While the classical guitar is a favorite for folk, flamenco, and classical music, players of classical guitars often debate whether it’s acceptable to use a pick while playing.
Both a single flat pick and attachable finger picks can be used to play a classical guitar. Fingerstyle, which does not use a pick, is the traditional technique, but a player can use picks to achieve alternative tone colors and projection in some types of music.
There are benefits and risks to using a pick on a classical guitar, as well as multiple options of types of picks to choose from.
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Can you play a nylon string guitar with a pick?
One of the main distinctions between classical guitars and modern acoustic guitars is that they use nylon strings instead of steel strings.
Nylon string guitars are traditionally played using the fingerstyle technique without a pick, while steel string guitars are commonly played with a pick.
On any type of guitar, a pick will produce a brighter, louder sound. Nylon strings produce a more mellow sound in general, so a pick can be a good option for maintaining projection when playing with other instruments.
However, it’s important to note that strumming or picking on a classical guitar with a pick can potentially damage the top of the guitar body.
When a pick is dragged through the strings of a classical guitar, there is a high risk of scratching the surface of the guitar, below the sound hole where the hand goes at the end of a downward strum.
Because classical guitars are traditionally played with fingers only, they don’t come with pickguards. These sheets of thin plastic are placed on the surface below the sound hole to prevent the guitar from getting scratched by a pick.
The style of the music can also influence whether a playing with a pick is a good option. Spanish and flamenco music exclusively uses the fingers and thumb when playing, and should never be played using any type of pick.
Can you strum (with a pick) on a classical guitar?
It is completely feasible to strum with a pick on a classical guitar. However, the debate lies not in whether you can, but instead whether you should strum at all.
Classical guitar music is most often polyphonic music, which means it features more than one musical line occurring simultaneously. These lines in the music are separate parts, such as a bass line, chords, and melody.
In fingerstyle guitar, the thumb typically plays the bass line while the index and middle fingers cover the chords and the ring finger picks the melody.
It is not possible to play polyphonic music using a single flat pick, which is what would be used to strum.
Strumming with a single flatpick can be done, but music for classical guitar is centered around playing multiple parts together rather than strumming chords.
A flat pick can only play one note at a time, and it is difficult to switch between flatpicking and fingerpicking quickly.
That said, if a classical guitar is all you have and you want to play non-classical music that involves strumming, you can easily strum the classical guitar with a pick.
Remember though, strumming on a classical guitar carries a high risk of scratching guitar body.
Can you use finger picks on a classical guitar?
If any pick is employed in playing classical guitar, it is usually multiple fingerpicks attached to the thumb and fingers.
Fingerpicks slide or attach onto the thumb and fingers and are used to boost the volume and clarity when picking the strings.
Classical guitar players have traditionally used their fingernails to play the individual strings, but this requires maintaining strong, healthy, fingernails of a certain length on the right hand only.
Nowadays, the use of finger picks is a valid alternative to playing with fingernails.
Finger picks are sometimes preferred over using fingernails because they are more consistent and strong. Nails can break more easily and are susceptible to weakening over time.
Many find fingerpicks ideal for their consistent tone and attack without the issue of nail breakage. You can select the optimum hardness, which can widen your dynamic range and your playing speed.
Should a beginner guitarist (classical) use a pick?
The preference of using a pick or not as a beginner on the classical guitar varies, there are schools of thought that support both sides.
It can be argued that using a single flat pick is simpler and therefore more beginner friendly. Playing one string at a time or brushing the pick through the strings is less complex than using multiple fingers over multiple strings.
Picks also prevent continuous friction on the player’s fingers and fingernails. Beginning guitarists that use the flesh of their fingers or nails to play may experience minor injuries that can discourage them from playing.
On the other hand, some beginners may prefer using their fingers because they offer a more tactile connection to playing the instrument.
For a student who loves the sound of classical guitar, it typically makes the most sense to start with fingerstyle technique, which traditionally uses fingernails and barre fingers.
There is also the option of finger picks for fingerstyle guitar, which reduces the issue of damaging your fingers or fingernails. However, the technique for using finger picks is rather complex, so the student must be motivated to learn it.
A beginner should choose their method of playing based on what will bring them the most enjoyment and success. The choice between a single flat pick, finger picks, or only fingers should feel comfortable and suit the sound of the music.
Consider what type of music the beginner seeks to learn and whether they are prepared for the challenge of fingerstyle guitar.
How do you strum a classical guitar without a pick?
Strumming on a classical guitar doesn’t necessarily require a pick, you can also strum using your thumb and fingers.
One option is by brushing the thumb up and down the strings, which produces a round sound. You need to practice finding the proper angle for the thumb so that doesn’t catch the strings when strumming upward.
A second option is to strum with the first finger. In this case, the nail is used on the way down the strings (downstrum) and the flesh hits the strings on the way up (upstrum).
A combination of the thumb and first finger pinched together can also be used for strumming. Basically, you pinch together your index finger and thumb as if you are playing with a pick, and push them through the strings.
As you advance as a classical guitar player, there are even more strumming combinations to explore without using a pick. For example, you can use your thumb to play a bass note while the first finger follows up with a strum.
What kind of pick works best for a classical guitar?
Celluloid is the most common material used for guitar picks, but they are not the most ideal for nylon strings. It is a harder material that will likely result in clicking sounds while playing.
Nylon is often found to work well with nylon strings, offering a balance of clarity without being too harsh. The thickness of the pick has the most influence over the sound, however.
Picks come in a variety of thicknesses called gauges, which are measured in millimeters. The thickness or gauge of the pick influences how bright or warm the guitar will sound when picked or strummed with the pick.
Thin picks range from .40mm – .60mm, medium picks range from .60mm – .80mm, and heavy picks range from .80mm – 1.2mm. Anything higher than 1.2mm is classified as extra heavy.
The thinner the pick, the floppier the surface and brighter the sound, while the thicker the pick, the stiffer it is and the warmer the sound it produces. For classical guitars, a medium gauge pick is recommended because it most closely resembles the thickness and sound of a fingernail.
For those concerned about damaging the wood finish of the guitar top, there are also picks made from felt, but these will produce a more mellow sound compared to picks made from the aforementioned materials.
Playing without a pick allows access to more tonal possibilities on classical guitar. Utilizing the fingertips and fingernails is preferred by most professional classical guitarists.
Picks pose the issue of causing a clicking sound when played on nylon strings. If you prefer using picks, choosing the proper material and gauge of the pick is essential to minimize unwanted noise.
Whether to even use a pick at all on classical guitar is ultimately a personal decision. Players should take into account what style of music they are playing and what kind of sound they wish to achieve when exploring picking options.