Traditionally, ukulele players do not use picks. Yet, just as music evolves over time so do the styles of playing it. Nowadays it is very common to play ukulele with a pick. Picks can be a great tool to make a style all your own. In this article we would like to outline the positive and negative features of picks that may draw a player to them or pull them away. In this “Complete Guide to Ukulele Picks”, we would also like to present the different types of picks so you can select the one that best fits your playing style.
Negatives of Picks
Scratching the Body
- The greatest downside of using a pick is purely mechanical. As ukuleles are made with soft wood, it is entirely possible that the pick will scratch the body of the instrument while strumming. Some may see this as a neat side effect adding character to your instrument. The choice is yours!
Limit Playing Style
- Additionally, playing with a pick may keep a player from the traditional strumming techniques the ukulele is known for. When one thinks of a ukulele playing, it is most often strumming, a soft and airy sound characterized by the sound fingertips make. It is for this reason some players think using a pick may limit them musically.
The anti-pick crowd may simply be fans of more traditional playing styles, so don’t take that opinion to heart if you’re feeling interested in using a pick. Next up are some positives behind adding a pick to your playing routine
Positives of Picks
Gentle on Fingers
- When playing with a pick one naturally makes less contact with the strings. If a player is sensitive to strumming, perhaps they are a child and have sensitive fingers, then a pick may be ideal for them. Picks create a comfortable barrier between the strings and their hands. Additionally, if a player struggles with finger mobility (maybe they have arthritis in their fingers) then a pick could assist them in playing individual strings.
Sound and Volume
- While using a pick, the sound of your ukulele is naturally projected at a greater volume. This factor is especially significant when playing in a group, as a soloist may be otherwise lost in the group sound.
- If you’re playing a tenor or baritone ukulele, picks are a great way to increase the volume of your playing and ultimately create a sound more similar to the guitar. Due to their size, the tenor and baritone ukes are naturally softer sounding. Picks assist in bringing out the beautiful, color sounds those instruments are capable of.
Natural Transition from Guitar
- Many guitarists play exclusively with picks. When transitioning to the ukulele, solely using fingers may be a big jump to make. By using a pick, guitar players may find it easier to transition and play in the style they are most familiar with.
- The most common types of soft picks are felt and leather, but rubber also exists. With a soft exterior, the issue of scratching a ukulele’s body is solved. Furthermore, felt and leather picks soften the otherwise clear and sharper sounds of a hard pick. A player is able to keep the traditional smooth sounds of the ukulele while still benefitting from what the pick has to offer.
- Felt picks are the most popular type of soft pick. They maintain the characteristic ukulele sound while making novel picking styles possible. Felt picks typically come in triangular and oval shapes.
- Leather picks are a great middle ground between the soft felt pick and the snappy sound of the hard pick. It all depends on what sound you prefer! Leather picks are said to most resemble the sound of bare fingers.
- Hard picks for the ukulele are no different from those for the guitar. They are made from plastic and are not very flexible. A medium hardness will do, but be careful not to scratch the body! These picks are great for achieving a bright and crisp sound in your playing, similar to a guitar.
- Thinner hard picks are best for strumming because they do bend ever so slightly with the strings. A thicker pick is most appropriate for picking individual notes.
Finger and Thumb Picks
- Fingerpicks are a type of hard pick that lead to a unique style of playing. They are worn on the tips of your fingers so each finger essentially has its own pick and strings can be activated individually. By using fingerpicks one can more naturally imitate picking and strumming patterns of traditional ukulele playing while also accessing the sound qualities of using a pick.
- Using a thumb pick is a neat middle ground between traditional strumming and using a pick. By wearing one individual pick on the thumb, a player can strum all the strings with the pick while also keeping other fingers free to activate strings with bare fingertips.
If you’re out at a group jam and find yourself soloing, you might want a pick to stand out and be heard. Can’t find one? Have you ever thought of using a credit card, or a piece of cardboard? Picks can be found anywhere; there are a multitude of sounds and styles one can achieve. The possibilities are endless!