ya know how when you start recording in a DAW, gain staging needs to allow for enough headroom while getting above the noise floor? I like having enough room where if I want to slam into the strings it’s going to have an audible effect, or vice versa. Whether that’s volume dynamics or getting an amp to distort more by hitting the strings harder, same thing applies.

I dial amps in so my picking hand is doing 50% of the heavy lifting, whether that’s a modern metal tone or an edge of breakup tone.

That said, I’ve noticed I tend to beat the sh*t out of the strings on the Les Pauls more than I do anything else.
 
I think it's important to distinguish pick attack (force) from efficiency of movement. Same comparison when you see a top athlete making it look so easy, yet can hit harder or throw something farther than anyone.
So having exceptional technique where it looks as if your pick hand is moving effortlessly, doesn't always equate to a lighter pick attack. Also add the fact that using heavy picks adds more force (normally) than a thin pick at same strike speed. Pick angle changes all this too. And timbre, etc. String gauge changes the way you attack a string. A lot of factors involved, as you know.

Concerning hybrid picking -- I've found the pick I use (dunlop 2.0 flow) works tonally and comfortably with my finger picking's volume/attack. It's a compromise of comfort and tone. Actually the best pick tonally for me is the dunlop brass teckpick, but it's not as fluid with hybrid style. I like Jazz III picks and use on occasion but don't like them with hybrid picking. They're a little too short,
 
I think it's important to distinguish pick attack (force) from efficiency of movement.

Oh, absolutely - and I'm really not mixing the two up.
From all I know, while not perfect, my picking hand's moves are ok-ish in terms of efficiency. Not meant as a plug, but you can see it in action here, picking quite some notes, due to the clean sound:


And yet, I think I could pick softer.

I like Jazz III picks and use on occasion but don't like them with hybrid picking.

They're perfect for me because - hm, let me take a pic, it's easier than describing it...
(2 minutes later)
I like them because they line up with my finger joint's "notch". Makes them feel much more natural than anything else, at least for me.
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Oh, absolutely - and I'm really not mixing the two up.
From all I know, while not perfect, my picking hand's moves are ok-ish in terms of efficiency. Not meant as a plug, but you can see it in action here, picking quite some notes, due to the clean sound:


And yet, I think I could pick softer.



They're perfect for me because - hm, let me take a pic, it's easier than describing it...
(2 minutes later)
I like them because they line up with my finger joint's "notch". Makes them feel much more natural than anything else, at least for me.
View attachment 5979

I like your playing there. Do you not like the tone of that clip and are wanting to tame the attack? Maybe just rolling the tone back a hair could achieve that, unless you are meaning you want to feel more relaxed and loose with something like this and feel your attack is messing with the timing?

I do like those picks, just not with hybrid picking. They have a softer sound which is nice for certain things.
 
Do you not like the tone of that clip and are wanting to tame the attack?

Nah, I'm fine with my tone. Overdriven too.
All I noticed was that, when I was trying to pick lighter, I could play some things much more fluently. Other things however felt weird, but that might pretty much be because I'm used to pick heavy since decades.
And because of that "event", it got me thinking. I have never been able to pick faster passages very well. Didn't exactly harm my "business", but still, I was always wondering whether I was doing something wrong. So, for a while I watched some stuff, tried to minimize my picking movements and what not. But I didn't exactly improve.
One thing however, which has never been a thing, which I have never seen being discussed in detail, has been picking strength. And there's really very, very little which you can find about it on the whole world wide web. At least compared to all the various information about pick slanting, whatever directive picking, Benson alike techniques and what not, it's pretty much nothing.

And then, all of a sudden I found myself in a "uhm, when I pick this XYZ percent lighter, it's all easy". After decades of not even trying, simply because I thought heavier picking was the secret to good tone, great funky grooves or whatsoever. Which it possibly even is, just that at this very moment I don't know anymore.

And that's the story behind it. So I was just being curious whether someone else stumbled upon this issue and/or possibly didn't even come up with some meaningful results.
Guess not - so I may just try. I do actually believe that you can still teach new tricks to old dogs.
 
Nah, I'm fine with my tone. Overdriven too.
All I noticed was that, when I was trying to pick lighter, I could play some things much more fluently. Other things however felt weird, but that might pretty much be because I'm used to pick heavy since decades.
And because of that "event", it got me thinking. I have never been able to pick faster passages very well. Didn't exactly harm my "business", but still, I was always wondering whether I was doing something wrong. So, for a while I watched some stuff, tried to minimize my picking movements and what not. But I didn't exactly improve.
One thing however, which has never been a thing, which I have never seen being discussed in detail, has been picking strength. And there's really very, very little which you can find about it on the whole world wide web. At least compared to all the various information about pick slanting, whatever directive picking, Benson alike techniques and what not, it's pretty much nothing.

And then, all of a sudden I found myself in a "uhm, when I pick this XYZ percent lighter, it's all easy". After decades of not even trying, simply because I thought heavier picking was the secret to good tone, great funky grooves or whatsoever. Which it possibly even is, just that at this very moment I don't know anymore.

And that's the story behind it. So I was just being curious whether someone else stumbled upon this issue and/or possibly didn't even come up with some meaningful results.
Guess not - so I may just try. I do actually believe that you can still teach new tricks to old dogs.
I get where you're going with this. I was very heavy handed in my 20's, think SRV right hand. Probably why I gravitated to legato playing, not to mention my favorite players tended to play legato style. I agree though, speed picking / alternate picking and a heavy hand don't seem to mix well. Definitely lightening your hand movements can improve this.
I've been playing for 31 years and still enjoy those moments of discovery. Keeps me going.
 
I was very heavy handed in my 20's, think SRV right hand.

Hold on for a second... this is just hypothetic and all that, but: Do we actually know SRV picked all that hard or did it just look like?

Let me quote this again:
I think it's important to distinguish pick attack (force) from efficiency of movement.

So having exceptional technique where it looks as if your pick hand is moving effortlessly,

Now, what if SRV was the opposite? Picking very lightly and just making it look not all that effortlessly?

Obviously, this is not meant too seriously, but I think you'll get the drift.
Thing is, you can hardly (apparently not at all) find any actual measurements about how hard (or soft) whomever is hitting their strings. Of course, it'd be pretty tough to do, but it could be done somehow. It just isn't.
 
Hold on for a second... this is just hypothetic and all that, but: Do we actually know SRV picked all that hard or did it just look like?

Let me quote this again:




Now, what if SRV was the opposite? Picking very lightly and just making it look not all that effortlessly?

Obviously, this is not meant too seriously, but I think you'll get the drift.
Thing is, you can hardly (apparently not at all) find any actual measurements about how hard (or soft) whomever is hitting their strings. Of course, it'd be pretty tough to do, but it could be done somehow. It just isn't.
lol, I think it's apparent he hit the strings pretty hard and you can hear it. It's virtually impossible to cope the thing he does looking relaxed with the right hand. You can hit all the right notes but still miss the mark. This is where the emotion comes through in the attack. He picked soft too and you could tell in the dynamics. All of this is more present in a higher headroom, clean setup of course. But yeah, it's about impossible to measure this stuff and honestly I think it's not so important. Especially for a dynamic player using emotions in the moment.
 
My picking is intentionally inconsistent---and I control the clipping of the amp/modeler
with that inconsistency.

I also use my fingers a bunch.
 
lol, I think it's apparent he hit the strings pretty hard and you can hear it. It's virtually impossible to cope the thing he does looking relaxed with the right hand. You can hit all the right notes but still miss the mark. This is where the emotion comes through in the attack. He picked soft too and you could tell in the dynamics. All of this is more present in a higher headroom, clean setup of course. But yeah, it's about impossible to measure this stuff and honestly I think it's not so important. Especially for a dynamic player using emotions in the moment.

I know all that - and as said, I wasn't exactly serious.
Thing is, picking strength as something to improve or weaken your technique (likely depending on the kind of music, sounds used and what not as well) apparently isn't the best explored subject.

Whatever, guess I'll just have to give this some testruns - and fwiw, as I already started, it's in-f***ing-credibly tough to keep picking levels lower than what I'm used to on quite some things. It's not so much that I can't pick lightly but rather that I need to adjust to a new set of relations, at least for the time being. In other words, given a scale from 1-10, I need to accept that 5 now is the new normal, whereas it was light picking before. So to pick lightly, I may have to go to 3. In addition, I need to be careful to keep that range between 6-10 open for accents.
Really tough on funky rhythm guitars (which I'm just fooling around with).
 
I guess it's worth the effort, if nothing else you'll learn something new in the process. I just hesitate to weaken pick attack across the board, to the point that it compromises too much and something is lost.
 
Isn't how hard the strings get picked directly related to how much of the pick tip you use?
If you use a tiny bit of the tip, the string's going to fall off the pick after a small amount of displacement. And vice versa.
 
I just hesitate to weaken pick attack across the board, to the point that it compromises too much and something is lost.

Won't do that. So far I have no idea what this will turn into. Playing softer does in fact at least seem to feel easier, but after all these years it also seems to feel wrong-ish (which certainly is just because of not being familiar). Also, for obvious reasons, things sound different. Not too much, but of course the balance between overdriven and clean sounds is very different (as clean sounds "suffer" more in overall volume from less input).

Isn't how hard the strings get picked directly related to how much of the pick tip you use?
If you use a tiny bit of the tip, the string's going to fall off the pick after a small amount of displacement. And vice versa.

These are things I fooled around with a lot in the past already. Might be somewhat related but it's not exactly it.
So far, my only real (and glaringly obvious) takeaway would be that picking harder needs more energy. More energy required results in more stamina being required, too. Might be a reason for me to feel at least somewhat "tense" during long funky gigs.
And it also feels as if that wasted energy is kinda counterproductive to speed and accuracy - but I can't tell so far.

As said, as horribly strange as this might come across, even if I've spent lots of time on learning the instrument in the past, even if I seem to have done at least sort of ok-ish in my "career", in all these years picking strength has never been a target of specific interest and/or observation for me. Sure, I did not hack them strings like mad (coz that'd make little sense for a truckload of reasons) and I also didn't caress them. So, given that scale between 1-10 it was pretty clear for me instinctively that my average picking strength should be neither a 9 or a 2. But I seemed to be tending towards maybe 7 (or even 8 at times) whereas something between 5-6 might've been a better idea.
We shall see.
I fooled around with this quite a bit during the last hours, and so far it's like "ok, this is worth observing for a little longer". It could as well be that I won't end up picking lighter in general (not sure whether that is even possibly, see old farts and new tricks...), but perhaps I might pay attention to it a bit more, which might already have a positive effect.

Anyhow, really, it feels so strange, doing all this for decades and all of a sudden sitting here, being worried about something that feels sort of like absolute beginner territory (which, btw, it isn't - at least not in detail, the best you might hear is "don't pick so weak" or "don't slaughter your strings", but that's about it).
 
Fwiw, I kept fooling around with the issue and will continue doing so.
Takeaways so far: I don't think I've been picking too hard all throughout so far. But, a) there's certain things that I apparently picked too hard in general (e.g. some single notes and maybe also some power chords) and b) there seem to be some things going out of hand too easily, such as me instantly picking harder when there's more bends involved or whenever the musical situation is getting more "intense". The former is a matter of practise and constantly reminding myself. Adressing the latter will get quite a bit more tough as it's mainly a live thing and decades of falling for it aren't just wiped from memory instantly.
In the end, it all comes down to more playing discipline - nothing exactly new in general, but this particular thing is quite a new area for me. However, it seems to be something I could improve at quite a bit with not all that much effort, which is great.
 
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