Playing Guitar Without A Pick: Fingerstyle Strumming

Playing guitar with a pick is the more common method, and most people use one. Guitarists normally have a certain pick type that they gravitate to. It’s usually based on their music style and technique. But can you play guitar without a pick as well?

Playing guitar without a pick is very common and can be done in many ways. The more common is called finger picking and is used in classical music styles among others.

This is done by using each finger for different strings and picking with your nail. You can also use your thumb and fingers by pressing them together. Sort of like you would if you were holding a pick!

In this Killer Rig article, we are going to explore the ways that you can play the electric and acoustic guitar without a pick. It should help you find your technique if you prefer not to use one.

Can You Play Guitar Without A Pick?

First, you might be wondering if it’s possible to play the guitar without a pick at all. The answer is yes, but will take some getting used to. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt your guitar, should you decide not to use a pick.

The biggest challenge will be getting used to a technique. One that will allow you to strum without a pick and produce enough volume.

You will also need to make sure that the technique will allow you to play efficiently and quickly.

Most people think that this is a technique that can only be done on an acoustic. But playing electric guitar without a pick is also very common. It will certainly improve your dexterity! But it also offers more advanced playing techniques.

Benefits of Playing Guitar Without A Pick

Several benefits come with playing the guitar without a pick. First, you have more control over each guitar string and can create different timbres.

Fingerstyle will allow you to strike only certain guitar strings. And in a predetermined way that can’t be done as easily with a pick. Especially when the strings are not next to each other.

Second, you can play very quietly if you want to. This can be great for when you are practicing at home and don’t want to disturb others. You can also use a variety of different techniques.

Some that produce different sound effects that might not be possible with a pick. You can also control the volume produced by each string. Independently of one another when you use your fingers.

Playing without a guitar pick can help improve your hand-eye coordination as well. This is because you will need to use your fingers in a way that they are not used to.

As you practice and get better, you will find that your hands move more quickly and easily. This can be a great way to improve your guitar playing overall, but will require time to get right.

How To Strum a Guitar Without a Pick

When you have decided to play guitar without a pick, the best place to start is learning how to strum.

This will require you to keep it simple and start by using your thumb. This will allow you to become comfortable and get use to the motions required of your wrist.

  1. To begin, position your thumb so that you will be strumming downward using the pad. Don’t dig in too deep as it may hurt your thumb, but just lightly strum the strings. Do this a few times and find the most comfortable motion.
  2. Next, try strumming up using the nail on your thumb. Again, do this lightly so as not to hurt your thumb. You should notice that the sound is a bit brighter and louder. Do this a few times until it is comfortable.
  3. Now you can strum using both upward and downward strokes. Both methods can be used for different sounds. But being able to do both will give you more tone options when playing.
  4. Continue to practice strumming with your thumb. Do so to some of your favorite songs. At least until you feel comfortable with this new method of strumming without a pick.

Techniques Used to Play Without A Pick

Now that we’ve gone over some benefits of playing without a pick, let’s take a look at how to do it.

As we mentioned before, the most common way to play guitar without a pick is called finger picking. But there are a few more like:

  • Ghost Picking.
  • Thumb Strumming.
  • Finger Strumming.
  • Hybrid Techniques.

Finger Picking

With finger picking, you will use your nails to pluck the string. You can also use the pads of your fingers, and the two can create many tones. To start, you will want to hold your hand above the strings. Position your thumb and first three fingers in an open position.

You want to use your thumb for the lower-sounding strings (bass notes). And your first 3 fingers for the higher, brighter strings.

From here, you can pluck the string by using your nail or the pad of your finger. You can also use a combination of both. Experiment to see what sounds best to you. It’s also worth noting that this technique is used mainly in classical music styles.

But don’t disregard it when you play electric guitar, as it can open up a whole new range of sounds that you might enjoy.

Ghost Picking

Ghost picking is a technique where you will strum the strings with your thumb and index finger. It’s done by pressing the two together like you would when holding an actual pick.

It looks like you are holding a pick, which is why it’s called ghost picking. However, you are using your thumb for down strokes and your index finger for upstrokes.

The timbre can be changed by using the flesh on the tips of your thumb and finger for a warmer sound. Or use the nails for a brighter, louder tone.

When using your nails, it’s best to try and push the two together to prevent them from snagging on the strings. But with some practice, you will find what works best for you.

Thumb Strumming

With thumb strumming, you will pluck the string in an up and down motion. This technique is very similar to finger picking. But instead of using your fingers, use your thumb.

You can produce a variety of different timbres by using different parts of your thumb. For example, you can use the pad of your thumb for a warmer sound or the nail for a brighter tone. You can also experiment with strumming patterns to create different rhythms.

Finger Strumming

Finger strumming is a technique where you use your fingers to pluck the string in an up and down motion.

This is similar to thumb strumming, but you are using your fingers instead. And just like the other techniques, using the pad and nail of your finger will create different tones.

This will require you to find the right angles and positions for your fingers. You might try slightly curling your fingers. Just so that your nails lightly rake across the strings. Then use your wrist to perform the down or up stroke as required.

Finger Strumming Guitar.

This will allow you to get many sounds by changing the angle of your fingers. Experimenting will be required until you find your technique and tone. You might also consider adjusting the length of your nails to get the best result.

Hybrid Techniques

We mention hybrid techniques. Only because it’s also possible to use a pick with fingerstyle depending on your music type. By learning how to hold a pick and use it for the lower strings, you can then use your fingers for the higher pitched ones.

This can be great when you need some volume from your notes. But want the added benefit of fuller, richer sounds.

This is also done by incorporating your fingers into the mix. This takes some practice but can be very beneficial. Sometimes you need to have the right pick type to pull this off, and so experimentation is needed.

Guitar Pick Vs Fingerstyle

When comparing the use of a guitar pick to fingerstyle, one technique is not better than the other. It depends on the music style you are playing as well as your preferences.

If you want to play classical music, then fingerstyle is probably the way to go. But if you want to play rock or metal, then you might want to use a pick.

It’s also worth noting that some guitarists use a combination of both techniques. This depends on the song and desired sound.

For example, you might use a pick for the verses and then switch to fingerstyle for the chorus. Or you might use a pick for the lead guitar parts and then switch to fingerstyle for the rhythm parts.

It’s really up to you to experiment and find what works best for you. There is no right or wrong answer, it’s all about what sounds good to you and how it benefits your style.

Famous Guitarists that Play Without a Pick

There are a few famous guitarists who don’t use a pick, including:

  • Lindsay Buckingham.
  • Jeff Beck.
  • Steve Hackett.
  • Mark Knopfler.

These are just a few of the more famous examples. But there are many other guitarists out there who don’t use a pick. Instead, they rely on their fingers or thumb to play electric and acoustic guitar.


So there you have it, a few different ways to play guitar without a pick. Each technique has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s up to you to decide which one is best for you.

Experiment with each one and see how they work in your music. You might be surprised at how much you can do without a pick.


Is It hard to play guitar without a pick?

It can be hard to play guitar without a pick, depending on the technique you are using. For example, finger picking can be quite difficult!

This is because you have to position your fingers in the right way and then pluck the guitar strings. But once you get the hang of it, it can be quite easy.

Can you play solos without a pick?

Yes, it’s possible to play solos without using a guitar pick. But the technique you use will determine how well you perform them.

A player great at finger picking can easily play complex solos. But it takes practice and determination to get good at it. A pick isn’t necessary for solos, but can be helpful with certain styles.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!