Using a pick, strumming, and miscellaneous techniques

After learning how to read tablature, you'll need to know how to be able to actually use the guitar. There are many ways to strum or pick a guitar. The most common are using your bare fingers and using a guitar pick. Because finger-picking is more difficult and likely not something you'll need to do immediately, I'll focus on using a pick.

The first thing you need to know is how to hold the pick. Figure 1 depicts the most common way to hold a guitar pick. Hold it between your thumb and pointer finger. Try to hold it so it is pointing nearly perpendicular to the edge of your thumb. Remember, don't squeeze it — the goal is loose but controlled.

Holding a guitar pick

Figure 1. Holding the guitar pick.

The most important thing you need to remember about holding a pick and strumming is to be loose but controlled. While that may sound like nonsense right now, it'll make perfect sense in time. Basically, all that means is that you can't just hold your hand rigid, or else you'll make some pretty awful and jarring noises when trying to strum. The best advice I can give you is to let your wrist be the driving force in the strumming, rather than throwing your elbow into it. Try watching my brief instructional video on this topic.

There are numerous other techniques that you'll undoubtedly want to learn eventually, and I'll touch on them briefly here. First, hammer-ons. Basically, all this means is you play a string and then "hammer on" the same string while it is still resonating, causing it to play a new note. Again, the correct technique is in the video. Next is the pull-off. Remember that hammer-on you just did? Well, now you're going to pull that finger off, slightly plucking the string with that finger as you do it. This allows the "pulled off" note to resonate. Watch the video for proper technique. Finally, there's sliding. This is basically just playing a note on a string and then sliding your finger up or down on the fingerboard to another fret, thus raising or lowering the pitch to whatever new note you want to play. These can be fun and interesting additions to a song you're playing.