Flatpicking - how to best go about learning it?

Mivo

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I know, using picks with the ukulele is a bit of a sacrilege, and I never thought I'd go there, but recently I picked up a bunch of different picks (plastic, nylon, wedgies, in different strengths ranging from .38 to 1.00mm, and however thick those light and medium wedgies are), and I actually like the sound they produce (the .38mm nylon one being my favorite). The wedgie and felt picks didn't capture as much of my interest as they sounded more like fingers, and I'd probably just use fingers for this flavor of sound.

It's a lot of fun experimenting with this. The volume gain is tremendous, as is clarity, and things like tremolos become comparatively easy. I still prefer using fingers/nails overall, but I want to learn flatpicking and add these techniques to my toolbox. I'm particularly curious about hybrid picking where a pick plus two fingers are used, but this is probably fairly advanced.

The question is: How does one go about learning it? Are there any ukulele specific resources at all, old or new? There are some videos, books, and DVDs for flatpicking on the acoustic guitar (chiefly bluegrass), but a steel string guitar is a different beast, so this may not be an ideal approach, though some of it can probably be adapted to the ukulele. Was there a time when classical guitars were played with picks?

Here's a ukulele flatpicking performance by Tim Allan:

 
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70sSanO

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Oddly enough I just bought some Dunlop .6mm nylon picks for my wife to try and figured I'd see how they worked. I have to play a bunch of Christmas songs tonight and surprisingly the pick provides a lot more volume.

IMO it doesn't matter if the technique is for a guitar. For flat picking you want to develop a solid up/down alternate pattern with as little wrist motion as possible. If you fall into an all down or up pattern it will a pain to try and change down the road. Strumming is different.

John
 

Nickie

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I've tried playing the 8 string tenor uke with a plastic, and wood pick. Very interesting, reminds me of my lousy mandolin playing.
 

kypfer

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The question is: How does one go about learning it? Are there any ukulele specific resources at all, old or new? There are some videos, books, and DVDs for flatpicking on the acoustic guitar (chiefly bluegrass), but a steel string guitar is a different beast, so this may not be an ideal approach, though some of it can probably be adapted to the ukulele.

For me, there's a whole bunch of stuff going on in this type of performance ... chord/melody with melodic riff's between the chord changes, straightforward melody and some neat tremolo a la mandolin, which is easier said than done!

A lot of this can be learnt without a pick, indeed learning to use a pick to advantage is a skill in itself, the little tremolos are probably pick-specific, though doubtless there are virtuosos out there who can do it with fingers!

I think each skill can be learnt separately, first the fluid chord changes, then the melodic bits between, finally the embellishments, tremolos, slides, pull-offs and hammer-ons etc.

If you don't do it already, I'd suggest getting used to using your ukulele as a melody instrument, just playing a tune as a series of notes, but using a pick ... a thin Dunlop nylon is also my choice. Once you can play an assortment of tunes confidently and accurately using a pick you'll be able to add in the various other features with your left hand, confident that your right hand will play what you want without too much thought ... it'll take time, but it's achievable by anyone who really wants to ;)

Again, if you don't do it already, you might take this opportunity to learn to read music in conventional notation ... there's a whole lot more material out there that can be adapted for the ukulele than there is music specifically arranged for the ukulele.

Good luck :music:
 

Mivo

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Thanks guys!

Spent more time experimenting with picks and have to say it really addresses two of my "issues" with my sopranos: volume in general, and volume/sustain up the neck. With a pick I feel I get a much more usable range. With fingers, past the 7-9th fret there just isn't much volume and clarity, unless I grow my nails exceptionally long. With a pick, I get good volume past the 12th fret just fine.

After much messing around with different picks, my two favorites right now are the .38mm nylon Jim Dunlop one, and the red/gold Sharkfin pick. The latter is particularly interesting because it has both a narrow and a wide point, plus some other edges, for a variety of sounds. I also have a green/relief Sharkfin, which is .35mm, but I find it a bit floppy-ish. There are other Sharkfins, but I don't have those (yet...). I think the red one with gold print might be the best all-round pick for me at this point.

Strumming with a pick is hard, especially upstrokes. It'll definitely take practice to get this fine-tuned, but it's a fun exercise.
 

Down Up Dick

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I use the Jim Dunlop .38 mm on one of my Banjoleles, and .60 mm on my banjos. That's all I use. :eek:ld:
 

JackLuis

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I have a "Fender Thin" that is my favorite, I got it many years ago(~30) when learning guitar. I bought a pack of Dunlap 0.7 mm's but they seem too thick. I'm starting to learn how to pick my soprano too, just picking the notes out of the chords like the guy in the video. It really helps volume and sustain on the little ones.
 

Alytw

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Mivo,

It depends on what you want to do and the style that you are playing. I saw that you mentioned that you just got a parlour guitar. A thicker pick will give you a lot more control depending on what you are trying to do. I typically use a 2mm Dunlop Delrin on steel strings. I love the tone and control. These are really good picks IMO.

I don't generally use a pick on the uke, but if I'm playing fast single note runs, I use the Dunlop Delrin 1.5mm. Again, it's really about control and tone.

Nothing wrong with thin picks, especially for strumming, but I just can't control them for anything intricate, and find the tone thin.

Picks are cheap, buy a bunch and play around.
 
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SteveZ

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I use a pick all the time. Can''t remember the last time I finger-srummed.

I've found that medium weight picks work the best for me with nylon strings. Thin picks seem to hae a slap sound that medium picks don't have.

As far as learning how to pick, would suggest starting by doing scales on each string separately. Once that has a comfort feel, strum full chords. Then try picking each string separately while fretting chords. This will give an appreciation of the sound each string actually makes. After a while, while strumming songs one just seems to naturally noodle through the separate strings, experimenting a bit with the sound.

Important is to not hold the pick in a death grip. Just lightly holding it - just enough to keep it in place - is all that's needed.
 

geetee

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... For flat picking you want to develop a solid up/down alternate pattern with as little wrist motion as possible. ...

I guess this would be an example of that technique. Corey is using a mandolin pick, not sure what brand but quite small and probably 0.75mm or more.


And for comparison (and proving that he is not of this earth) playing the piece finger style:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyjiXmoS_vs
 

igorthebarbarian

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I bite my nails so I do use picks for extra volume. I like the Wedgie medium thickness picks
 

Tonya

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I'm participating in the (amazing!) Luongo Ukulele Experience (watch for a future post on my blog about this) and Peter Luongo (original conductor of the renowned youth group, Langley Ukulele Ensemble) has us using flat picks for many of our songs where he wants the ensemble playing for a strong articulated and percussive sound. Our "recommended" pick is the Dunlop 1.5 mm (really!) seen here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000432V96/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o02_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1. Note that we do no strumming at all (or at least haven't yet)--this is strictly for melody playing all the way up the neck.

I'm a "never use a pick" player, because I like to alternate picking with strumming, so the adjustment has been a huge challenge for me. Since September I've solicited lots tips from more-practiced flat pick ukulele players and received these:
--Hold only tight enough to keep a grip on the pick.
--Start with a lighter pick and "work up" to the thicker version
--Play scales with one pick per pitch in down/up pattern
--Move on to four beat patterns on each pitch then go on to eighth notes then sixteenth notes (this is where it becomes hard for me to maintain the looseness while trying to increase the speed)
--Play around with the angle of of where the "point" part of the pick hits the strings

I'm still working on a breakthrough...sigh...
 

kypfer

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Our "recommended" pick is the Dunlop 1.5 mm (really!)

Wow! hea-vy! ... will have to give that a try, I use something similar on my bass guitar, never thought to use it on a ukulele.

I've solicited lots tips from more-practiced flat pick ukulele players and received these:
--Hold only tight enough to keep a grip on the pick.
--Start with a lighter pick and "work up" to the thicker version
--Play scales with one pick per pitch in down/up pattern
--Move on to four beat patterns on each pitch then go on to eighth notes then sixteenth notes (this is where it becomes hard for me to maintain the looseness while trying to increase the speed)
--Play around with the angle of of where the "point" part of the pick hits the strings

I'm still working on a breakthrough...sigh...

I'll agree with all of these recommendations ... and modify the last one. The "angle of of where the "point" part of the pick hits the strings" can be affected by your seating position (really), especially on a larger instrument. If you normally play "laid back and comfy" it might be worth while "sitting up in a proper chair" to see if there's any difference ;)

It's fascinating to see these obviously talented musicians in the above videos playing without any visible means of support, my ukulele would be all over the floor without a strap ... not sure whether I should practice without a strap or not ... probably not :confused:
 

Mivo

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Interesting info, Tonya, thank you for sharing!

1.5mm sounds really thick for nylon strings! I bought a bunch more picks in different gauges and materials, and right now I seem to like the .72mm Gator Grip and the .73mm nylon (sticking to Dunlop for now, otherwise I end up with 100s of different picks) for both my ukuleles and the parlor guitar, but in both cases only when picking melodies. For strumming I need something thinner

Still amazed at how much more clarity and volume one gets with picks, especially on the smaller ukuleles. Less drastic on the parlor guitar and the tenor ukuleles, but with the sopranos it's very noticeable.