OK, so all of this served me pretty well for a while, but there were certain guitars that were really uncomfortable for me to play, especially guitars without pick guards, or arch-top acoustics where there was a long drop from the first string to the pick guard – I would hit that as I was going up the strings and it was like “look out below” until I at least located a touch point so my right hand had a point of reference from which to know how far it was to each string.
At this point, I want to talk about what used to be called at least as I was coming up as a guitarist as an “anchor”. At one point, people could easily scare me by suggesting that I had “an anchor” and a lot of time at guitar cocktail parties was spent by players scaring other players that literally touching the guitar with anything other than the tip of your pick in your right hand is an anchor. I feel like I have come far enough down this road to be confident enough to tell anyone that wants to argue about it (and especially those that DON’T) that a right hand anchor is anything that restricts movement of the right hand, which does NOT include touching the guitar in some way for a point of reference so you know where your hand is in relationship to the strings.
An anchor would include things like someone who always plays a Stratocaster playing with their little finger curled around the volume knob, to planting your non-pick gripping fingers hard onto the pick guard. So since I didn’t do any of this, I knew at this point I had no problem with an anchor – but what I realized I DID have a problem with was the Distribution Of Weight (DOW) in my right hand. Basically, I needed to come up with a way to make it so my lower fingers didn’t fall off of the end of the first string like a sack of potatoes when I got there.
At this point, the way I held the pick was with just the first finger curled back and pressing into a cocked upward thumb, with my other fingers curled under as well. So I decided that I would just pull out the little finger pointed down just enough to sort of prop up my lower right hand so it couldn’t fall down into the guitar, but not actually press down on the top of the guitar in a way that would restrict my RWA. This led to probably the best right hand chops I ever had up until this point, string skipping was easier and everything was more accurate, with one of the best things that came out if it being that it was easier for me to go from electric to acoustic guitar and have similar chops.
What I realized I needed to do overall was to distribute the weight of my right hand towards the thumb half of the hand, because the weight of all those fingers curled into my palm was dragging things towards their side and hence the problem with “falling off the first string” that I was experiencing. Speaking of MI instructors, one guy that I had always noticed had a killer right hand technique was Don Mock. He could do intervallic string skipping like there was no tomorrow, and I had always noticed how balanced the weight seemed to be in his right hand, but he had his little finger out as a reference to the top of the guitar as well like I was doing. I talked earlier about Pat Metheny’s picking technique as being similar to the way I first started picking – the way it is very DIFFERENT from what I had been doing that makes it much better is that Metheny’s weight is balanced towards his thumb, and if you’ll notice, he tends to favor using up strokes. This is why it’s easy for him to play without a pickguard, the place where he touches the guitar for a point of reference appears to be around the area of the right thumb muscle. Just to be clear, the key here is to have the weight in your right hand balanced, it’s not that you SHOULD shift your weight to your thumb area, it’s that you SHOULD NOT have your weight on the finger area. Those three fingers that are not involved in holding the pick are pretty much boat anchors, and so you need to balance that weight out so they don’t act as anchors to your hand moving freely anymore than they have to (which was my particular problem).
Which brings me to pick grip, which I didn’t touch on at all but I really think is not so much crucial as the other stuff. I think if you take care of all the other universal stuff, your pick grip will take care of itself. I really think you can hold the pick however you want as long as you are achieving the following:
1) A strong solid contact between pick and string, with a close to flush stroke against the string. The reason for the stroke to not be too much at an angle is that you lose the actual sound of the note from the string and more just hear the attack of the pick when the pick is at a severe angle. My angle is slightly off from a totally flush contact with the string, and that’s what I’ve observed with most great players – but if you can make a way for a less than flush sting contact to sound good and your hand is moving freely, there should be no reason to change your pick grip.
2) There should be no muscle strain to keep control of the pick, be it between the thumb and fingers themselves, or the muscles in the forearm or ANYWHERE in the arm for that matter. If you are having trouble with pick grip, try this and see if it helps: do some regular forearm curls with some dumbbells. Believe it or not, I always find my right hand technique to be better when I come back from the gym, and I think it’s because lifting weights not only strengthen the muscles you are targeting, the hand and finger muscles get strengthened as well, and as such have to exert less conscious energy to grip the pick.