The Ukulele is another stringed instrument that bears a striking resemblance to the guitar, particularly the nylon string guitar. That said, they are not the same. As a matter of fact, they’re even tuned and played differently.
You may assume a ukulele necessitates a guitar pick, but it doesn’t. A ukulele uses its own type of pick, although, many players prefer fingerstyle. You can use a guitar pick, but you’ll have to make some adjustments to your playing style. I have better advice for you though.
To use a pick for a ukulele, it’s best to use a felt or wool pick. They tend to be much easier on the nylon strings which will be better for creating the classic ukulele sound. That said, many ukulele players prefer not to use a pick at all because fingerstyle has a much gentler attack.
I recently purchased a ukulele and I’ve been interested in how they’re tuned, common ways of playing the ukulele, and also some of the methods that more experienced players will tell you to avoid. For instance, I’m a part of the camp that says a pick should probably be avoided, but more on that in the section below.
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How to Use a Guitar Pick for the Ukulele
To use a guitar pick for the ukulele, hold it lightly between your thumb and first finger, after curling your pointer finger down to the bottom of your thumb. Put the pick on top of the finger crease of your pointer finger and press down on it.
Then use the tip of the pick to strum the string in downward or upward movements. How you hold a pick is actually pretty important. And believe it or not, I held mine somewhat incorrectly for many years, and I only recently began working on it again for the guitar.
But the ukulele is different, so if I choose to use a pick for it (which I usually don’t, however), I would be a lot more gentle about it. I’ll show you how I would go about it now.
1) Curl Your Pointer Finger Down To Your Thumb
What I do is I curl my finger into the bottom of my thumb. You don’t have to do this very tight. Just curl it down to the bottom of your thumb as I said earlier in a way that’s firm, but not over the top.
2) Put the Guitar Pick on Top of Your Curled Pointed Finger
Then, I put the guitar pick on top of the triangle that forms with my finger. I usually put the pick at the same angle as the crease in my pointer finger. It’s like a triangle sitting on top of a triangle.
3) Press Your Finger Down On To The Guitar Pick
I hold down the pick against the triangle of my finger and then I start playing. It takes a hot minute to get used to this, and you may have some kind of variation that works best for you.
It’s not like you need to be scientific with this sort of thing. Sometimes I don’t curl the finger super firm into my palm, and sometimes I do. It depends on how I’m feeling and what I’m doing that day.
If you’re going to use a guitar pick on the ukulele, opt for a more relaxed approach. You should be holding the pick as softly as you can, that way you don’t create such intense plucking sounds when you’re strumming the nylon strings.
When you come to your senses though and you no longer want to use a guitar pick on the ukulele, you can skip down to the section here. I compare a guitar pick to finger strumming, and you’ll notice how much better it sounds.
Guitar Picks vs Finger Strumming on the Ukulele
Traditionally, the ukulele is played with a combination of fingers and fingernails, but as I said earlier, you can use a pick if you really want to. Like most things in the music world, there are all kinds of conventions and traditions you’re supposed to follow.
But you don’t really have to do any of them. From my experience, playing the ukulele does tend to sound not as good when you play it with a guitar pick. The video below is a demonstration of how a pick sounds versus how your hands sound.
As far as I’m concerned, there is no comparison between the two. But the felt pick is a lot better, which is something we’ll talk a bit more about later.
What Type Of Guitar Pick Is Best For The Ukulele?
If you don’t have a niche guitar pick like that, you can use the Dunlop Nylon .38mm picks like the one I used in the video. In terms of the guitar picks I own (other than the felt pick), I would say the super-thin Nylon pick is the best for the ukulele.
What Kind Of Pick Is Best For Playing the Ukulele?
1) Felt Picks (Synthetic or Real)
It’s best to use a felt pick or a wool pick for the ukulele if you really must use a pick. Thin or thick plastics will tend to create too much of a plucking sound, making the ukulele sound more like a toy. Although, that’s just my take on it.
They are not just for Ukulele; they can be for guitar or bass as well. They have a thud sound to them instead of a plastic sound like nylon picks. The image down here is a comparison between regular picks and felt ones. You can see the difference.
It’s slightly harder to play a felt pick than a regular pick because they are so thick, probably thicker than you think if you’ve never actually felt one before.
However, if you do like I said in the video above, and bend it a bunch of times before you start playing, it gets a lot easier. I would say that a felt pick gets better with time as well because it’ll get even more flexible. I would at least try one if you own a ukulele.
2) Leather Picks
There are actually other picks available if you’re interested, however, I can’t personally vouch for them because I don’t own them. One is the leather pick like this one from Amazon, which I’ve never seen before, but I learned about them from this blog post.
3) Wool Picks
I came across the wool picks when I was searching for ukulele picks on Amazon. I never bothered to pick one up, because it seemed like felt was where it’s at.
From my understanding, wool and felt aren’t terribly different from each other though, so I think either one would probably work.
Why You Shouldn’t Play Ukulele With a Guitar Pick
If you’ve understood me correctly, you know how to proceed. If you need a pick for the ukulele, a felt pick is probably the best. But if you must use a guitar pick, a super-thin .38mm Dunlop nylon one could work if you hold it lightly and strum gently.
However, I’ll explain, in my view, why I think you shouldn’t use a guitar pick for a ukulele, based on my personal experience using it thus far.
1) Playing With A Guitar Pick Makes The Ukulele Sound Like a Guitar
As the sub-title suggests, playing with a hard pick makes your Ukulele sound less like a Ukulele and more like a guitar—a cheap, small one, to be exact. The harder the pick, the harder the sound will be too. This is why most Ukulele players play with their fingers.
Take another look at the video I shared above to compare for yourself. It’s my personal opinion that strumming it just sounds way better than picking it. While it’s an opinion, I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one.
And now that I think about it, I’m fairly certain that most people will recommend you use your fingers to play the nylon string guitar as well (more on nylons in my guide). It would certainly make sense considering they share the same strings, albeit, in a larger format.
Nylon strings just sound much warmer, gentler, softer, when strummed with fingers rather than a pick. If you’re going for the classic nylon string guitar or ukulele sound, fingers are where it’s at.
However, according to the blog post I shared earlier, there are still a lot of people who choose to do it in their own way. Led Kaapana, they write, is known for using his thumb and fingerpicks. It’s possible to file the pick down for the ukulele too.
2) A Guitar Pick Inhibits Softer (and Faster) Strumming
The ukulele is well known for its strumming possibilities, and with a pick, you miss out on these. From rolls to triplets – they are simply beyond your playing with a pick between your fingers. For this reason, most players don’t use a pick, even a felt one.
This is easy to say, but difficult to practice in reality. I’m not a fast strummer either because it’s pretty difficult with your hands. That said, with serious wrist action, you can get quite a bit of speed out of it. Check out this video for example:
The last thing you want is dings and scratches all over in your Ukulele for strumming too much. At least for many people, anyway. Personally, I don’t care when instruments get banged up because they’re meant to be played. They’re tools, not artifacts, but I digress.
Using a pick with your Ukulele, over time, apparently can put a hole in the body of your instrument. It takes a lot of strumming for this to happen, but a Ukulele has a delicate body. This brings me to my next point.
3) It’s Easier to Damage A Ukulele With A Pick
I can’t say whether this is the case for all ukuleles, but it appears that most of them are pretty delicate. The one I own, for example, is super delicate. If you were to drop it even once, I think that would be the end of it.
Although, I guess you could say the same thing for cheaper guitars. A more expensive guitar would survive it, but not without some considerable cosmetic damage.
Certain guitars like the Gibson Les Paul, for example, are prone to snap at the headstock which is something I explained in my article about volutes. Another thing that’s important to mention is that you’ll find yourself scraping the body of the ukulele a lot.
I would say that something like a steel pick or a wooden pick is completely off limits for the ukulele. Unless you’re super careful not to scratch the body.
Important Things To Note About Using A Pick for a Ukulele
1) To Keep The “Right” Tone, Skip the Pick
I put the word “right,” in quotations for the reason I mentioned earlier. Part of being a creative person means you’re unafraid of conventions. Despite the fact many of these conventions are just useful ways of doing things that people have learned over time.
That said, I think the classic ukulele sound, if that’s what you’re looking for, is best achieved with your fingers, or at the very least a felt pick, rather than a guitar pick. There are exceptions, but I think this is the general pattern.