Strumming Guitar Without A Pick
Strumming guitar without a pick is not an often talked about topic. Most often guitar players use a pick to strum and finger pickers will use their thumb. This can be an awkward feeling and sounding experience. Since it isn’t talked about much many players will make up a way to do it without ever being sure they are doing it. This will lead to limitations in playing ability and not sound as good as possible.
Thumb Only Method
This is quite common because it is simple. You use the thumb to strum down and up. Not much to it. The problem with this is the sound. When strumming down you will use the skin on the bottom of your thumb which will sound quiet and duller. Then when strumming upwards you will use either the side of your thumb or the thumbnail. The nail will give you a brighter more crisp sound. These two different tones you get from the skin and nail is rather inconsistent and not ideal.
Pick Holding Position
Another very common technique is to hold your thumb and index finger together. This will look like you are holding a guitar pick. If you are used to holding a pick then this will feel more natural. Like the above thumb only method it may lead to having two different tones. You have to be very careful not to hit the strings with your fingernails. To begin doing it keep in mind it requires more accuracy to use only your skin. Your tone will also be more on the quiet and dull side. Another reason this may be difficult is if you are a finger picker and you keep your nails long they will get in the way. The large movements may also diminish the optimal shape of your nails for picking.
Fingernails Only Method
The way I prefer to strum I discovered by trying to find a goal to get the best sound with the least amount of movement. When strumming down use the back of your middle and ring fingers so the fingernails strike the strings. Then when strumming up use your thumb nail. This gives a very consistent sound that is crisp and predictable. I do not use the pinky or index for this very often, but you can experiment and use what you are comfortable with. I find the middle 2 fingers allow for more movement without any tension.
Another benefit to this is that the hand or arm does not have to move much. You can strum almost completely with the fingers. This uses less energy and can make strumming very fast much easier.
This will also ware on your fingernails if you keep them long. I keep my fingernails short so it doesn’t effect that in anyway.
This is another very effective style for getting very fast strumming speeds. This requires using a combination of the inside skin of the thumb and fingers and the outside nails. Since you have 4 sides at your disposal you will have to move less to strum the guitar more often in a shorter span of time. It is a lot of fun. This gets much more complicated to coordinate and is not the best place to start if you are a beginner. It will also have inconsistencies in the sound due to using both the skin and fingernails. So it comes down to being more of a preference of what you like tone wise. Different styles call for different tones.
About The Author: Ryan Duke is a professional musician and teaches Guitar Lessons Seattle.