Playing arpeggio patterns with a pick

Do you struggle to play arpeggios on the acoustic guitar cleanly? Do you consistently miss strings? Does you arpeggio playing just not hold up when playing in front of others?
Letting arpeggios ring out on a guitar is one of the most beautiful sounds possible but at the same time can be very revealing. It becomes ever apparent what technical problems you have when you’re missing every note and it happens a couple of times.

Due to massive technical challenges, most people have resisted playing the type of music shown above with a pick. However just like anything else, there is a system of concepts you can use to perfect this style of playing. When we are finally done discussing it you may find it to be easier and more reliable than finger picking.

Let’s begin with what not to do:
There are several types of picking motions and technique habits that will massively burden your ability to play arpeggio patterns with a pick smoothly. They are:
1) Crutching with the pinky
2) Individually attacking each note with your wrist
3) Holding your pick in-between strings instead of resting it on a string.
4) Improper angle of the pick as it goes through the strings

1) Crutching With The Pinky

I want to point out a couple of important things in this picture. It this picture, I am crutching with the pinky. What does this mean? It means that I am pressing against the body of the guitar with my pinky. Your pinky touching the body of the guitar is not a problem. It becomes a problem when you purposely press against the surface of the guitar.
You hand does this to try and find a place to balance or hold the weight of your hand. The problem with crutching your pinky however is that it creates massive tension throughout the right hand.
If you have never done so, press your pinky against any surface and you will instantly feel the tension shoot through that finger. When you have tension in one finger it will spread to the rest of the body and get worse. Especially if you plan on playing in front of other people. You will want to avoid this.
Crutching with the pinky also takes away from your hand finding the right way to hold the weight of the right hand.

2) Individually attacking each note from the wrist
Many people, when they see a pattern like this:

Will play each note with an individual down stroke by moving the wrist. The problem with this tactic is that it’s very inaccurate, slow, will cause tension throughout the wrist and will make each note vary in dynamic. To get a smooth, clean and more serene sounding arpeggio, style play the whole motion as one giant down stroke.

Let the pick fall onto the strings, if done properly the weight of the right arm (strumming hand) should fall on the string causing it to bend, like the picture below:

*** You should not be pushing the pick through the strings, you need to relax the entirety of your right hand so that the weight of the arm causes the string to bend. This is the proper physical sensation. This will lead us to point 3.

3) Holding your pick in-between strings instead of resting it on a string.
As you can tell on the picture above my pick is resting on the string before I play it. This is what you should be doing at all times. There are exceptions to this rule, but for the time being, it’s best if you try to keep your pick resting on a string at all times. This will avoid tension and maintain the relaxation in your right hand.

5) Improper angle of the pick as it goes through the strings
When doing an arpeggio style of playing using a pick and to get the pick to fall through the strings more easily, its best if you tilt the pick in a way that allows it too easily move through the strings.

Going down

Going up

Get these techniques down and I guarantee playing arpeggio patterns will no long be a problem. These techniques apply to a variety of contexts. You can learn to make use of these ideas in double stop phrases, string skip phrases and any other context you can think of.

About the Author
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Chris Glyde is a guitar instructor based in Rochester New York. If this article helped you in anyway check out Guitar Lessons In Rochester