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If you are coming from a guitar background, you may wonder if ukuleles need to be played using a pick. Picks are often used with a guitar to project a louder sound than you could get with your hand. Strumming the guitar with a pick is the most common way to play.
Ukuleles can be played using a pick but most often they are not. Most people play the ukulele using their index finger or thumb to strum with. This projects a loud, mellow sound and is sufficient for producing the traditional sound heard from the ukulele.
If you do choose to use a pick when you play the ukulele, you can get a louder sound but it isn’t really necessary.
The Difference In Ukulele And Guitar Picks
Guitar picks are generally made from a rigid material like plastic. This type of pick is sufficient for strumming a projecting sound from a steel-stringed guitar. However, these types of picks are not the best to use for the softer, nylon strings on a ukulele.
There are some common types of picks on the market that people generally use for ukuleles and these include felt, rubber and leather. You wouldn’t want to use any of these types on a guitar as the steel strings of the guitar would damage the pick very quickly.
All of these types of picks are made specifically for the ukulele and they provide a softer surface for striking the nylon strings found on the ukulele.
Ukulele Felt Picks
Since plastic pics are often too hard and rigid for the nylon strings of a ukulele, felt picks are a great alternative. These picks provide a softer tone and can project a louder sound than what you might hear from using only your fingers.
Although not necessary, a felt pick is great for those who like using picks when they play a stringed instrument. There are other types of picks that you can choose for the ukulele but in my experience, felt picks are the best choice.
3 Reasons To Use A Pick
1) It Creates A Louder Sound
When you use a pick to play a stringed instrument like a ukulele, it will make a brighter and louder sound versus playing it with your finger. The soft finger doesn’t produce the same loud sound as a hard object would striking the strings.
If you are looking to project sound further and make your ukulele louder without electronics, a pick may be helpful. You’ll want to make sure you are using a ukulele pick made of felt for the best results.
2) Easier On Your Fingers
Some people may prefer playing with a pick because strumming the strings with the soft skin of the finger may hurt. This is common in beginners who haven’t gotten used to playing yet. For those who have played a while and are used to it, strumming the nylon strings of a ukulele is no problem.
I’ve never experienced any pain from strumming with my fingers or thumb so this isn’t common. It’s more common that people experience pain in their fretboard hand from pushing down the strings. Learn more about the pain associated with playing the ukulele.
If you happen to have a sore or a cut on your finger that hurts, a pick will allow you to continue playing while your fingers heal.
3) It’s Easier To Pick Single Strings
A pick gives you a tool that can reach in and strike the exact string you want. This can help accentuate the bass note of a chord or adding interest to your strumming. Personally, I never do this on a ukulele but nearly always do it when strumming a guitar.
When you use a pick, you can more easily pluck the string that you want. When you try to pluck a specific string with your finger or thumb, it’s a little more difficult to do without hitting other strings. If you want a clean, distinct sound from one string, a pick will allow you to do this.
3 Reasons NOT To Use A Pick
1) Ukuleles Are Traditionally Played Without Picks
Ukuleles sound best when used without a pick and only using the index finger or thumb to strum. This is the most common way that ukulele players play and make the ukulele sound that you normally hear. It’s a nice sound and you can tell that there is no pick involved. It’s only your hand touching the strings as it strums the ukulele, providing a clean and mellow sound.
2) It Gives It A Mellow Sound
Strumming the ukulele with your index finger gives it a mellow sound that is typical of ukulele music. When you use a pick, you will hear a louder tone and it may sound a bit clicky. When the pick hits against the nylon strings, it will make a clicking sound rather than a smooth sound made when it is just the skin of your finger.
In order to avoid this clicky sound, you can use a softer pick such as the felt type that I discussed above. However, it’s still no match for the mellow sound that you’ll get from using your good ole finger.
3) It’s Easier To Go From Strumming To Fingerpicking
Strumming isn’t the only way to play the ukulele. You can also use your fingers to pluck the strings, making a beautiful melody with each string working with the other. Rather than strumming all strings at one time, you will use each finger to pluck a string separately so that they all sound good together.
This does not require a pick and if you were playing with a pick, you’d have to do something with it if you wanted to switch to fingerpicking. Without a pick, you can easily go from strumming the strings to plucking them with your fingers. This is the best way to approach the ukulele because you’ll want to use both methods as you play.
Strumming The Ukulele With Your Fingers
Strumming the ukulele with your fingers is the most common way that people use. There are three popular methods that people use.
- The thumb. When you use your thumb, you just use the soft fleshy part of your thumb to strum with. In most cases, people use the soft part of their thumb on the downward strum and the nail part of the thumb on the upward strum.
- The index finger. When you use your index finger, there are a couple of different ways that you can do it. I use the side of my index finger most of the time to where the soft fleshy part of my finger touches the strings. You can also use the nail part of your index finger on the downward strum and the soft part of your index finger on the upward strum.
- All fingers. Some people use all four of their fingers to strum the ukulele. I have done this from time to time but it is not my normal way of playing. This is generally a more advanced type of strum. Give it a try and see if you like it.
In my opinion, strumming with the fingers only is the best way to play the ukulele. The best way for you to play your ukulele is going to be the way that you like to do it and the way that sounds best to you. There is no one-size-fits-all for this and playing an instrument is a creative expression and you should do it the way that best expresses your creativity.
The best way to learn the way that you like to play is to give each type a shot. Heck, you may even figure out a totally unique way to strum the ukulele and that’s okay too.
In the end, playing the ukulele with a pick is a matter of personal preference. There are options available for you to be able to use a pick on the ukulele. However, many people use only their fingers when they strum and play and this is traditionally the way it is done.
Playing with the finger sounds smooth and mellow like it should. If you are going to play with a pick, be sure that you play with one that isn’t plastic and has a softer feel to it. There are the felt picks that I discussed above which I feel are the best option. There are also rubber picks and leather picks which I wouldn’t recommend.
A pick is pretty cheap to purchase so just try it out for yourself and see if it works for you. Since everyone is different, you may find that using a pick is the best way for you to play the ukulele. If that’s the case, then using a pick is the way that you should play your ukulele.