Q&A Picking Styles and Arpeggios: Bite-Size Guitar Podcast Episode 20

Episode 20 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at different picking styles and how to decide which is the best option for you. The episode also looks at arpeggios and some tips to help you learn them faster and easier.

This episode answers a question sent in from a listener. If you have a question you would like answered in a future episode, record it below in the ‘Ask a Question’ section.

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Ask a Question

If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.

Use your Android/PC/Mac (iOS doesn’t work) to record your question below and send it to me to be included in a future episode.

Tips for asking a question for the podcast:

  • Introduce yourself at the start (eg: Hi, I’m Aaron from Australia …)
  • Try to record in a quiet environment to avoid background noise
  • You have up to 90 seconds to record, so take your time providing any details you want

If you want to send me a question in text instead of voice, you can send it here.

Useful Resources

Here are some handy resources related to this episode:

Even if you’re already happy with your current picking style, you might want to experiment with other options. You might find something new and interesting to add to your playing style.

Podcast Episode 20 Transcript

Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 20 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.

In this episode, I’ll answer a question sent in from a listener. Here’s the question from Ronen:

Hi there, I’m Ronen from Israel. First of all, I’d like to thank you for your great website. I learn a lot from it and thanks for that.
As a beginner guitarist, I play on electric guitar and acoustic. I’m now learning arpeggios. I wanted to ask you if it’s better to play with a pick or with finger. Should I grow nails or not? Do you have any recommendations or advice on arpeggios? Thanks again for your website, we get a lot from it.

Thanks Ronen for sending your question and thanks for your kind words about my website. I’m glad you’re finding the guides and lessons helpful. While I get a lot of emails, it’s nice to hear feedback and questions like this directly from listeners.

If anybody else wants to ask me a question, jump on the page for this podcast at guitargearfinder.com/podcast and record your question.

Pick vs Fingers

Choosing between the pick or fingers is something most guitarists think about at some point. The path you choose can have a big impact on the style of music you play, so it’s worth thinking about your options.

The short answer is that it depends on what type of tone you want to get and what style of music you play.

Some guitarists prefer playing with a pick, some prefer playing with fingers, and some use a combination of both.
So the first thing to keep in mind is that there isn’t one right answer on which way is best for you.

Imagine you asked a classical guitarist if you should play with a pick or fingers. I’d imagine almost any classical guitarist would tell you playing with your fingers is the best option by far.
They’ll say fingers gives you the best control over the dynamics of each note, more flexibility over arpeggio patterns, and better tone.

If you ask a rock guitarist whether to use a pick or fingers, they’ll likely say to use a pick. They’ll tell you a pick gives you better control, a crisp tone, and more flexibility in what else you can play with a pick.

Both guitarists are right in what they’re saying, but they both look and think about guitar in different ways.

If you were to compare the arpeggios a classical guitarist might play and compare it with arpeggios a rock guitarist might play, they won’t sound or look anything alike.

So my suggestion is instead of thinking about whether you should play with a pick or fingers, think about what type of music you want to play.

If you try to play a classical piece using a pick, not only will it sound and feel weird, but some parts may be unplayable without using hybrid picking. If you haven’t heard of hybrid picking before, it’s when you combine using a pick and fingers to pluck multiple strings at once.

On the other hand, if you try to play arpeggios from a rock or metal song using your fingers, you’ll probably also find it awkward and it won’t sound quite right.

Having said all this, there are guitarists who mix things up with great results. There are rock guitarists who play with their fingers and guitarists who play things with a pick that most other guitarists would play with fingers.

The point I’m trying to make is that the right option for you really depends on what feels right in your hands and what you like the sound of.

A good starting point to figure out what feels best for you is to start by taking a look at what picking styles are used in the songs you want to learn to play, then start with learning that style. If you notice most of the music you listen to is played with fingers, start with that.

But I also suggest also trying to learn the other picking method so you can truly see how they compare.
Spend some time learning some basic fingerpicking patterns using a pick, then learn to play those same patterns using your fingers. You’ll quickly get a feel for which you prefer.
You might find that playing the arpeggios with your fingers feels natural to you, or you may prefer the sound of the pick. Until you try both out, it’s hard to figure out which one suits you best.

For guitarists who play both electric and acoustic guitars, it’s definitely worth learning both methods. Learn how to play with your fingers and with a pick. Being able to switch back and forth between the two methods gives you access to a far wider range of music and tones.

There’s no one right answer that works for everybody, so it is something you’ll need to spend some time experimenting with. If you’re learning a song that uses arpeggios, try learning it both ways then think about what feels and sounds best. The right option for you might not be the same for other guitarists, but that doesn’t matter. Play around to figure out which is best for you.

Nails or No Nails

Now if you want to learn how to play arpeggios using your fingers, your next decision is whether to grow your nails or keep them short.

This is an easier decision to make as there’s a clear difference between playing arpeggios with your nails or the flesh of your fingers.

When a nail plucks a string, it produces a crisp and bright tone. It’s almost like having a pick attached to each finger in how it produces a bright and loud tone.
When you pluck a string with the fleshy part of your fingers, you get a more mellow and warm tone.

Both options feel different to play, so again, it all comes down to your own preferences. Do you want loud and crisp notes to ring out? Then you might want to try playing with your nails.
Do you typically play soft and mellow parts? Then you may prefer keeping your nails short so you can keep them out of the way.

Take a look at the guitarists you listen to and find some videos of them performing. Pay close attention to their picking technique and whether they have longer nails or not. If you can’t tell from listening to the music, watching a video will help you work out which option best suits the music you play.

Tips for Learning Arpeggios

When it comes to learning arpeggios, there are a lot of different ways you can learn and practice them.

One approach you can try is to start by working on arpeggios in songs you listen to. If you hear an arpeggio in a song you like, learn how to play it and practice it over and over until it feels completely natural. Then you can figure out what chords those arpeggios are based on and start coming up with similar arpeggios using different chords.
The idea with this approach is that you focus your attention on the type of arpeggios you want to incorporate in your style of playing. Instead of starting with generic arpeggio exercises, you’re starting with arpeggios you like the sound of.

Most of the lessons on arpeggios you’ll find online give you a set of basic patterns to memorize. I even have a lesson on my site that does the same thing. Learning these patterns can help you with the technical side of playing arpeggios, but you’re not going to be inspired by how they sound.

That’s why I suggest starting by focusing on learning music you already like the sound of, then use generic arpeggio patterns as technical exercises to improve your skills.

Another tip with arpeggios is to take the time to memorize the fretboard if you haven’t already. I know it seems like a daunting task, but it’s something every guitarist can do.
Once you memorize the fretboard, you’ll find it easy to come up with arpeggios across the entire fretboard. Check out my guide on memorizing the fretboard to learn more about this.

Overall, when it comes to learning arpeggios, there’s two things to keep in mind. There’s the technical aspect where you work on using your fingers or a pick to play different arpeggios patterns. Then there’s the musical aspect in figuring out arpeggio shapes to play.

If you want to incorporate arpeggios into your playing, make sure you spend time working on both aspects. Don’t spend all of your time on the technical side of things, because you won’t know what to play other than exercises. And don’t spend all of your time studying music theory, because you won’t be able to put that theory to use.
Work on both sides and you’ll find that arpeggios are quite easy to learn and easy to use in your music.

Hopefully, this has given you a bit to think about. With questions like this, the answer tends to come down to personal preference. Choosing between pick or fingers, or long nail or no nails all depends on what type of guitarist you want to become.

On the page for this episode, I’ve included links to useful guides on fingerpicking patterns, how to memorize the fretboard, and some songs worth checking out.
Check out the resources at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-20

Thanks to Ronen for sending in your question. Hopefully, this episode has given you a few things to try out.

If anybody else has a question you would like answered in a future episode, record me a message on the site. I’m keen to hear from more listeners, so send me your questions.

Have a play around with different arpeggios and playing styles this week and I’ll talk to you next time.


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